Sports and physical activity should promote a healthy lifestyle and foster the development of healthy individuals. Sports have a tremendous social impact, through which we can see the moral and ethical values of one nation while sending valuable information to the new generation. Aside from the positive benefits regarding psychological and physical wellbeing, the sport has a negative side as well. This comes from the various deviant behaviors. Deviant behaviors happen when people do not conform to rules and already accepted norms of the group. Deviant behavior does not always have to be negative. However, when connected to the sport, they have a negative connotation. In general, we can recognize the following:
- Issues related to doping and performance-enhancing drugs;
- The problem related to eating disorders;
- Issues involved in hazing in sport;
- The debate about whether gambling should be legal or not;
Seeing that in karate we have different weight categories, many coaches, and athletes do whatever it’s necessary to win a place in the national team. Often this is achieved by using various low-calorie diets, fasting, and drugs such as fat burners and diuretics. All these behaviors can lead to health issues which are related to eating disorders.
Many times I have witnessed karatekas skipping meals, counting every seep of water and wearing multiple layer cloths while putting their body under a strenuous training regimen. And all this was fully supported by the coaches without doctors’ supervision or any guidance.
Although none of my team colleagues have experienced the destiny of some top-level athletes such as Christy Henrich, the USA gymnast who died due to organ failure, they struggled with maintaining their weight. On the other side, Christy turned to anorexia and bulimia after a judge told her that she needs to lose weight if she wants to be a successful gymnast and finished tragically.
In general female athletes are more prone to eating disorders, and it is mainly related to sports with weight categories and where the importance of physical appearance is an essential factor to win.
I am not here to advise you how to treat any of these conditions. That should come from a medical professional. This post has a job provide information and get you familiar with the consequences related to reduced calorie intake on your overall health and help you lose and maintain your weight through various strategies.
Before I introduce possible strategies regarding weight and fat reduction lets see why it is so important to take care about what and how much you eat and what are the negative consequences of decreasing calorie intake for a prolonged time.
You cannot outsmart your body
Our body is a smart, well adjustable machine, and it would do whatever it takes to survive. We need calories for our body to do its job. The body organs need the energy to keep running throughout the day. For this, the body needs a certain amount of energy called the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which depends on the body’s type, age, and genetics. However, by using a simple formula or a mobile app, you can determine it pretty quickly. Ones you determine your BMR, you need to define your activity level and align it with your sports goals. Not the most accurate, but simple way for calculating your calorie needs can be found here.
As mentioned before, we must meet our BMR to ensure proper work of different systems. However, most of the times, athletes and coaches decide to spend a long time in deprivation, consuming way to fewer calories and meeting their BMR needs. This can result in an imbalance of different body systems.
Hormones control everything in the body. Any deviation in food intake, whether that be in quality or quantity, eventually will result in a hormonal imbalance. Prolonged deprivation might result in a decrease in testosterone (usually after four weeks), a reduction in leptin levels (a hormone that tells your brain you are full) and increase in ghrelin (hunger hormone).
Long-term calorie deprivation in females can cause downregulation in metabolism and fertility and decrease in thyroid hormones (decrease conversion of less active T4 to active T3 form). Furthermore, it might increase the level of cortisol resulting in increased inflammation and other health problems together with weight gain, which is the opposite of what we what to accomplish.
What do you need to know about low calorie and carb diets?
Many people who used various low carb diets experienced positive results related to body weight reduction. However, it is essential to understand that often it is not a result of fat reduction but rather glycogen (stored readily available sugar) depletion from your muscles and liver. Furthermore, we have to be aware of the fact that every gram of sugar comes with 3 grams of water plus some minerals. This means that in the first period the numbers on the weigh scale decrease mainly due to excess water loss, not fat loss. Keeping the calories low, for a prolonged time will dysregulate your hormones causing more damage and inflammation in the body. This is followed by decreased performance and more important, health issues.
Inflammation: Good or Bad thing?
Inflammation is not something that should always be marked as something negative. Inflammation body’s natural response to stress that activates different healing mechanism when we get injured, when there is an infection in the body or initiating the process for muscle recovery after strenuous exercises. The muscle soreness is a result of inflammation. So, we “survive” many small inflammation processes throughout the day. However, the problem comes when this inflation becomes chronic, which mean is present for a prolonged period. Constant inflammation results in increased cortisol which is known as a stress hormone, making the things even more complicated. The insulin level also goes up, making it harder for the body to burn fat since it is fat storage hormone.
On top of this, athletes further exaggerate the adverse effects of prolonged calorie restriction by an introduction of high-intensity workouts. This way you exhaust your body, deplete its energy resources without proper replenishment. Sometimes kumite competitors would even avoid drinking water and skip meals after practice. On the day of the tournament, the same competitor would fast until they visit the weighing room and make sure they fit in the appropriate category. After that, you have a massive feast where athletes can gain few kilos, without knowing that the damage was done a long time ago and it cannot be reversed in one day and a couple of sandwiches prepared on at breakfast. For some athletes, this scenario sounds familiar. But it does not have to be this way, and all this you can avoid with the strategies I will share below.
How to get and maintain your ideal weight throughout the season without destroying your body
Before you even consider changing your diet plan to achieve your perfect weight, make sure the category you pursue is suitable for you. Schering 3 to 5 kilos is achievable and can be done safely. How smooth the cutting of kilos will go depends on your body composition and the body muscle-fat ratio. This means that sometimes you can get read of your excess body fat, and sometime, you will have to get read of some of your muscle tissue. The latter is less desirable and more stressful way of achieving your ideal weight, which you might want to reconsider.
