Sports Nutrition: Weight loss or weight gain?

At some point in our lifetime, most of us will have been on a mission to either lose weight or gain weight.

Whether your goal is to get bigger or smaller, combining diet with exercise will almost certainly improve the outcome!

I’ve been told so many times that muscle weighs more than fat. No it doesn’t. 1kg of fat weighs the same as a 1kg of muscle which weighs the same as a 1kg of feathers. The difference is, 1kg of muscle is about half the size of 1kg of fat. That is why weighing yourself only tells you your weight, and your weight is just a very small part of the bigger health picture.

“weighing scales are a poor indication of your health status”

Weighing scales don’t tell you if your weight is healthy or unhealthy. They don’t tell you what your muscle mass or fat mass is, and they don’t tell you how your bodyweight is distributed.

Still not convinced? Take a look at the women in this picture and guess what they all have in common. The answer is, they all weigh the same. They all weigh 70kg.

So what about your apples and pears? Although mostly used to describe a woman’s body shape, the health implications are equally relevant to both sexes and are fairly useful in determining body fat distribution.

If you have a pear shaped figure, you store body fat around your hips, thighs and buttocks.

If you have an apple shaped figure you store body fat around your middle, in your abdominal cavity. The problem with this excess visceral fat is that it often surrounds a number of your important internal organs including your liver, pancreas and intestines.

What does this mean to your health? Truth be told, apple-shaped people are more vulnerable to a wide range of health issues compared to other body shapes. In fact, based on research, those who carry extra weight around their mid-section are at a higher risk of heart problems, diabetes, depression, breast cancer, and even fertility issues.

Now I’m not saying throw your weighing scales away because they do have their uses. What I am saying is, weighing scales are a poor indication of your health status and surely that’s more important than your weight.

Measurements such as BMI and waist to hip ratio, are certainly not without their downfalls, but they are inexpensive, useful ways to determine appropriate weight distribution and health risk status and are possibly more useful than your weighing scales.

So what is your waist to hip ratio? Stand up, relax and then measure the narrowest part of your abdomen, which is usually around your belly button. Whilst still standing, measure the largest part around your hips, which is usually just below your bottom cheeks. Now divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement and bingo, you have your waist-hip ratio. A ratio over 0.95 for men or over 0.85 for women suggests there’s more weight around your middle than is ideal.

One method of measuring your body fat, or at least estimating it, is to use skin fold callipers which are both inexpensive and easy to use (with lots of practice!). Skin fold callipers can be used to measure skin folds at any point in the body but the four most common sites are the triceps, biceps, subscapular and iliac.

A few useful tips for using skin callipers.

  • It’s worth investing in a decent pair of callipers that will assert the same amount of pressure every time you use them.

  • You cannot take your own readings and it takes time and practice to get accurate readings so get a friend on board and practice on each other.

  • There is often a lot of discrepancy between readings taken from different people so if possible always get the same person to take your readings.

  • Always take three readings at each site, then use the average of the three readings as your final measurement.

  • Dozens of charts are available that convert skinfold readings to body fat percentage. If you really want to know your percentage body fat, choose a chart from a reliable source that recognises body fat differences for age and gender.

  • Alternatively, monitor your body fat solely through skinfold measurements alone as opposed to calculating body fat percentage from a chart. This method is much more reliable and the really important thing is the trend (whether your readings are going up or down!).

Weight Loss

If you are aiming to lose weight, the number of calories you eat has to be less than the number of calories you burn, it really is as simple as that! And vice versa of course if you want to gain weight. Yes, getting your carbohydrate, protein and fat balance right will help you, but, the fact remains, calories in versus calories out determines whether you lose weight or gain weight.

If you are planning on losing weight it is imperative that you make small healthy changes that you can maintain for the rest of your life. Personally, my first step was to stop taking sugar in my coffee. I could barely drink coffee for 3 months without sugar, but now that I’m used to it, I can’t drink coffee with sugar, so there’s no danger of me going back!

” To lose weight you have to firstly create a negative energy balance”

If you want to lose weight you should initially aim for a 5-10% reduction of your current bodyweight over 3-6 months. No more. Maintain this weight for 3 months, and then if you wish, push on to lose more weight.

Slow gradual weight loss is not only better for your health; it is more likely to target fat instead of your muscle mass. It is also less likely to affect your performance!

To lose weight you have to firstly create a negative energy balance (calories in < calories out).

To help you achieve a negative energy balance and a weight loss of 0.5-1Kg per week, you should firstly calculate your resting metabolic rate (RMR), and then calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) from the tables below. Once you have your TDEE figure you should aim to eat 500-1000 kcal per day, less than your calculated TDEE.

Research has shown that diet combined with exercise is far more effective than either diet alone or exercise alone. When losing weight in combination with exercise there are some simple rules that you should follow. Firstly, reduce your calories from fat and carbohydrates, do not sacrifice your protein. Do not skip meals and try to eat every 3-4 hours. Choose low calorie, nutrient dense foods, such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and lean meat. Never consume fewer calories than your RMR and finally, only weigh yourself every 14 days and only check your body composition every 4-6 weeks.

To calculate what percentage of bodyweight you have lost, use the following formula;

Weight change (%) = Starting weight – New weight X 100 --------------------------------------------- Starting weight

Weight Gain

The best way to achieve lean weight gain is with a well-planned resistance training program and a well-balanced healthy diet.

If you are aiming to gain weight, you should aim for a gradual increase of 0.5-1kg per week maximum. Anymore will almost certainly result in fat gain rather than muscle gain.

To help you achieve a positive energy balance (calories in > calories out) and a weight gain of 0.5-1kg per week, you should firstly calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) as before. Once you have your TDEE figure you should aim to eat 300-500 kcal per day, more than your calculated TDEE.

When gaining weight, like losing weight, there are some simple rules that you should follow. Firstly, the increase in calories should come from carbohydrates to keep your body well fuelled. Do not wait until you are hungry to eat, eat nutrient dense foods little and often. Use sports drinks during training and always have a post-workout snack. Finally, make sleep a priority. You should aim for 8-10 hours per night. It is during sleep that your body recovers, protein synthesis increases, your muscle tissue repairs and your damaged cells are replaced.

Well, finally that is it, the end of my marathon Sports Nutrition blog. I really hope you have enjoyed reading it and have taken at least something out of it. Knowing even a little about nutrition makes you think about what you eat and surely that can only be a good thing. Doing the Sports Nutrition Diploma hasn’t stopped me eating biscuits or drinking red wine but I now see them more as a guilty pleasure rather than an everyday necessity!

If you would like to learn more, the Shaw Academy do a selection of excellent online nutrition courses that you can often get at a fraction of the original price by booking through Groupon.

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