First, let’s clarify something. Unless you are also in a weight-category sport, you don’t actually care about weight loss. You care about fat loss. Otherwise, I can just chop off a leg and you’d be good to go, right?
Next, we need to address why Esports athletes should care about fat loss.
Here’s one recent example: Jian Zihao (gamertag “Uzi”), one of the best League of Legends players in the game’s history, retired last year at the age of 23 due to medical complications – obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and arm and shoulder overuse injuries. Jian himself says he had been battling these problems for years and lists poor nutrition as one of the prime causes.
Poor nutrition will catch up with anyone, regardless of age.
But besides offering you better health and longevity in your chosen path (which should not be understated), fat loss can actually be a secret strategy to improve your quality of life and performance. Higher levels of body fat are associated with increased levels of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been shown to reduce cognitive faculties.
Now listen, we’re all adults here and I am going to be completely transparent. I’d be omitting a relevant factor if I didn’t also mention that many Esports athletes ask me for fat loss help to boost their attractiveness. It’s a completely valid motivator and one that has been extensively studied in the scientific literature. Coming from that research is one truly fascinating finding – people view the faces (body not shown!) of healthy eaters as more attractive [1-2]. Pretty cool, right?
Regardless of the motivator, most Esports athletes put their first efforts towards weight loss in an exercise program. Exercise is the fun part, I get it. However, it’s tough to get the results you want with an exercise-only approach. In fact, for fat loss, it’s nearly impossible.
Listen: Research supports that nutrition is the single most important factor influencing your body composition. Read that again.
The Inviolable Laws of Thermodynamics
You should know that there are fundamental laws of the universe that we can’t violate. Specifically, no one has gained tissue in an energy deficit, and no one has lost tissue in an energy surplus.
If you give your body more energy than it needs, it stores it (if you eat more than you need, you build tissue). If you give your body less energy than it needs, it has to make up the deficit by pulling from your stored energy (if you eat less than you need, you break down tissue).
There are several modifiers that make the model a bit more complex:
- Deficits and surpluses are relative to the individual (i.e., everyone is different).
- Your ‘maintenance’ value CHANGES ALL THE TIME (i.e., how many calories you need in a day varies, which is super frustrating).
It gets more tricky when you start trying to lose fat. For now, just know that the body likes to be at the weight and body composition it’s currently at. Any efforts to change it are met with powerful feedback mechanisms aimed at returning the status quo (more on this later).
This is how to calculate how many calories you need in a day:
- Calculate RMR (energy needed to survive doing nothing)
- Use this formula if you DO have body composition data
- 370 + 21.6 x LBM (kg) [LBM = lean body mass]
- Use this formula if you do NOT have body composition data
- Males: 66.5 + (13.8 × weight in kg) + (5.0 × height in cm) – (6.8 × age in years)
- Females: 655.1 + (9.6 × weight in kg) + (1.8 × height in cm) – (4.7 × age in years)
- Use this formula if you DO have body composition data
- Multiple RMR by your activity factor:
|Physical Activity Level||Physical Activity Multiplier|
|Sedentary (little or no exercise)||1.25|
|Mostly sedentary + 3-6 days of weight training or light cardio||1.35|
|Lightly Active + 3-6 days of weight training or light cardio||1.50|
|Highly Active + 3-6 days of weight training or light cardio||1.75|
- The final value is an estimate of your calorie needs for your given activity level. It can be a good starting point, but won’t apply to everyone. Use some common sense here. Let’s say you want to maintain weight and the formula tells you to eat 2,000 kcal/day. You do so, but notice you are gaining weight. Who cares what the formula said, it was clearly off for your situation. Decrease your intake!
The 10% Rule
The above formula will find your maintenance needs. To lose fat, you need to decrease your calories below this value.
Start with a 10% decrease in intake. For example, if you need 2,000 kcal/day, then decrease intake by 200 kcal/day (2,000 x 10%). Your new daily intake target is 1,800 kcal/day.
The human body CAN lose fat faster than this. When time is short, we can definitely be more aggressive. However, there are numerous drawbacks:
- Decreased physical capabilities
- Decreased recovery capacity
- Worse mood
- Increased risk of injury and illness
- Increased risk for losing lean tissue (rather than fat tissue)
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are still growing, please be extra careful when considering trying to lose fat. A calorie deficit can negatively affect your growth and development. Please consult a professional.
The biggest downside to crash diets? They’re not sustainable.
The word diet comes from the Greek word ‘diaita’, meaning ‘a way of life’. The word ‘diet’ has been bastardized.
