Understanding the Rate of Weight Loss for Athletes

Question: What is reasonable weight loss within an active racing season where a rider is racing 1-2 times per weekend?


If you are within 15 pounds of your target weight, aim for consistent weight loss of about ½-1 pound per week to keep energy and strength levels high while still achieving progressive weight-loss. Everyone loses weight at a different rate, so don’t give up too early or compare yourself to another.
You may lose weight at a fast rate in the first week or two of a diet due to body water being shed. This rate will slow-down when the water is gone and weight loss corresponds only to body stores (mainly fat) being used for energy.  This second phase of weight loss will vary in speed, so don’t get too hung up on daily weight fluctuations!  Watch for a general trend of weight loss over the course of weeks and months.  Keeping this in mind, make realistic weight goals for yourself.  Set the goal for one month at a time, weighing yourself just 1-3 times per week (this will limit the amount of fluctuations you see with your weight).

If you find yourself recovering poorly or losing energy for training or competition, try keeping a food log and making sure not to eat too little.  All too often, motivated athletes desiring to lose a large amount of weight eat as little as possible. That impairs performance. Do not let this be you!  It is very important to keep your body from going into “starvation mode” in which it holds onto body stores and slows metabolism- thus making weight loss extremely difficult.  Basal Metabolic rate is reduced by 15-30% within 24-48 hours of starting a calorie-restricted diet. Basal Metabolic rate is the energy required to keep all the baseline functions of the body working and accounts for most of the body’s daily energy requirements. A reduction in metabolic rate means that it takes fewer calories to survive. This makes it harder to create an energy deficit and loss of body fat. The more you restrict your intake, the less you may need to eat, and the harder it becomes to lose weight (body fat)! Therefore, long-term small changes are much more likely to be successful, achievable, and maintainable.

Be sure to work closely with your trainer and dietitian to monitor your performance and weigh loss progression, since there are multiple complicating influences that can limit success.

Very Slow Weight Loss:

If you find your rate of weight loss very slow, that’s okay.  There may be other stress-related factors influencing or slowing the rate (such as sleep, training, emotions, medications, etc).  Before giving up or drastically changing your diet, consult with a dietitian or nutrition coach to help with your progress.

Very Fast Weight Loss:

Additionally, losing weight too fast can potentially pose serious health problems, as well as jeopardizing performance.  If you find yourself losing > 1 pound per week, and/or losing performance capabilities => add more food to your diet and contact a nutrition coach.  If persistent and rapid weight loss continues, be sure to consult with your physician.

** If you have a complicated health history, your doctor or a registered dietitian should be your first resource before attempting significant weight loss.

Sarah Weber, MS, RD

Wenzel Coaching nutritionists work daily with endurance athletes to help them refine their food choices and portions and improve performance. Check our current nutrition coaching packages, from four weeks to four months, or ongoing consultation.