As an athlete, you need to be lean in order to be maximally successful. Dropping body fat has an immediate benefit towards your speed, agility, nutrient partitioning and hormonal profile. For men, this means walking around anywhere between 9-15% body fat, and for women this means staying within 14-22%.
In any sport (besides sumo wrestling), the athletes perform far better when they are lean and have a longer career longevity, but this is especially true in hockey. Hockey demands that you have maximal conditioning and carrying around too much body fat does nothing to support performance. It does not increase your strength, it does not improve your conditioning and it does not improve your health. In fact, it can have a negative impact on all of those things, whether it be short term or long term.
The audience of this blog in very much intrinsically motivated, which pretty much means you already knew that you should be lean and you are already motivated enough to do so. The problem many run into is they simply stall in their weight loss efforts and then don’t know where to turn next. The purpose of this blog will not be to write out a meal plan for you, but instead discuss the most common reasons athletes fall into this trap where they cannot drop anymore body fat.
#1: You suck at counting calories
This is easily the most common reason athletes fail to drop body fat. Listen here, do not put the cart before the horse! Worrying about what protein you’re using, what time you have your meals, when you train, what supplements you take, is all useless information until you get your calories straight. This needs to be done first, not last.
Thermodynamics is not just a cool idea, they are the laws of physics. Meaning, energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only transferred from one place to another. In the case of nutrition and body weight regulation, this means:
Calories in vs. Calories out
This equation is incredibly more complex than it looks as that equation alone represents the entire metabolism, but we don’t need to break that all down. What you do need to know though is that the body can only be in three physiological states in respect to the laws of thermodynamics.
#1: Hypocaloric state – A hypocaloric state is a state in which calories in are less than calories out so therefore you will lose weight. This is typically characterized by somebody who is successfully dropping weight.
#2: Maintenance – A state of maintenance is a state in which calories in are equal to calories out so therefore you will maintain your current weight. This is normally seen in three different scenarios among hockey players. The first is somebody who has met their goals and only wants to maintain. The second is the guy who thinks he is “eating so much and just can’t gain weight” when he is clearly only eating at maintenance. The third is the guy who has plateaued in his fat loss efforts and is no longer dropping weight and is instead currently (most of the time unknowingly) eating at maintenance.
#3: Hypercaloric state – A hypercaloric state is a state in which calories in are greater than calories out so therefore you will gain weight. This is typically characterized by somebody who is successfully gaining weight.
What does any of this mean?
Well, you can be taking all the perfect supplements, eating at all the perfect times, eating the most high quality perfect foods, getting perfect sleep every single night and be on a perfect training plan. BUT, if you’re eating at maintenance calorie levels, you aren’t going to lose a pound.
That’s reality for you, and that’s honestly where a lot of people fall short. They’ll something along the lines of:
“I’m training hard and I’m eating the right foods, it’s just not coming off”
You know what, they are probably right. They probably are training hard and eating the right foods. This doesn’t mean though that they aren’t eating too much of the right foods. Here’s an important take away point for you.
Whether it’s a “clean food” or not, your body has no problem storing it as body fat.
The stomach has no gauge that goes:
“Oh ok this was chicken, broccoli and rice. I’ll put 100% of this right into the muscle and not as fat, because this is clean food!”
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Your body just see’s food and energy, that’s it. When in a hypercaloric or maintenance state (Calories in are greater than or equal to calories out), each and every food has an equal ability to be stored as fat.
So how do we get around this?
Find out what your maintenance is and go from there. If you have been weight stable for the past month there is an incredibly reliable chance that you’re habitually eating at maintenance. Keep a food log for the next 7 days, write down absolutely EVERYTHING you eat (foods and liquids). From here, take the average amount across the 7-days and you have your maintenance number.
To initiate weight loss, I recommend starting with just a small 10% deficit in this number and going from there. This ensures you will be eating less than maintenance and also lets you know what your maintenance actually is so you have more knowledge at your disposal to attack this thing.
#2: You’re being an idiot on the weekends
You know what’s a great way to ruin a good week’s worth of dieting?
Being an idiot during the weekend.
It is much easier to ruin your fat loss efforts than you think by posting an “epic cheat meal” on Instagram or going out for wings and beers with the boys. Those calories add up, and they add up fast. Let’s go over a couple examples most relevant to hockey players, bar food and beer.
Example #1: Joe Schmo
Joe read this article, did a week’s worth of logging his intake and found out his maintenance was 2500 calories per day. Joe wants to lose weight so he took my advice and started out with a simply 10% deficit in daily calories intake each and every day.
Cutting intake: 2500kcal – 10% = 2250kcal
New daily intake throughout the week: 2250kcal
So what we have here is a daily decrease in 250kcal, over the course of the week (7 days), this translates into a weekly deficit of 1750kcal.
Joe was very good with his diet all week. He tracked everything on his nutrition app and ensured he only ate 2250kcal per day everyday but when he started this diet he told himself that every Saturday was going to be his cheat day so he is going out to the bar to watch the hockey game tonight and he’s going to order a cheeseburger with fries and a beer.
What does the math look like here for the cheeseburger and fries?
Hooters cheeseburger + fries = 1710kcal
Boston Pizza cheeseburger + fries = 1690kcal
TGIF cheeseburger + fries = 1810kcal
(few popular restaurant examples, although from my searching they all hover around 1600-2000+)
Now how about for a couple beers to go with it?
Two Budweiser’s = 290kcal
Two Coor’s = 298kcal
Two Heineken = 296kcal
(again just some popular examples, although from my research they all hover 150kcal-ish per normal beer, but the red’s and dark’s can climb up a lot higher)
We now have a grand total here sitting EASILY around 2000kcals. If you have been reading closely, the weekly deficit we created by being good all week was only 1750kcal. So we just effectively lost the deficit we created this week with one meal alone, I didn’t even count the other stuff you would have ate that day leading up to going out for dinner and having a couple beers.
