This week, we look at the latest recommendations from Ruiz-Castellano (2021) for athletes who wish to drop body fat whilst retaining fat free mass (FFM – i.e. weight that isn’t fat).
1) Calorie intake: The aggressiveness of a calorie deficit will dictate how an athlete performs. In light of this, evidence suggests that larger calorie deficits are less effective in retaining FFM than smaller calorie deficits. Therefore, athletes should follow a calorie intake that facilitates a 0.5-1% loss in body mass per week.
2) Low energy availability (LEA): Energy availability is defined as the amount of energy (calories) available to meet basic metabolic functions once the exercise demand has been accounted for. In other words, if you eat 3,000kcal and burn 1,000kcal during a training session, you then have 2,000kcal ‘available’ to use to support optimal health and well-being.
Therefore, LEA is defined as an inadequate calorie intake to support maintenance of optimal health. The threshold of LEA in females is <30kcal/kg/FFM/day where adequate energy available amounts to 45kcal/kg/FFM/day.
For example, LEA in females weighing 65kg with 25% body fat would equate to <1,462kcal/day, where adequate energy availability is >2,193kcal/day (reminder: this is the calorie intake excluding exercise).
3) Diet Breaks: Intermittently introducing diet breaks of 1-2 weeks may be appropriate to support adherence if athletes are experiencing compromises associated with an energy deficit. See these as ‘pit stops’ to extend the fat loss phase.
4) Protein: Higher protein intakes are advisable to support muscle mass retention (2.2-3g/kg body mass/day). This should be evenly distributed between 4-5 meals to maximise muscle protein synthesis.
5) High carbohydrate, low fat: Once protein is accounted for, carbs should be kept as high as possible within the calorie budget to support glycogen demanding training, such as weightlifting. Therefore, athletes can still perform well, progressively overload in the gym to cause muscle adaptation and FFM retention/gain. The periodic use of ‘refeeds’ can support this notion.
Carbohydrates should not entirely displace dietary fat as the lower recommended range is 0.5g/kg body mass/day.
6) Micronutrients: A high quality multi vitamin/mineral supplement may be needed if an athlete is unable to obtain adequate amounts through following a ‘food first approach’.
7) Supplements: Creatine and caffeine can be used alongside a high quality diet to further support physical and cognitive performances.
Lastly, athletes must ensure these recommendations align with their personal preferences to support adherence…which is ultimately the no.1 priority for fat loss success.