In working with GAA athletes through my online coaching program (knowyourselfnutrition.com/gaaleanathlete) I've seen a lot of common issues and questions crop up again and again.
Usually the athletes that come through the program have previously tried various methods and tactics to lose fat, and they've realised that their efforts have often been ineffective or short-lived.
These are the 3 most common mistakes I see with GAA Athelte who are trying to lose fat.
1. Cutting Out Carbohydrates
Fat-loss is caused by eaten less energy (fewer calories) than you expend. If you are not currently losing weight, then you will need to reduce your calorie intake in order to do so. The calories we eat come from protein, carbohydrates and fat.
Often, the first one of those we seem to jump to cut out is carbohydrate. The problem with this is that carbohydrates are the body's preferred energy source in high-intensity activity, such as that in GAA training and matches.
In this case, cutting out carbohydrates is likely to lead to a downturn in performance.
Given this, plus the fact that it is unnecessary, a smarter approach would be to track overall calories, making sure you eat enough protein, and biasing the rest of your calories in favour of carbohydrates, whilst still including some fat, to cover off the health benefits associated with doing so, as well as to keep the diet tasty.
For most people, this will mean reducing fat intake, in order to allow for more carbohydrates, whilst eating the right amount of calories to lose fat.
2. Doing More Laps
As mentioned, as long as you are eating less energy than you are expending, you will lose weight. One way of affecting this equation is to eat less, as mentioned above. Another way is to increase energy output, whether that is through extra daily activity or extra exercise.
This is the reason that people will do cardio, or in the case of GAA players, extra laps around the field.
The problem with doing that is that if we're already training a lot, and we add extra training on top of that, we're increasing the amount of fatigue, which can mean extra risk of under-recovery for the next training session, leading to poor quality training sessions, or worse, injury.
For the amount of extra calories that you would actually burn doing extra laps around the field, which may be surprisingly low, the risk probably isn't worth it.
An alternative may be to increase your daily step count. This will help you expend some extra energy throughout the day, without the extra fatigue.
Alternatively, reducing your daily intake slightly may be enough to achieve the desired rate of weight loss.
3. Thinking Short-term
In my experience, we tend to have an inaccurate idea of what our weight-loss targets should be. It's probably related to the fitness marketing we see where we're promised extreme weight loss in short periods of time.
Extreme, fast weight-loss is possible, but there are a few problem with takin this short-term, crash diet approach:
Firstly, it can have a major effect on performance, due to under-fuelling the body. We need enough carbohydrate to fuel training and enough protein to facilitate recovery, as well as adequate vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. The more extreme your diet approach, the less chance your are going to be able to hit these targets.
Secondly, it usually leads to putting the weight back on afterwards, due to there being no maintenance plan. You might lose weight in the short-term, but what happens 6 weeks down the line, when you no longer enjoy this way of eating? Well, usually it's back to the old ways and the weight is back on.
Thirdly, it means you aren't thinking about what is going to happen down the line. You may be thinking that you need to lose weight for the championship in 6 weeks, but what about next year? If you were to change to thinking about how you can lose the weight within the next year, how would that change your approach? Well, you'd probably build up good habits along the way, and manage to not only lose the weight, but do it in a way that allowed you to perform along the way, as well as keep the weight off afterwards. You might just be able to stop the cycle you find yourself in, of gaining fat in the off-season, only to try (and fail) to get it off in the season, and repeating.
Short-term progress can be good, but long-term, consistent progress is better.
Conor O'Neill, Know Yourself Nutrition
If you want to get your nutrition and gym-work on point for GAA, check out the Gaelic Athlete Programs here: knowyourselfnutrition.com/programs (or click on one of the programs below) or our online coaching program here: knowyourselfnutrition.com/gaaonlinecoaching.