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Dieting

Q. I am a junior tennis player. I get at least 8 hours of physical activity a day. I am at a reasonable weight; but I could lose at least 5 kg. I have been on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet; but I find I can’t stick to it. Do you know of any really good diets where I can lose weight ASAP and quickly, but will still give me enough calories to last each day?

A. It’s critical for you (especially, as a junior player) to consume enough calories and a balance of nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, etc.) to support normal growth, development, maturation, and your extensive physical activity. You cannot play well or even be well, if you are not getting enough calories and nutrients.

Too much protein is a bad idea, as is too little carbohydrate. It’s difficult to be on a “diet” and train or compete successfully, especially if you are trying to lose weight too quickly.

With the help of your pediatrician and a good sport dietician, take a close look at your current eating habits (including timing of meals) and come up with a suitable diet strategy to help you achieve a more optimal weight and body composition. Importantly, appropriate and healthy weight losses (or gains) should happen slowly, if the change is going to be effective, healthy, and long-lasting.

Q. I have been on a fitness program since last August when became more serious about my tennis game since college 20 years ago. Light weights, 15 to 20 hrs a week of intense tennis, and controlling my fat intake to responsible level and not be excessive on carbs, also several exercises specifically targeting my abs. I lost from 227 down to 181, fat % from 36 to 22, waist from 42 to 37, yet I still can’t get rid of all the fat on my abs to be ripped.

A. First, consider that human beings are so diverse and have different body forms. For some people, no matter what you do, what you eat and how many crunches you do, you may never have a six pack or a completely fat stomach. For others, the hard to reduce area may be the hips, or inner thighs, or another area.

Having said that, you can do some things to reduce your belly fat to a reasonable point – things that are compatible to your body type and a healthy lifestyle. I can’t emphasize it enough, don’t base your ideal body image on images you see in others (and keep in mind that celebrity photos are sometimes touched up). Here are some hints:

• Consume a reasonable amount of carbohydrates in your diet (40-60% of the calories you consume).

Make sure the majority carbohydrates choices are whole grain starches, fruits and vegetables! Limiting carbohydrates may not produce desirable results because you need the carbohydrates for the nutrients, fiber and energy they provide. Choose low fat carbs and protein sources, but check food labels since some low fat items are high in sugar.

• Consume a reasonable calorie intake if weight loss is desired (no more than 500 – 700 calories less than your body’s daily calorie needs) and/or increase burning calories through physical activity.

For example, if your body needs 2,400 calories to maintain your current weight, you can aim to consume 1900 calories (2400-500) to lose 1-2 pounds per week. You can lose additional pounds and/or fat tissue by increasing physical activity, exercise or training. For most young women, it is difficult to get your nutrient needs if you consume less than 1800 calories a day.

Also trying to increase weight loss by eating a very low calorie diet not only reduces the intake of nutrients you need for overall health, growth, immunity and energy, it can cause your body to conserve energy which will make it harder to lose weight in the long run. To determine your daily calorie needs, consult an MD specializing in sports physiology, a dietitian, or estimating it using the tools on the www.mypyramid.gov website.

• Do 30-90 minutes of activity every day or as often as possible.

Include aerobic exercises that involve the abdominal muscles, such as walking with arms pumping or using the elliptical trainer with the arm levers.

• Do sit ups and/or waist exercises at least 5 times a week.

Consult a personal trainer to ensure abdominal exercises are done properly or use exercise DVDs or books by established exercise trainers.

• Include weights with your exercise.

Including upper body weights in your routine not only builds arm muscles (a benefit for tennis players), but when performed properly further engages the abdominal muscles. Building muscle also will increase your overall metabolism.

Try these tips consistently for several weeks and you should see a slimmer belly. However, if you are eating right and exercising, you should feel good about your accomplishments and not focus on achieving an ideal look or looking like someone else.

Be the best YOU that you can be!

Q. I am a graduate of your High Performance Coaching Program. My question is, “One of my players is now a freshman in college, she is trying to lose weight while training with her college team. Do have some either meal plans she could follow or a list of foods that should as well as should not be eaten?”

A. Terry, several things come to mind in reading your question above. First, while the player is trying to lose weight, does she “think” she needs to lose weight or is she truly overweight?

This is not really a question for you to ask or answer and I strongly encourage you to connect the player with a sports nutritionist who can work with her to identify any nutritional concerns.

I actually recommend that as something you could do with all of your team members. Many universities have a nutrition program or nutritionists who work specifically with the athletes and if you ask around you should be able to find a nutritionist who can help your team.

As for prescribing a diet, again this is a question for a nutritionist who can assess the individual’s needs and current dietary practices. A couple of points though:

A player who is trying to lose weight should adjust calorie intake and not do something drastic like cutting all fat from his/ her diet. Fat is essential and should be included in the diet.

A carbohydrate-free diet is also the wrong way to go for athletes. Carbohydrates provide the energy to perform, and reducing carbohydrate intake will compromise performance on the court.

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