They’re constantly looking for an edge to cross the finish line faster, whether it’s riding a lighter bike or creating a leaner body.
But studies suggest that slimming down, and specifically losing fat, is not as simple as eating less and exercising more.
Losing fat takes a combination of precise diet and exercise
To gain lean body mass takes a combination of strength training, high intensity aerobic exercise and an eating plan designed for a .7 percent loss of body weight per week.
Experts typically advise that a person should try to lose weight gradually, cutting only about 500 to 1,000 calories per day. That equates to a loss of one to two pounds per week.
How does your rate of fat loss affect performance?
Ina Garthe, a research fellow at the Norwegian School of Sport Science, and her colleagues decided to test the advice on elite athletes and see whether losing only one pound or losing two pounds per week had any effect on muscle mass, strength and performance.
The researchers selected 30 athletes from the Norwegian Olympic Sport Center and created a plan for each athlete to lose either one pound per week over 10-12 weeks or two pounds per week over 4-5 weeks.
The athletes played a variety of sports and to at least maintain lean body mass, they all continued to train regularly and then added four strength workouts to their weekly routine.
At the end of the study, each individual saw different results, but, in general, the athletes on a plan to lose two pounds per week do not meet their weight loss goal, and they did not show significant gains in lean body mass, strength or power, except in squats.
The athletes on a plan to lose one pound per week did show significant gains in lean body mass, power and strength.
Study suggests loss of 1 pound per week loss
The results suggest that athletes who want to lose weight, and gain lean body mass, strength and power to improve their performance should aim for a weekly loss of about .7 percent of their body weight, or about a loss of a pound a week. That’s a 500 calorie deficit per day.
Athletes wanting to maintain lean body mass can lose weight faster, at a rate of 1-1.4 percent of body weight or two pounds per week. But, the study suggests that such quick weight loss is not as effective at improving performance.
In other words, cyclists and triathletes trying to lose weight should do it gradually, at a rate of a pound a week, and they should do it in the off-season, when they can focus on adding strength training and burning calories through aerobic workouts.