June 21, 2011

Trainers Association offers guidelines for weight loss

You're a 250-pound high school football player. And when you look in the mirror - and are honest with yourself - you know you'll be in better shape and play better at 225 pounds.

Do you have time to make that weight in a healthy fashion by the start of practice in August?

According to a report released by National Athletic Trainers Association Monday, you do. But you need to start your training regimen now. And you shouldn't lose much more weight than those 25 or so pounds. In this case, the group says, less is more.

The association, concerned about the health effects of losing too much weight too quickly - and using less-than-healthy methods to do so - gave seven recommendations for healthy weight loss at its annual convention, including a limit of losing just 1.5 percent of your body weight per week (or about four pounds for a 250-pound teenager).

But here's the good news, if it's done properly, teenagers can lose weight while eating real food - and change their diet for the better.

Paula Sammarone Turocy, the lead author of the position statement, said losing weight slowly but surely is the key to doing it correctly.

"The benefit is that you can get the guys to a goal weight and do it in a way where they actually have more energy rather than less," she said.

Sammarone Turocy said the guidelines work for anyone of any age - and whether you are an athlete or not. But she said she has seen the benefits with football players.

"They are able to see the benefit of eating correctly without all those crazy shakes and special pills," she said. "They can achieve it with food. And that gives them more energy and they feel that difference."

It enables them, she said, to achieve what they really want - a quicker and stronger body.

"Once they reach their goal weight, they are ready to build muscle and they have the energy to do so," she said. "I've seen it over and over again. Players' times have improved, their max weight (in exercises) has gone up and they're doing it by eating real food, which makes it easier to maintain."

The guidelines mean a player starting a weight-loss program now has just seven weeks to go before most camps begin in August. And while it may seem possible to lose 40-50 pounds before then, the NATA wants to stress that losing more weight incorrectly isn't as healthy as dropping a smaller amount of pounds in a controlled manner.

But wait: Don't people on those weight-loss shows lose far more pounds than that in the same amount of time?

"They do," Sammarone Turocy said. "But those people have an awful lot of weight to lose. And they are monitored very closely by physicians to make sure they are doing it in a safe manner. And they are exercising half their day; who can do that? Is that realistic for an average person?"

Sammarone Turocy, the chair of the department of athletic training at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, stresses that losing huge quantities of weight over a short period of time is not as good for an athlete because it often indicates losing a large amount of water weight, which isn't a good thing before the heat of a summer practice.

"Beside the obvious problems of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, water is the only nutrient your body needs," she said. "Without water, you can't create and use energy efficiently in your body. If they want to have more energy, they have to have water."

Sammarone Turocy emphasizes losing weight the wrong way, often with diets based on dehydration and food restriction, can affect muscle and bone status - a horrible side effect for a still growing body.

An improper diet, she says, can lead to other issues such as a thyroid problem that could lower metabolism (which decreases energy levels), a suppressed immune system (which often leads to an increased number of infections) and, in girls, impaired hormone production (which can lower estrogen levels and increase the risk of osteoporosis and menstrual dysfunction).

With that, a look at the NATA's seven basic recommendations:

  • A body composition assessment, which is a scientific and objective method of estimating lean body mass and fat mass, should be used to determine a body weight consistent with safety, good health and optimal performance in weight-classification sports.
  • Progress toward reaching the target weight based on body composition tests should be assessed at regular intervals by repeating the body composition tests.
  • Weight change, gain or loss should not occur at excessive rates - gain or loss should be steady and at consistent and safe rate (i.e., 1 to 2 pounds per week for weight reduction). In addition weight loss should not exceed 1.5 percent of body weight per week.
  • Both diet and exercise should be used as part of the strategy to change body weight. Weight management (change) should follow the training plans and goals of athletes or other physically active individuals.
  • Enough calories taken in from all food groups should occur during weight change. Metabolism and energy needs for physical activity must be considered in developing the diet.
  • Education on safe dietary and weight management practices should be conducted on a regular and planned basis; and the involvement of trained nutrition, health and weight management experts such as athletic trainers or other health professionals is highly recommended. Coaches, peers and family members should not provide information or participate in diet, body composition or weight management practices and refrain from making comments on them.
  • Athletes should be cautious with the use of dietary supplements and ergogenic aids for weight management, or any techniques that lead to rapidly changing body weight through unsubstantiated methods of weight reduction. Consideration of the sport governing boards' rulings on such supplements must be given.
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