Who’s not familiar with this: the body should look more defined or in the context of preparation for the competition season the weight needs to come down to the optimal competition weight. But what is the most effective way of getting rid of those unnecessary ‘love handles’ without negatively affecting physical performance?
Low-carb, low-fat or intermittent fasting – the different diets are booming more than ever. Pivotal for the reduction in body fat however is one thing and there is no way around it: a calorie deficit. The body must be supplied with less energy than it actually needs. With intermittent fasting, it is the restricted periods during which food is consumed that help to reduce the calorie intake. If the calories that are saved during fasting are not compensated for (through more food or less activity) then there is a reduction in body fat. It is possible to achieve the same results with regards to a reduction in body fat by using the more traditional diet method of simply restricting the number of calories you consume at mealtimes (1,2). If a low carb or low fat diet is more effective at reducing weight is rated as follows in a current review study: first and foremost the calories are crucial for the success and less so the amount of carbohydrates or fat during a diet (3). It therefore remains: many paths lead to the same goal.
There is no universally applicable diet method to reduce body fat, as it varies for each individual and depends on a multitude of personal factors, such as e.g. the level of activity. The magic word when it comes to choosing the optimal, calorie-reduced diet strategy is first and foremost: perseverance – because without it there will be no success.
General nutrition recommendations, however, can be used as a rough guide on how to put this into practice:
Plan realistically and early
To avoid any negative impact on performance, weight loss should be slow (and obviously before the competition season). Therefore, excessive diets are taboo and it is better to only moderately restrict calorie intake.
Look out for an increased protein intake
This is for several reasons: no other nutrient satiates better than protein! Fat and carbohydrates are less effective at satiating (4). In addition, protein promotes qualitative weight loss. Increased protein intake during a calorie-reduced diet can lead to increased body fat loss and can also reduce the loss of lean body mass (among other things muscle mass) (4). This is because weight loss not only leads to a reduction in body fat but often also in muscle mass. The smaller the loss of muscle mass the better for long-term weight stabilization. This is due to muscles not only resulting in a fitter body, but they also burn calories. Incidentally: a new study has shown that it is possible to lose body fat and gain muscle mass at the same time (5)! Though, in order for this to work there needs to be a high protein intake combined with targeted training (e.g. resistance exercise and high-intensity interval training). Building huge, bulky muscles during a calorie-reduced diet is not possible – this would be an illusion
Therefore: plan to incorporate sufficient protein-rich foods into all 3 main meals, as well as for snacks and/or after training. Selected protein-rich sports nutrition products such as for example whey protein powder, can help to supplement the diet with high-quality protein whilst simultaneously being low in fat, sugar and calories.
Prioritise natural foods
Be smart when choosing foods in order to easily save calories and simultaneously support your health with valuable nutrients.
Avoid ready-meals (e.g. cuppa soups, fast food) and prioritise wholesome/minimally processed foods such as for example plain natural yoghurt instead of sweetened flavoured yoghurts, wholemeal instead of plain flour products, homemade salad dressings with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs instead of ready-made salad dressings. Further examples of food swaps:
- Boiled ham instead of salami
- Homemade muesli out of cereals (oats or spelt flakes), seeds (sunflower seeds, linseed) instead of ready-made sugary muesli or cornflakes
- Pureed vegetable soup with yoghurt instead of ready-made cream soups
- Baked potatoes instead of fried potatoes or chips / french fries
- Calorie-free drinks and unsweetened teas instead of sugar-rich soft drinks or alcohol
It is easy to reduce calories by clearly limiting the consumption of fatty and nutrient-poor foods, such as fried foods or heavy sauces (e.g. creamy sauces) and sweets such as cakes, biscuits and chocolate.
Think about the volume
Consume at least 3 portions of vegetables/salad and 2 portions of (low-sugar) fruit (e.g. berries) a day. Bulky foods such as vegetables and fruit not only contain important vitamins and minerals but also are rich in fibre and water. As a result, they help you feel satiated with a relatively low-calorie intake.
Supply your body with carbohydrates at the right time
If you’re an athlete who is trying to reduce calories also in the form of carbohydrates but would still like an improvement in performance, you’re going to have to plan carefully and cleverly. To maintain performance and ensure optimal recovery it is important to consume adequate carbohydrates around hard and intense training sessions. Therefore, plan individual meals well or reduce the amount of pasta, bread, rice and co on days with low volume and low-intensity training.
Author: Corinne Mäder Reinhard, International Sports Nutrition Lead at Active Nutrition International. She has a postgraduate diploma in Sports Nutrition from the International Olympic Committee and is a certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
The implementation of the nutrition information and recommendations described in this article is done at your own risk and cannot replace a personal and individual consultation. Especially individuals under the age of 18 years, with health restrictions (especially those with orthopaedic or internistic complaints / illnesses, or food intolerances or allergies), during pregnancy or lactation should first consult a doctor. Should any complaints develop during the implementation of the nutrition recommendations a doctor should be consulted immediately. Active Nutrition International GmbH does not assume liability.
1. Sundfor, T.M., Svendsen, M., & Tonstad, S. (2018). Effect of intermittent versus continuous energy restriction on weight loss, maintenance and cardiometabolic risk: A randomized 1-year trial. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis., 28(7):698-706.
2. Seimon, R., et al. (2015). Do intermittent diets provide physiological benefits over continuous diets for weight loss? A systematic review of clinical trials. Mol Cell Endocrinol, 15;418 Pt 2:153-72.
3. Howell, S., & Kones, R. (2017). Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 1;313(5): E608-E612
4. Leidy, H.L. et al. (2015). The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr, 101(6):1320S-1329S.
5. Longland, T.M. & et al. (2016). Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr.;103(3):738-46.