By all means, this is a massive topic, but here are a few thoughts…
As I’ve been teaching the guy’s on my Intelligent Coach Programme, recommendations for gen. pop. are essentially the first few layers for athlete fat loss recommendations. Reason being, we need to account for energy balance first, before moving onto the athlete specifics, i.e. carbohydrate periodization etc.
Generally speaking, athletes have higher training demands, therefore are more likely to experience compromises and tradeoffs due to having a low(er) energy availability (think RED-S).
In most cases, the harder you diet, the more these will bite you in the ass. These compromises are seen in lean body mass retention, recovery, fueling, immune function, injury rehabilitation, cognitive function and well-being. Since the level of energy deficit controls this, we need to look at how fast you drop body fat on a weekly basis. In other words;
• 𝐋𝐚𝐫𝐠𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐫𝐢𝐞 𝐝𝐞𝐟𝐢𝐜𝐢𝐭𝐬 = 𝐅𝐚𝐬𝐭 𝐟𝐚𝐭 𝐥𝐨𝐬𝐬 = 𝐌𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐦𝐢𝐬𝐞𝐬.
• 𝐒𝐦𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐜𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐫𝐢𝐞 𝐝𝐞𝐟𝐢𝐜𝐢𝐭𝐬 = 𝐒𝐥𝐨𝐰 𝐟𝐚𝐭 𝐥𝐨𝐬𝐬 = 𝐋𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐦𝐢𝐬𝐞𝐬.
Therefore, it’s recommended (Helms et al, 2014) that rates of fat loss in already lean individuals should be gradual with the aim of 0.5kg loss per week. I’ve found this to be very close to the goal I set my coaching clients; to lose on average 1% of bodymass per week.
Once rates of WL and calorie requirements are covered, you look into macronutrient ratios…For gen. pop. macronutrient ratios (carb vs fat) doesn’t matter too much once protein is accounted for, therefore guidelines here are to follow your preferences.
However, these guidelines become far more rigid to ensure exercise performance is maintained. In this instance, it would be wise to follow a higher carb and lower fat approach. Within your daily calorie budget, carbs will give you more of a performance ‘bang for your calorie buck’ than fat it you want to fight fatigue during training and competitions.
Since carbs are a ‘rate limiting’ factor for performance, it will hit the fan pretty quick if you overly restrict these as we always need to fuel for the work required. As an added bonus, higher carb diets appear to be ‘protein sparing’ and better for retaining your precious muscle mass during a dieting phase (Garthe et al, 2011; Maestu et al, 2010; Walberg et al, 1988). So, even during fat loss phases, we need carbs; they’re an athletes best friend to drive performance, aid recovery and retain muscle mass.
To conclude, the main difference is that athletes need a slightly more rigid approach when compared to gen. pop. to negate some of the compromises associated with calorie restricted diets. However, athletes are people too and experience the same day to day stress and pressures as everyone else (plus more at times).
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