When high school football players want to lose weight for improved performance, they may receive all sorts of interesting and sometimes conflicting advice. Someone will counsel, “no carbohydrates”while another says “avoid all fat”. These tips tend to fall into the category of “fad diets”. Fad diets may lead to quick, temporary weight loss, but are hard to maintain and negatively impact performance and health. So, how should a football player lose weight in a healthy way?
A high school football player should focus on making small, but long lasting changes to food, physical activity and other lifestyle choices for healthy weight loss. These changes can include increasing intake of nutrient full foods, staying hydrated, getting 8-10 hours of sleep at night, daily physical activity, avoiding restriction and limiting higher sugar/fat foods. Weight loss should happen slowly with only 1-2 pounds lost per week, which usually comes from a deficit of 200-500 calories.
Weight loss during the teenage years can harm growth and development. Those who feel the need to lose weight should talk to a professional such as a doctor or registered dietitian for further guidance.
Continue to read for additional information on changes a high school football player can make for a healthier lifestyle.
Tips for Losing Weight for High School Football
Eat Better, Not Always Less
During the high school years, a teenager’s body and brain go through important development and growth. Restricting food by calories, carbohydrates, fat or by any other form can cause long lasting damage to a teen’s health. These consequences are why a teenager should avoid attempting any extreme restriction diets such as keto, low-fat, paleo, etc. in order to lose weight.
Rather than restrict, a high school football player can include more of certain nutrient and fiber full foods. These foods will replace foods lower in nutrients and higher in sugar and fat. Nutrient full foods will help a teenager feel full, energized and provide many important nutrients that support performance and growth.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Lean protein
- Low-fat dairy
- Healthy fats
Stay Well Hydrated
Why should an athlete focus on drinking enough fluids?
Drinking enough fluids as an athlete can not be emphasized enough. While sweating profusely and purposely limiting fluids will make the scale number go down, this practice only leads to a temporary weight loss and causes the body harm. In fact, even a 2% dehydration of body weight leads to decreased mental and physical performance. Continued dehydration can cause enough damage to the athlete that they end up in the hospital.
There are many benefits to drinking enough fluids. Proper hydration ensures that the brain functions at its best. Drinking water may even decrease frequency of headaches.
Hydration allows for optimal performance and decreases experiences of constipation. Also, thirst can sometimes increase feelings of hunger, making hydration an important tool for maintaining a healthy weight.
What staying hydrated looks like
Everyone’s fluid needs differ and there is no set amount for a high school football player. One of the best ways to check hydration is by the color of urine. Pee should be a pale yellow. Dark yellow means the body needs more fluids.
The best fluid to consistently drink is water. If an athlete finds it difficult to drink plain water, they may find it helpful to add some fruit slices to the water or try sparkling water.
Workouts longer than 90 minutes may call for a sports drink that contains electrolytes to help hydrate. Sports drinks should not be a regular beverage of choice as it can be higher in sugar.
A high school football player looking to lose weight should limit high sugar beverages such as soda, chocolate milk, energy drinks and sugar sweetened juice. Instead, an athlete should choose sugar less, but nutrient full beverages such as milk, plant based milks, whole fruit smoothies, protein shakes and water.
Eat Enough Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat
Any eating plan that suggests eliminating or severely restricting macronutrients ( protein, carbohydrate, fat) or calories can harm the health of a high school football player. Restriction also leads to binging (eating an uncomfortable amount of food in one sitting), which can impede weight goals. Each macronutrient plays an important role in promoting health and in maintaining a healthy weight.
Carbohydrates often receive the villain label in diet culture and many believe eating them leads to weight gain. Too many calories leads to weight gain, not a certain macronutrient. However, carbohydrates are actually superheroes in the diet of a football player.
Carbohydrates provide the main source of energy for the body. When a football player sprints to make a catch or tackle an opponent, carbohydrates fuel that sprint. Not eating enough carbohydrates leads to feeling fatigued and poor performance.
Carbohydrates are found in many nutrient full foods such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy and legumes.
Protein from food helps with many functions of the body. Consuming adequate protein while losing weight is especially important as it protects lean muscle mass. Furthermore, muscle repair after a workout requires protein and carbohydrates. Protein also helps athletes feel full between meals and snacks and keep a steady blood sugar.
Most individuals meet their protein needs easily through whole foods, without the need for protein shakes and bars. Meat, poultry, fish, legumes nuts and dairy all provide good sources of protein.
The body usually only uses 15 to 30 g of protein every 3 to 4 hours for muscle synthesis. This principle means eating protein frequently provides more benefit than a large amount of protein all at once. A football player should try to consume protein with most meals and snacks.
It may be difficult to understand how fat in the diet can be helpful to maintaining a healthy weight. However, It is important to remember that fat in our food is different than the fat carried on bodies. We do need fat on our bodies in order to be healthy and dietary fat benefits the body in many other ways.
Dietary fat helps with vitamin and mineral absorption, feelings of fullness, energy storage and overall body health. Certain fats, called unsaturated fats, provide more health benefits than other fats, called saturated fats.
Include unsaturated fats in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Unsaturated fats include olive oil, nuts, nut butters, avocado and fatty fish. On the other hand, saturated fats can still be enjoyed on occasion, but should be limited. These fats are found in processed foods, butter, desserts and red meats.
Remember Other Lifestyle Choices
Dietary choices significantly impact weight goals, but other aspects of living play into the weight and health equation as well. Other important factors to consider as a high school football player include physical activity, sleep and stress.
Daily physical activity helps create the 200-500 calorie deficit needed for weight loss. Some research even shows physical activity is tied to a desire to eat healthier and can sometimes suppress appetite. Physical activity with appropriate nutrition also preserves muscle mass and strengthens bones. Physical activity promotes better physical, mental and emotional health.
A teenage football player should try to sleep 8-10 hours every night. This sleep is essential to good growth, development and performance. Adequate sleep is also tied to reduced rates of disease, including obesity.
The juggling act of school, family, social and football life creates a high risk for stress. While stress is not always avoidable, there are many ways to manage stress. This management will improve sleep, performance and health. Chronic stress can lead to unhealthy eating habits, which means that managing stress can also help with eating a healthy meal pattern.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an individual can manage stress by prioritizing tasks, practicing relaxation, setting aside time for self, eating well, getting good sleep, avoiding alcohol and drugs and reaching out to others.
Would a five year old with the dream of becoming a doctor be expected to learn the anatomy of the body while learning the ABCs? No, because the five year old would not only fail at learning anatomy, but also give up on the ABCs. The same idea applies to making lifestyle changes.
Starting small and choosing attainable goals will ultimately lead to more success than changing every possible part of ones life to be “perfectly healthy”. Taking on too much often leads to feeling overwhelmed, despair and ultimately giving up.
Identify habits acting as barriers to health and choose 1-2 of these habits to change. Once these changes become easier, focus on the next habit to change.
Try to make realistic and sustainable goals. The key to maintaining a healthy weight is making healthy choices that can be made over and over again. An athlete could eat vegetables every day for years, but avoiding all carbohydrates may only last weeks or days. Create healthy habits that lead to lifelong health.
If you’re serious about losing weight for football, check out my Nutrition Game Plan for High School Football eBook.
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