Possible strategies for weight loss and burning fat
As motioned before, long-term calorie deprivation has negative physiological consequences. A possible solution for avoiding this adverse physiological changes is through use of Calorie Cycling protocol. Before I start explaining, I have to say that there is nothing healthy is this approach. Unfortunately, high-performance sport and health, have very little in common these days. However, this is way better than simple starving.
The calorie cycling protocol involves alternating between low and high-calorie days. Five days of the weeks are a low-calorie day, with calorie close to your BMR. This is followed by two days of regular calorie intake, according to your needs and activity levels. By doing this, you tell your body that there is enough food to maintain proper function, allowing regular hormonal work, including the thyroid hormone which usually gets suppressed with a low-calorie diet for a prolonged time. To put it in perspective, you might have low-calorie intake Monday-Friday, and usual calorie intake on Saturday and Sunday. You can also consider going low calorie on low-intensity days and two of your high-intensity days can be accompanied with regular calorie intake.
By doing this, you get weight loss at the same time avoiding the adverse hormonal and metabolic effects of a low-calorie diet.
On one side, cold is terrifying, from another it is the best and easiest thing you can do for your health, CNS recovery and fat burning properties of your body. These days, emerging in cold/ice water becomes popular between fitness enthusiasts and athletes. One of the biggest proponents of a cold shower is Wim Hof, known as the Ice Man, who uses cold thermogenesis as a tool for improving health and sports performance. The benefits of cold thermogenesis or cold exposure are myriad. Some of them include increased ability of the body to burn fat by increasing the level of the hormone adiponectin, boosting metabolism, blood level regulation, mood improvement and much more. For more information, I highly suggest you read this article.
Incorporate cold showers in the morning for 3-5 min, and possibly doing the same throughout the day. If you like hot water, you can consider taking a shower with hot and finishing with cold water starting from a couple of second and slowly increasing the time until you get to 3-5 min or maybe even alternation between hot and cold water.
Practicing low-intensity aerobic exercises in a fasted state first thing in the morning
Incorporating low-intensity workout in a fasted state makes the body fat more readily available for fueling your activity. The reason why you want to do your exercise with no food is that by ingesting any food, you get an insulin spike. The insulin response inhibits the fat burning mechanisms and stops or slows down the fat oxidation.
Since carbohydrates (different types of sugar) spike the blood glucose levels, people would think that high protein breakfast would be a perfect substitute. However, protein effects the blood glucose levels as well, therefore, it should be avoided before training to achieve the best results regarding fat oxidation.
To avoid muscle loss or at least to decrease it, taking essential amino acids or BCAA is an excellent solution to do that. This is especially helpful during more intense workouts done first thing in the morning in a fasted state. Have in mind that BCAA does not provide the full spectrum of amino acids essential amino acids do. However, BCAA does have a muscle sparing effect, and EAA can have muscle building. In the end, both can contribute toward muscle saving effect where EAA have an advantage.
Another thing that can enhance the fat oxidation in fasted exercises is the coffee or the caffeine that comes with it. Caffeine enhances the utilization of the free fatty acids, increases the focus, improves glucose tolerance and in some cases, can increase the power output providing a performance-enhancing effect.
Glycogen depletion and carbs backloading
Doing a workout in glycogen depleted state can increase the fat oxidation. Many karatekas (Kumite competitors) who struggle with their weight are on a constant diet and already have experienced and have been in a state of glycogen depletion. However, the problem comes from not having proper dietary guidance, supplementation, and spending too long in a caloric deficit. For this reason, introducing carb backloading protocol is used to avoid any hormone dysregulation and foster fat oxidation.
The idea behind Carb Backloading protocol in that you avoid or decrease the consumption of carbohydrates to a minimum in certain days, followed by average or increased carb consumption in other days. For example, you can limit your carb consumption to 30-50 carbs a day, from Monday through Friday. Then you have a regular meal on Saturday and Sunday. By introducing regular carbohydrate days (Saturday and Sunday), you keep proper testosterone level and thyroid function.
Another protocol, initially introduced by John Kiefer, introduces a diet where you save all your carb for the evening meal. Throughout the day you are running on very low carbs, saving all for your dinner. This means that your breakfast would be eggs with bacon, salad with a meat or fish for lunch, and pasta, sweet potatoes, rice, etc., for dinner. This protocol is especially useful if you have high-intensity training before your dinner.
Physical exercise triggers the insulin sensitivity, and all the sugar from the food gets shoved in the muscles instead of the fat tissue. This way you replenish the glycogen deposes in the muscle tissues and liver. Plus, consuming carbohydrates in the evening increase the level of serotonin and allows you to have a good night sleep.
Extra tip for women– retrieved from Ben Greenfield
A caloric deficit can have detrimental effects on the woman body and hormonal status as well. Another thing female should have in mind and pay attention to is the progesterone levels, a hormone related to fertility, monthly menstrual cycle regulations, conception, and pregnancy.
Athletes pursue success comes with many sacrifices, many including the health as well. One of the most significant challenges karatekas competing in the kumite face with is the weight reduction and control. For this reason, many decide to achieve the desired weight through dies and calorie restriction. Prolonged calorie restriction combined with high-intensity training can result in hormonal dysregulation, increased stress and inflammation, and other health-related issues. These can be avoided with the following strategies:
What about you
Do you have any particular dietary guidance that you follow and you find useful for controlling your weight? Please share your experience in the comments.
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