Dieting to Make Weight For Every Meet Is Just Glorified Yo-Yo Dieting
By Dr. Kristin Lander, DC, CISSN
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The world of weight class sports tends to have a lot of talk about dieting. Such is the nature when one has to step on the scale to compete. Unfortunately, dieting and sports are at odds with each other.
There is not a single qualified nutrition professional in the world that will say being in a caloric deficit (dieting) helps you perform at your best.
Are there people that can perform well at a meet after dieting to make weight? Sure. It can be done. But dieting during meet prep puts you at a bit of a disadvantage. It means your body is not getting everything it needs to recover and get as strong as it could get. Meet prep is when you are training your body to hit maximum loads, this is not a time you want your nutrition to be disadvantaged. It opens you up to injury, an unsuccessful peak due to hindered recovery, and lifting less then you’re capable of on meet day.
Where I really see trouble, though, is not just in the lead up to the meet and meet day, but after.
There is some very cruel physiology at play with dieting; it puts our bodies in a primed state to gain weight when we stop the diet. This is due to the hormonal changes that occur as our body’s defense mechanism against starvation. It quite literally primes us to gain body fat, and causes people to gain more body fat than they initially lost.
This is why many nutrition professionals speak about needing a plan for after a dieting phase. If you go back to how you were eating before the diet, you will gain that weight back.
Now think about what most people do after a meet (especially if they dieted to make weight). They eat all the food they couldn’t eat during meet prep, right? That post-meet meal becomes a giant celebration of “I made weight and lifted all the weight, now I’ll eat all the food!” We’ve all seen it, maybe even most of us have done it at some point. If it ended there, it might not be such a big deal. But it usually doesn’t end there…
Ever heard of the post-meet blues? It’s a very real issue sparked in part by central fatigue from meet prep and pushing your body to its limits on meet day, along with crossing the finish line of a goal -- there’s often a bit of a mental let down and feelings of being lost without an immediate goal. Couple that with time off from the gym to let our bodies recover… Now we’re slightly tired and bummed, don’t have our usual outlet of training, are getting less activity, and potentially eating more??? You can probably see where I'm going with this.
If you dieted to make weight and experience all of the above, you’re likely going to experience a large rebound weight gain and have to go through this process all over again the next time you want to compete (unless you have decided to go up a weight class). Doesn’t this sound just like yo-yo dieting to you? It does to me. I don’t care if it’s for sport, that just makes it glorified yo-yo dieting. But the worse news is, every time we gain weight and lose weight again, it makes it harder to lose weight due to the metabolic adaptations that occur through dieting over and over. Pretty soon you’re eating a lot less calories than ever and still not losing weight.
So if you’re reading this and notice that it gets harder and harder to make weight each meet, now you know why.
What’s the fix?
I’m so glad you asked… This is what I’ve dedicated my life’s work as a nutritionist to helping athletes avoid!!
You have a couple of options:
- Ditch the weight class and lift where you are
- After a period of fueling your body well (ie, not dieting for 6+ months) enter into a gradual caloric deficit to lose weight and get close to your weight class waaaay ahead of a meet and then move back to maintenance for the entirety of your meet prep.
Ultimately each solution gets you into a state of eating as many calories as possible while maintaining your weight, fueling your performance, and recovering at a high level.
Now you can go into a meet having been really fueled your entire prep, without stressing about making weight, and absolutely crush it on meet day. I’ve used this strategy now with over 500 lifters and the results are phenomenal. Another amazing thing… These lifters experience almost none of the usual post-meet blues they once did, largely because they are so well fueled going into the meet that they have far less levels of fatigue to recover from in the first place. It’s definitely a win from all angles!
You can get the same exact framework that I use with some of the world's top lifters to improve their training performance and recovery through pre and post-training meals.
Your nutrition should serve you all year round by:
✔️getting you stronger faster
✔️maintaining your weight easily
✔️not needing to go on a diet when you most needed your top end strength
✔️reducing your likelihood of injuries and increasing longevity in your sport
Let’s drop the yo-yo and get FUELED!