9 Ways Athletes Can Get (and Stay) Lean

With some exceptions, most athletes perform better with a leaner build. Incorporate these 9 tips to fight fat while staying muscular.

It's not rocket science: it's healthier for athletes to be lean and carry less body fat on their bodies. There are some notable exceptions to this rule, such as football linemen and rugby players. These athletes take a pounding, so it's helpful for them to carry more cushion to help cover space and dissipate forces of impact to encourage them to remain healthy and play at a high level. And some athletes like linemen need the extra weight to compete.

But for others, excess fat can be detrimental to their health and performance. Here's why.

You Will Be Slower

The most obvious reason why you want to carry less body fat is because you increase your ability to run faster and jump higher. Fat serves a number of roles in the body, such as manufacturing hormones and improving neurological functions. But anything more than 10 to 15 percent for males and 15 to 20 percent for females will make accelerating and decelerating costlier from a force and energy standpoint.

You have probably heard this movement law, but it's worth repeating: Force = Mass x Acceleration. With less fat mass on your body, less force is necessary to move you faster. And if you are tearing it up in the weight room and training hard to increase your force production, the math says you will get faster.

Improved Performance

There is a little enzyme embedded in your fat cells called aromatase, which converts testosterone to estrogen. If you are carrying excessive fat mass, you will suffer from reduced testosterone and lowered performance, and it will be more difficult to add strength and muscle.

Here is a list of simple dietary and training strategies that will help you combat fat or prevent you from gaining it.



  1. Eat 3-4 meals per day.
  2. Limit snack food to rice cakes, Greek yogurt, vegetables and fruits.
  3. Choose chicken and lower calorie fish like halibut in place of red meats, which contain more calories.
  4. You may feel less hungry with a reduced carbohydrate diet. Try a macronutrient ratio of 40 percent protein, 40 percent carbs and 20 percent fat, and see how you respond.
  5. Drink lots of water and make sure to eat more slowly. Take at least 15 to 20 minutes to eat a meal, and resist the urge to gorge—or eat with your off hand.


  1. Do three full-body resistance training workouts per week to preserve lean mass, maximize caloric expenditure and increase EPOC (the after burn or metabolic boost from training).
  2. Perform three active recovery/cardiovascular workouts on non-training days to help fuel several recovery features, maximize calorie burn, help with fat loss and improved aerobic base support.
  3. Incorporate a conditioning finisher at the end of each workout.
  4. Make sure to get in lots of NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) so that calories can add up over time, among other things. Examples of NEAT include standing up and walking once per hour, taking the stairs or parking far away from the entrance. Small things add up.



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