3 Ways That Fat-loss is Different for GAA Athletes vs. Regular People

The old saying of “Move more, Eat less” for fat-loss definitely has some validity. However, although it's technically true, there is a point of diminishing returns, where people begin to think that the more exercise they do, and the less they eat, the better, forgetting that, at least for Gaelic Athletes, it's not all about losing weight.

But when it comes to fat loss for Gaelic Athletes, is the “Move more, eat less” concept valid at all? 

For the regular fat-loss focussed individual, who wants to get into better shape, simply dropping their calorie intake for a decent period of time and getting some activity in will likely see them reducing bodyfat.

However, these people are likely to be only concerned with losing bodyfat, (and maybe building some muscle) and aren’t necessarily concerned with whether or not they can run around the pitch for 60 minutes, how fast they can move, or how their overall athletic performance will be affected.

As Gaelic Athletes, we have that added performance aspect that needs to be taken into consideration.

In this article, I aim to address some of the ways in which this added performance element affects how a Gaelic athlete’s fat-loss nutrition plan should be set up differently than people who aren’t involved in gaelic sports.

Difference #1. Losing Weight Too Quickly Will Kill GAA Performance

The average person can probably get away with a 20–25% calorie deficit and still not feel a lot of negative effects, while losing a good amount of bodyfat. That means that if you were able to amintain your bodyweight eating 2500 kcal per day, a 20% calorie deficit would be 500 kcal less than that, which is 2000 kcal per day. 

However, If we were to take a Gaelic athlete, who is maybe training 5–6 times per week including gym work etc, and is generally quite active, a 20–25% calorie reduction could mean taking 700–1000 kcal or more from their usual intake.

Of course, if we do this, the athlete will almost certainly see a good drop in bodyfat, but we are almost certain to see that athletes performance on the field drop dramatically.

Less food = less fuel!

What we really want to do is strike that fine balance between body fat loss, and supplying enough energy. If we just drop the caloric intake by enough to see a bodyfat drop, without losing any performance quality, then we are in the sweet spot. 

This will probably take some trial and error. But I would recommend starting closer to a 10-15% caloric deficit and adjusting up or down to find that sweet spot. So if your maintenance caloric intake (the amount of calories you can eat without gaining or losing any bodyweight) is 3000kcal, dropping your intake to around 2550-2700kcal might be a good starting point.

Things change slightly when it comes to someone using the off-season to lose bodyfat. In this case, they become more like the average gym-goer, in that they can afford to go that bit more extreme into their deficit, since performance is less of a consideration.

Difference #2. Additional Cardio Probably Won’t Help A GAA Athletes Fat-loss

Usually the first thing we think of when we think of fat-loss, is getting in a few extra laps around the field, adding some sprints in after training, or doing an extra running session in between training sessions. Now while this may improve your aerobic capacity, and may help with fat-loss in the off-season, adding extra cardio as an in-season or pre-season gaelic athlete probably isn’t going to help your fat-loss goals. 

I say this because the amount of cardio gaelic athletes do is already at such a high level, that adding another session is likely to simply lead to extra fatigue, hunger (and therefore increased caloric intake, potentially) and perhaps even injury. Not to mention that your extra running session is probably only going to add an extra 200–300 extra kcals to your deficit, which is very easy to be out-done by the extra food you may reward yourself for doing an extra run (ironically)! 

So I guess its not that cardio CAN’T help, but rather that it’s probably more likely to result in a performance down-turn if you’re already doing a lot of running, and you’ll probably be much better focussing on your nutrition in this case, and staying in a caloric deficit by addressing what you’re eating.

Difference #3. Carbohydrate to Fat Ratio is More Important for GAA athletes

It has been shown over and over again in the scientific literature, that when it comes to weight-loss, the number one determining factor is caloric intake. W

hen caloric intake and protein intake is the same in two individuals, the amount of carbohydrates and fat that makes up the rest of the calories is pretty much insignificant. 

However, that is for fat-loss alone. But we are also concerned with performance.

First I need to give a bit of background. The two main energy systems in the body when it comes to exercise are aerobic (low-intensity work, such as jogging) and anaerobic (higher-intensity work, such as 200m runs). The aerobic system is mainly fuelled by fats (along with carbohydrates), and the anaerobic system is mainly fuelled by carbohydrates.

As gaelic athletes, a lot of our training and matches are spent working in the anaerobic (also known as the glycolytic) energy system, which is fuelled primarily by carbohydrates.

Therefore, for optimal performance, we want to make sure our intake provides adequate carbohydrates, and therefore glycogen in the muscles, so that our anaerobic system can produce energy when needed in those high-intensity situations.

For that reason, I usually recommend that when someone is going into a fat-loss phase, and therefore usually need to reduce their caloric intake, they get this reduction by primarily reducing their fat intake. That doesn’t mean removing all fat from the diet, since we still need adequate amounts for health reasons, as well as for enjoyability of the diet. I would recommend at least 20% of the calories in the diet still comes from fat, for this reason.

Summary

  1. Take it slowly when it comes to fat-loss in-season. Find the balance where your intake provides enough energy for performance, whilst still providing slow and steady fat-loss.

  2. Don’t rely on extra running for your fat-loss. Focus instead on nutrition and eating in a caloric deficit.

  3. “No carbs before Marbs”, might work for the people on reality T.V. shows, but I’ve never seen any of them run through 3 defenders and kick a ball over the bar in Croke Park.

Conor

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