Perfecting body composition for optimal performance—how to lean out

Male hydrating on a run_summer weight loss_SportFuel® 2022

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In this article, you will learn: 

  • Why eating real foods will help you increase your protein intake
  • The importance of matching carb consumption with activity levels and intensity
  • Tools to reduce cortisol and stress 

Are you at your best performing weight for your sport or goals? Sometimes, in order to gain that extra edge over the competition, athletes find they might need to be a bit lighter (think: triathlete), or a bit heavier (think: defense). It can take some tweaking to figure out what body composition makes you feel and perform your best.  

At SportFuel, we always advocate that pro and elite athlete prospects listen to their bodies’ cues. If you feel best, and perform better, at 10% body fat, yet your coach asks you to be at 8 or 9%, listen to your body. You know yourself best. 

Either way, we know both leaning out and bulking up to get that extra performance edge can be difficult. For athletes competing at professional and elite levels, the off-season is the best time to refine your fueling, work to support gut health, and work on your body composition goals. With so many athletes having their off-season during the summer, now is the time to start thinking about setting up an off-season plan to reach your goals. 

Leaning out 

When you want to focus on losing excess body fat, you do not want to compromise lean muscle mass in the process. That’s why it’s best to follow an integrative approach to weight loss so that you can reach and maintain your goals in a way that works with your body as well as your athletic goals. Your plan to lean out—reduce body fat while maintaining or gaining lean muscle mass—will be most effective when it’s personalized, or created especially for you. 

If you are ready to customize body comp today, check out our CUSTOMIZE self-service, a low-touch way for you to get your exact fueling needs.

Luckily, nutritional foundations can help take you 80% of the way closer to your performance goals. Let’s dive into 3 tips to help you complete your weight loss goals this off-season.

Choose Premium-Quality Fuel

What does your current diet look like? Is it jam-packed with nutrient-rich, colorful, living foods? If not, it’s time to focus on quality first.

At SportFuel, we like to emphasize a diet full of real foods that come from the earth. We want our clients to eat foods that are as close to their original, or natural, forms as possible (aka the less processed the better). Why do real foods matter? We’re glad you asked… 

  • Processed foods often contain added sugars, preservatives, and unhealthy fats. All of these can result in an ongoing inflammatory response in your body, making it difficult to lose weight. 
  • These processed foods are often very high in both carbohydrates and fats, but low in protein and fiber. Protein is especially important for athletes. It helps maintain the structure and function of muscles, organs, bones, and basically all your cells. Together, fiber and protein help you feel full. 

If your diet is full of processed foods, you will likely end up doubling or even tripling the amount of carbohydrates and fats you consume (while protein and fiber remain low). Why? Because your body is the best and is always trying to meet your needs. So, if your body needs more protein, you will likely find yourself eating until those needs are met. Once this protein imbalance is understood and corrected, you’ll be able to make major progress towards leaning out. 

  • Minimally processed real foods (that come from the Earth) are packed with nutrients. They provide energy, repair our tissues, and keep our beneficial gut bacteria well fed. These processes support your immune system and overall health. Bagels can’t do that!  

Find Your Carb Sweet Spot

Carbohydrates are our bodies’ preferred source of energy. Every athlete needs a steady flow of carbohydrates to perform well. Yet, when you eat more than you need, your body stores those carbohydrates as fat. That’s why we always advocate that everyone (not just athletes) matches their carb intake with activity levels.  

 

For example, your carbohydrate needs on an intense training or game day are higher when compared to your rest and recovery days. This mean that you will consume more carbohydrates on your training and competition days than on your rest and recovery days. 

Additionally, if you work a desk job, you do not engage in frequent movement throughout the day, and/or you do not work out, then your carb needs are most likely very low. Match your carbs to your activity!  

Want to know exactly how your carb levels should shift depending on your activity? Find out with SportFuel’s CUSTOMIZE self-service, a low-touch way for you to get your exact fueling needs.

When determining your carbohydrate sweet spot, it’s important to favor real-food sources of carbohydrates. These include white and sweet potatoes, winter squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkin), beets, parsnips, rutabaga, yucca, berries, and minimally processed grains such as rice, oats, quinoa, teff, amaranth, and others.

It’s best to focus on blood sugar-balancing foods. When your blood sugar levels go through spikes and dips, it’s a sign your body is reliant upon quick carbohydrates for energy. When this is the case, we tend to eat more and more quick carbohydrates to sustain energy levels which, again, can lead to weight gain and/or make it difficult to lean out when desired.

Prioritize Your R&R

A little rest and relaxation can go a long way! As athletes, you ask a lot of your bodies. It’s imperative you optimize your recovery process, not just to help repair your body from physical stress, but also to repair your brain and support mental/emotional health. 

An excess of physical and mental/emotional stress raises cortisol levels. Cortisol is a “stress” hormone that contributes to fat storage. This can make it difficult to lose weight if we find ourselves under constant stress. To help lower cortisol levels, be sure to get at least 8 hours of quality sleep every night and practice stress reducing activities like meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, and the like.

Did you know that your body cannot differentiate between real and perceived stress? It’s hard to imagine, but true. That’s why need to:

  1. Mitigate the amount of stress we feel (both real and perceived) and 
  2. Learn to calm ourselves and recover after periods of stress (both real and perceived).

Luckily, we have some amazing tools that can help you recover after stress. Some of our favorites are listed below:

  • Nucalm – a neuroacoustic software that has been proven to neutralize stress, restore deep sleep, and elevate perfoamce.  
  • Meditation—try this reset meditation from Headspace 
  • Breathing—here is a guided breathing practice by WimHof 
  • Cold Therapy! Did you know that cold water immersion boosts dopamine? Dopamine is that awesome neurotransmitter that helps with motivation/drive, focus, and satisfaction (check out this episode of the Huberman podcast to learn more). Luckily, you don’t need an ice bath to get these amazing benefits. Some of our clients incorporate cold therapy into their showers or will use Chicago’s winters to their advantage and spend a few minutes (in minimal clothing) outside daily! 
  • Sometimes the power of stress is hard to understand until you play with it. Our group RESET program dives into stress (both the good and bad) to help you mitigate dietary, physical, and perceived stress so your body can engage in cell autophagy and regeneration. 

Pulling it all together

When you focus on fueling with premium foods, finding your “carb sweet spot,” and modulating your stress response with some R&R, you’ll be well on your way to accomplishing your goals to gain your performance advantage.

For those of you looking to be exact in your fueling, try our Customize program. You input your goals, needs, and sensitivities, and we send you back fueling guidelines. If you have already determined your exact fueling needs and have followed the 3 foundational priorities above, then reach out to us about targeted testing, as your weight stagnation may be caused by undiscovered food sensitives or untreated gut issues.

You are never alone in your journey to peak performance. If you have any questions, reach out to us on the Contact Us form, or check out our Instagram page to see if we have already answered your question!

Alex Cotie senior integrative sports nutritionist at SportFuel® working with pro and elite athletes

Alex Cotie

SportFuel® Senior Sports Nutritionist

Alex Cotie is a registered dietitian, with a degree in Dietetic Science from the University of Illinois in Chicago. Having trained with Julie Burns for 10 years, Alex is dedicated to finding integrative and individualized methods to help clients reach their fullest potential. 

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