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Expert Q&A

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Howcan I maintain my energy level for sports while on a diet?

Asked by Erin, Peoria, Illinois

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What advice do you have for an athletic woman trying to lose only 5-10 pounds while maintaining energy to participate in sports and such?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Erin -- As a diet doctor, I see a lot of patients like you in my office, and while the same basic rules of weight loss apply (consume fewer calories than you burn), I often have to be much more aggressive in athletic patients looking to lose only 5-10 pounds. Here are a few suggestions that I make to my patients in your situation.

1. Track everything -- While keeping a food journal is important for all dieters, it is particularly important if you don't have much weight to lose, as even small, seemingly inconsequential things like a slice of cheese or mayo on a sandwich, a larger size non-fat latte, or a second glass of wine, juice or soda, can interfere with weight loss. If the scale is not responding, review your food journal carefully and see if there are any areas where you can cut 50-100 calories without affecting your energy or hunger levels significantly.

2. Double your vegetable intake and reduce fat -- Both of these changes will significantly decrease the calorie density of your diet without decreasing the volume of food that you consume. While I don't advocate an ultra low-fat diet, because fat has more than double the calories per gram of either protein or carbohydrates, it is the simplest way to cut calories. Vegetables are loaded with water, fiber, and nutrients, so not only will they fill you up with fewer calories, they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants which are particularly important for athletes.

3. Cut back on starchy carbohydrates on non-workout days -- This is a trick that I use in my office quite often. It is important not to cut carbohydrates significantly on days that you are exercising strenuously, as this will negatively affect your energy level and will probably result in loss of lean body mass (muscle, bone, and water) which can impair weight loss efforts long term. Instead, cut back on starchy carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, cereal) on "off" days during which you are not doing anything strenuous.

In addition, you may want to consider making some changes in your workout regimen. See one of my previous columns on breaking weight loss plateaus through exercise.

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