Slower rate of weight loss is ideal for maintaining lean body mass and performance.
Dr. Paul C. Henning, PhD CSCS
Athletes embark on a weight loss plan with the goal of improving power-to-weight ratio, making weight to compete in weight classification sports, or for aesthetic reasons. Existing research recommends a gradual weight loss (0.5-1 kg/wk) through moderate energy restriction 1. This is due to the negative effects of rapid weight loss and extended periods of restricted energy intake on performance 2. One of the main concerns of this rapid weight loss is that a decrease in body mass resulting from energy restriction can lead to decrements in lean body mass (LBM) 2, thus impairing performance. In overweight sedentary subjects; it’s been shown that strength training combined with mild energy restriction can attenuate the loss of LBM during periods of weight loss 3.
A major concern is that athletes choose to use the shortest amount of time to reach their weight loss goals in order to avoid extended periods of fatigue. A large reduction in energy intake (i.e. 1,000 kcal/day) can compromise recovery and impair training adaptations in athletes 4. A group of researchers from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and Norwegian Olympic Sports Centre in Oslo 5, Norway conducted a study to compare two practical approaches to the recommended weight loss regimen in the literature. They compared weekly bodyweight (BW) losses of 0.7% (slow reduction) and 1.4 % (fast reduction), which corresponds to weekly weight loss of 0.5 and 1 kg, respectively, in a 70-kg athlete 5. These authors hypothesized that the faster weight-loss regimen would result in more detrimental effects on both LBM and strength/power performance.
Results of this study showed that LBM increased 2.1% in the slow reduction (SR) weight loss group along with improved performance in countermovement jump and all the one-repetition max (1-RM) parameters, whereas no significant change occurred in LBM or improvements in strength and power related performance (except 1-RM squat), in the fast reduction (FR) group. Accordingly, the SR intervention had more positive effects on LBM and performance than the FR weight-loss intervention.
The authors of this study suggested that athletes who want to gain LBM and increase strength and power related performance during a weight-loss period combined with strength training should aim for weekly weight loss of 0.7% of BW, whereas athletes who only want to keep LBM may increase their weekly weight-loss rate to 1.0-1.4% of BW 5.
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5. Garthe I, Raastad T, Refsnes PE, Koivisto A, Sundgot-Borgen J. Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2011;21:97-104.