Eat for Your Sport: Cutting Calories Is Not the Answer

Sophia McDermott Drysdale


Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Bodybuilding, Nutrition, Women's Fitness


According to the World Health Organization, the worldwide obesity rate has more than doubled since 1980. In 2014, 39 percent of adults over the age of eighteen were overweight, and 13 percent were obese.1 This is a scary statistic - almost half the world's population are overweight.


It’s no wonder so many people always seem to be on a diet of some sort. However, diets are part of the problem. Understanding the right way to eat is the key to avoid diets and all the negative aspects that go along with them. For athletes, understanding the powerful effects food has on the body can help you reach your sport-specific goals without dangerously cutting calories.



I’m going to talk you through my extensive experience as a gymnast, BJJ competitor, and figure competitor. As you can imagine, my eating plan varies according to my current competitive goal. But at no point does it involve suddenly cutting a lot of weight or drastically dropping calories. Let’s start with some of the basic facts of calorie-restricted diets.


Fuel your body for your sports-specific goals
Understanding the powerful effects food has on the body is critical.


The Dangers of Calorie Controlled Diets

Dieting or calorie restriction is detrimental to your health for many reasons.


Nutrient Deficiency: Dieting deprives your body of vital macronutrients such as proteins and their essential amino acids, as well as fats, essential fatty acids, and carbohydrates. Calorie restriction often leads to a lack of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and enzymes essential for all your basic biological functions. This deficiency causes low energy levels and lethargy, a decreased ability to heal from cuts and bruises, and a compromised immune system.


Slower Metabolism: Your metabolic rate, the rate at which your body utilises your fuel for energy will slow down over time to compensate for the lack of fuel it is receiving and you will burn calories less efficiently. Additionally, not eating enough puts your body in a state of stress. Since your body thinks it is in a famine, the stress causes your body to store the calories you consume.




Catabolism: Long-term yo-yo dieting and calorie restriction puts your body into a catabolic state, which leads to a decrease in muscle mass, loss of strength, and diminished performance. A starving body prefers to break down muscle tissue for energy rather than using its fat stores, since muscle requires more energy maintenance. Each muscle cell is a little powerhouse that turns your food into energy and burns fat. Cutting into your muscle mass will slow down your metabolism and lead to more weight gain over time.


Modify Your Eating Plan for Your Sport

I have practiced a number of disciplines that require me to be a certain weight, look a certain way, or both. Through trial and error and consultation with my coaches and other professionals, I figured out the best way to modify my eating plan and achieve my desired outcome for each sport:


Gymnastics: Gymnastics requires that I am strong with low body fat. I need the energy to endure 4 1/2 hour training sessions, and explosive power to do all the plyometric floor tumbles and vault jumps.


Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: As a Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioner, I require muscular endurance since my training sessions are long and the fights at black belt level last for ten minutes. I also need explosive power to be able to execute some of the techniques such as take downs and finishing sweeps. Additionally, I need to make weight for my category at tournaments.


Bodybuilding: Ms. Figure shows require that I sit at around 5-8 percent body fat, which is extremely low for a woman.


Click page 2 below to learn how I eat when training for BJJ and gymnastics.


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