Now, am I saying you should never go out to eat and enjoy nights like this?
Of course not!
But you now know how sensitive this situation can be towards making or breaking your current goals. Remember, I’m going to repeat this again, the calorie deficit you earned by being good all week was eliminated with only ONE MEAL. Lots of people don’t even do a “cheat meal” and instead do a “cheat day” or “cheat weekend”. These people can not only effectively nullify their deficit, but actually go backwards and gain weight by making such bad decisions on the weekend.
A good rule to stick with is this:
You should have to earn your free meal.
Have you successfully lost weight this week?
If the answer is yes, have a nice meal.
Did you not lose any weight this week?
If the answer is yes, why are you going out for crap?
Again, I am in no way saying that going out for a bar food meal with your friends / family is a bad thing whatsoever. What I am saying is that if you haven’t lost any weight this week at all and you’re still doing things like this you’re going to have a tough time convincing anybody (including yourself) that fat loss is something that’s important to you.
#3: You have been trying to diet for too long
In nutritional science there is such a thing called metabolic adaptation. What metabolic adaptation essentially is is the metabolism recognizing that you have been in a hypocaloric state for too long so it intentionally slows itself down to decrease any further weight loss.
This is an evolution based mechanism for survival. Your body doesn’t care that you want to be lean and good at hockey, all it cares about is your survival. The body is a survival machine. Without diving into too much detail (metabolic adaptation has mountains of research behind it), when you enter a hypocaloric state for too long of a period (several months in most cases), your brain and metabolism will think that food is scarce and that you may starve to death if you continue to lose weight.
So, the metabolism slows itself right down to put you back into maintenance mode as opposed to a hypocaloric state so that weight loss does not continue and that you survive another day. An overly simplistic example looks something like this:
• Original maintenance: 2000kcal
• You decide to cut calories 20% so you begin to habitually eat 1600kcal daily
• *Several months pass*
• Metabolism slows itself down to 1600kcal so that now your calories in are equalling your calories out
• Since the metabolism has slowed down, no more weight loss ensues
An important note I want to make sure before moving on is that this is metabolic adaptation and NOT metabolic damage. Metabolic damage is a dumb made up buzzword. Metabolic adaptation has been around for years and is something that has tons of research and understanding, metabolic damage on the other hand is a made up term coined to stir up attention and nothing else.
In this scenario, going back up to your original maintenance for 2-4 weeks will actually pay you dividends in the long term for your future weight loss efforts. This effectively “resets” hormonal and physiological mechanisms behind getting your metabolism running at a high speed again.
#4: You suck at sleeping
Sleep quality’s effect on the body’s Respiratory Exchange Ratio (RER) is one of its biggest noticeable effects. RER is a way in which to measure the primary source of your body’s fuel for energy. If you have a low measured RER you are burning a greater proportion of fat. If you have a high RER your body is burning a greater proportion of lean tissue. Here’s a snap shot overview of what RER is and how it relates to hockey players.
Most of us are all familiar with Resting Metabolic Rates (RMR). For those of us who are not familiar, an RMR value is the number of calories at which you burn per day just to sustain normal bodily function. This is the rate of energy the body uses while at rest to keep vital functions going, such as breathing and keeping warm. This can vary quite a bit between individuals based primarily on size. For example, a 300lbs strongman competitor is going to have a higher RMR to keep his body functioning on a day to day basis than a 90lbs gymnast.
Where RER values come into play is they determine how much of this base daily calorie burn is coming from either fatty tissue, or lean tissue (muscle, glycogen stores). Hockey players are incredible athletes and to compete at a high level we want to have the greatest lean muscle tissue to fat tissue ratios so optimizing RER is something of significant importance.
How sleep ties into this is research has shown low levels of sleep (5.5hrs nightly) significantly raises RER. Meaning, if you are consistently getting poor sleeps you are shifting the majority of your daily calorie burn to lean tissue as opposed to fatty tissue. Ideally, we would have a low RER value to optimize fat burning while keeping your lean muscle mass.
Here’s some more bad news.
A decreased sleep level raises your RER value without affecting your metabolic rate. Meaning, if your daily calorie burn average is 2500 calories, it is going to stay that way with or without a bad sleep. So if you get a bad sleep and your RER raises, your metabolism won’t lower to offer up some damage control. You will just lose that much more lean tissue. Not good.
To put things into perspective and give some examples. Let’s say you have an average calorie burn of 2500 calories per day. If you have a low RER value, 2000 of that could be coming from fat and only 500 from lean tissue. Whereas if you have a high RER value, 1250 could be coming from fat at 1250 from lean muscle tissue. Not a good trade off if optimizing your athletic potential and body composition are in your sights.
Why should we actually care about this?
I can quickly answer this question with a couple other questions. If you’re trying to lose weight, do you want to lose 50% body fat and 50% lean muscle tissue? Or would you rather lose a lot more body fat than lean muscle tissue?
On top of this, sleep plays many other important roles in regards to fat loss that go outside the scope of this blog post which include levels and ratios of testosterone/growth hormone/cortisol, how well your immune system functions, levels of leptin/ghrelin (staggeringly important towards speed of metabolism) and blood sugar regulation.
To wrap things all up here for you, if weight loss is a tough battle that you’re currently fighting calories is without a doubt the #1 thing you need to address. From here, scroll down the list and make sure you are either
a) Not being an idiot
b) Not sucking
If you want help losing weight so you can become a better hockey player, score more goals, and dominate your hockey league check out our Hockey Training Programs!