Although it is essential for fat loss, restricting calories for an extended period of time can have negative consequences on the body. For example, metabolism can begin to slow down, energy levels may drop, testosterone/estrogen production can start to decline and the athlete will begin to experience poor training sessions and delayed recovery.
One way around this is to include planned days of higher calories, using a concept known as calorie cycling.
It's all about the average
Fat loss will occur as a result of the athlete spending the average of their time in a calorie deficit, which means that higher calorie days can be planned into their week and around their training.
For example, if the daily calorie goal is 2,500, this gives a weekly total of 17,500 kcal. This could be split into three higher calorie days and four lower calorie days:
- High calorie days - 3,150 kcal
- Low calorie days - 1,990 kcal
High calorie days could be when the athlete has multiple training sessions and needs the greatest amount of energy possible.
Lower calorie days could be on days when there is either no training, or the training is low intensity and only a small energy demand.
If they want to excel in their sport, training sessions are absolutely crucial for athletes, so it's of paramount importance that they have the maximum amount of energy possible to train productively. But as long as their average daily calorie intake is a deficit, the athlete will lose body fat.
If an athlete feels more comfortable with consistent calorie intake—which may be the case if he or she trains daily and doesn't have room for lower calorie days—he or she may be well served by having one or two "re-feed" days during the week.
For example, if an athlete's daily maintenance calories is 3,000, their weekly maintenance calories will be 21,000. As long as they eat under this, they will be in a deficit.
If the athlete is consuming 2,500 kcal/day, but feels like his performance is suffering on some days due to restricted energy intake, he could have two days a week at 3,000 kcal, which would make his total weekly calories 18,500, still less than maintenance. The increase in energy available with a couple of days of higher calorie intake may increase energy expenditure during training and accelerate fat loss.
Calorie cycling is an effective strategy athletes can use to ensure they spend the average of their time in a calorie deficit, but still have enough energy to meet heavy training demands.
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