Keep'er Fit

Gary Wallace

Weight management for young athletes

This week’s article is based on a question from one of my followers on Facebook.

He asked, “My teenage daughter is involved in combat sports. As you know a kilo here and there can make a huge difference in the weight category and class of opponent she will face in tournaments. The onus is on her to be as light as possible while still having a balanced diet and having enough energy to train four times a week without neglecting her school work. Also I’d like to keep her from becoming underweight if she chases a weight category that’s unattainable, and what to watch out for like skipping meals and over training?”

This is a fascinating area and something that I needed to carry out further research about.
Weight issues for athletes fall into two categories; Those who are overweight based on body-fat levels or those who are already lean, but desire additional body fat loss.


When it comes to all weight loss/gain the key phrase seems to be energy balance. It’s worked out as energy intake compared to energy expenditure. For example, maintenance of body weight is an indication of being in a state of energy balance where energy intake (total kcal consumed) equals energy expenditure (total kcal expended). However, if the goal is to change energy balance, either for weight gain or weight loss, this static energy balance approach no longer applies since weight is changing.

Energy balance is a dynamic process, and changing one factor on the energy intake side can also impact the energy expenditure side even without any intentional effort to alter energy expenditure. Factors that influence this include resting metabolic rate, fat and lean tissue mass, physical activity levels, effects of food on your own body and the energy costs to break down fats and proteins. One thing you must consider in all of this is that the body is ever changing when you are losing or gaining weight and so will the need for your diet plan to change in order to reach your target goal.

Once you have identified that weight gain/loss is an ever changing process it is wise to employ strategies in order to reach your goal. Here are a few evidence based recommendations.

Avoid Severe Energy Restrictions
Reducing your energy intake may have a positive impact on weight loss. However, this approach, combined with an intense endurance and strength-training program, can actually increase metabolic adaptations that slow weight loss and diminish the additive effects of these two factors on weight loss. In addition, individuals can quickly lose lean tissue if energy is restricted too dramatically which is something you want to avoid.

Monitor Protein intake, Quality and Timing
In general, the protein needs of athletes are higher than that recommended for non-active individuals. The amount of additional protein needed will depend on the volume and type of exercise and the level of energy restriction. Spreading your protein intake throughout the day can benefit the athlete trying to lose weight by ensuring that adequate protein is constantly available for building, repair, and maintenance of lean tissue.

Adopt a low-energy dense diet plan
A low-energy dense (ED) diet is high in whole fruits, vegetables, and grains, and incorporates low-fat dairy, legumes/beans, and lean meats.
This high-fibre, high-water, low-fat diet means an individual can consume a greater volume of food for an overall lower energy intake and still feel satiated. One consideration in the low-ED diet is that for highly active females, a low-ED diet does not provide enough energy to cover the cost of exercise and reproductive function.

Timing of food intake
For the athlete, timing of food intake around exercise training and spreading food intake throughout the day will ensure that the body has the energy and nutrients needed for exercise and the building and repair of lean tissue. For the athlete, the breakfast or mid-morning meal is especially important because it can provide necessary carbohydrates to help replenish glycogen after an overnight fast and provide fuel for exercise.


In my research I read Weight Management for Athletes and Active Individuals by Melinda M Manore. This article echoed what the others said, but the issue of developing eating disorders was highlighted in other articles.

There has been heavy research into young athletes developing eating disorders, especially females, from following diet plans in order to meet their desired weight.

If you are going on a diet plan in order to gain/loss weight for sport or your own personal goals, I would highly recommend that you talk to a fully qualified nutritionist and especially someone who specialises in sport nutrition if that is your main goal.

I hope this article helped answer your question and that the rest of the readers can take something from it.

If you would like me to write about any specific health related topics, then email info@coreni and I will do my best to cover it.

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