A concluding blog post in my series on eating plans for athletes focuses on how to use an approach called Calorie Deficit for Weight Loss. Counting your calories (or kilojoules, in countries using the metric system) is seen as a highly effective and targeted way to manage your weight. This is because each person needs a specific quantity of kilojoules per day, just for a basic sedentary lifestyle, while taking in more than you need leads to weight gain. On the other hand, decreasing your kilojoule intake creates a deficit in which your body does not have sufficient fuel for energy and must burn fat. Here, we look at ways to safely create a kilojoule deficit on the path to healthy and targeted weight loss.

A three-step process

Firstly, calculate the number of kilojoules your body needs per day to maintain its current weight, while at rest. A useful calculator can be found here. Secondly, reduce your daily kilojoule intake to create a deficit. A reduction of 2 092kJ for a weight loss of 0.5kg per week is considered healthy. So if your basal metabolic rate (BMR) requires 8 368kJ per day and you reduce this to 6 276kJ, you’ll lose the 0.5kg. Thirdly, exercise will allow you to increase your kilojoule deficit while speeding up your BMR – even while at rest.

Weighing up the research

A paper published in the journal Family Practice looked at the effects of dieting and exercise on resting BMR and the consequent implications for weight management. While kilojoule reduction, increased physical activity and behaviour therapy are recommended as the first-line in obesity treatment, what happens to one’s resting metabolic rate after a long stretch on a kilojoule-restricted diet? The conclusion of the above paper suggests that further studies are needed to determine whether milder kilojoule deficits, or where those undertaking the study consume adequate protein in combination with strength training, may positively affect resting BMR. Because the BMR of candidates on this plan may have slowed considerably when they get to goal weight, leaving them prone to immediate weight gain if they resume their prior eating habits, it is best to combine a kilojoule-restricted diet with healthy food – and lots of moderate exercise – choices over the long term.

Recent research published in The New York Times, backs up this opinion – i.e. that the key to weight loss (i.e. what helps people lose and manage their weight most easily in the long run) may be diet quality over quantity. A large and expensive trial – led by Dr CD Garner and carried out on more than 600 people with $8 million in funding – concluded: “We really need to focus on that foundational diet, which is more vegetables, more whole foods, less added sugar and less refined grains.”

Ryan Terry and his “best body” label


If you’re an elite athlete, or one who is training as much, you should consider seeing a highly reputable dietician to assess your optimum protein intake. Authors of a recent paper in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism say: “High-quality weight loss is often of importance to elite athletes in order to maintain their muscle (engine) and shed unwanted fat mass, potentially improving athletic performance… Other considerations include the quality of protein consumed, and the timing and distribution of protein intake throughout the day.” An example is British bodybuilder Ryan Terry, who consumes 15 900kJ per day and drinks up to 5l of water to maintain the incredible physique which former pro-bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger has described as “the best body in the world”. Ryan advises athletes, particularly bodybuilders, to eat seven medium meals instead of three big ones each day, allowing the body to digest the protein and carbs more efficiently. He adds that bulking up “should be treated with the same rigid reverence as a low-kilojoule diet” where food choices include complex carbs, essential fats and clean, organic proteins.

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