Crash diets are more strict by design, forcing an ‘all-or-none’ mindset. The second you can’t follow the plan for whatever reason (like traveling or having a social life), you feel guilty and let loose.
If you can’t see yourself eating a certain way for an extended duration (like years), it’s not going to work. Odds are you will yo-yo with your weight and develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Not to mention wrecking your metabolism making future actual diet efforts more difficult.
If you need a more pragmatic reason to avoid overly aggressive diets, here it is…being hungry sucks.
Wouldn’t you rather be eating as much as you possibly can for as long as you possibly can while still making progress?
I know I would.
Imagine a scenario where an IG influencer told you to go on 500 kcal diet to lose fat. Super aggressive, but guaranteed to get results…right?
You do it and feel miserable. However, you start shedding some pounds so it keeps you motivated. You keep with it, but after a while you notice that the progress starts to slow. Soon – your worst fear. You’re not losing any more weight. You’re feeling awful because you’re still only eating a small salad every day. You’re still not at your goal body weight.
What do you do?
You can’t cut the calories more. Are you just going to eat nothing?
And you can’t increase your food intake, because that would undo all the hard effort you put in! You’re stuck.
Why Dieting is SO Hard
I mentioned before that the body likes to maintain its current weight and body composition. Any efforts to lose fat are resisted.
Starvation was a very real threat to ancient human survival. Any time we enter a calorie deficit, the body freaks out, thinks it’s starving, and does everything in its power to survive. Here’s what happens:
- Increased energy efficiency
- Your body gets lazy. All actions will be carried out with the bare minimum energy input. You’ll even unconsciously move less (you’ll blink less frequently, won’t bob your head to music, etc.). It’s a little creepy. When you watch people in severe calorie deficits, they look like statues.
- Decreased thermic effect of food (indirect)
- 10% of your daily energy expenditure comes from the processing of your food intake (digestion, absorption, transport, and uptake to wherever the stuff needs to go). When you diet, you reduce your food intake, reducing the energy spent processing. For example, let’s say you cut your daily intake by 500 kcals. 10% of 500 is 50. This means the deficit you created is actually only 450 kcal, not 500.
- Exercise capacity decreases
- Pretty straightforward. If you are starving and don’t have the fuel to perform physical actions, it means you can’t exercise as hard as you actually want. This further reduces any calories you could have spent exercising.
- Increased hunger
- Placing you against your willpower. The survival instinct has kicked in and is demanding you to find food and eat it. It’s tough to win every day.
- Decreased satiety
- Whenever you do eat, the same meal provides less satiety than it did before!
In fact, the increase in hunger is MORE than the energy deficit suggests. Let’s say you eat 200 kcal less than maintenance. You would expect your body to feel hunger at a 200 kcal level. However, your body will continue to experience hunger until you have eaten EVEN MORE than 200 kcal.
You may be thinking right about now, “Wow Casey. Thanks for all the bad news. Isn’t there anything I can do?”
So How Do We Fight It?
First, the math piece.
You should shoot for a weekly weight loss of 0.5-1.5 lbs. This amount is sustainable with minimal resistance from your body and minimal decreases in your performance.
Start with a 10% reduction in daily calories. Compare weekly weight averages (sum your daily weights and divide by 7). If you are losing somewhere in the 0.5-1.5 lbs. range, congrats! No further changes needed right now.
If you are not in the 0.5-1.5 lbs. range, take another 10% off your calories. Keep re-assessing weekly and adjusting as needed.
With this strategy in place, you will be able to see long-term progress and success.
It won’t be easy due to ongoing hunger, but it will be effective.
Note: Don’t ever feel guilty if you have a strong hunger drive when cutting calories. That simply means you have an awesome survival instinct!
That being said I do like things to be easy. And there are two fascinating observations about humans that provide us with some extra tools…
Observation #1: Humans tend to eat the same volume/weight of food in a given day.
Regardless of caloric density, humans tend to eat the same volume/weight of food in a given day. As an extreme example, there are far more calories in 5 lb. of butter (16,290 kcal) when compared to 5 lb. of broccoli (765 kcal). You’d obviously gain weight eating the butter, and lose weight eating the broccoli. More importantly, you’d have the same reduced drive to eat after consuming both of those!
Bottom line: Pick more foods with low caloric density. These foods tend to be high in water content (vegetables, fruits). Fill out your plates with lots of vegetables so that your stomach still gets the sensation of eating a large volume of food.
You should also avoid foods with a high caloric density. Many processed foods and high-fat foods fall into this category. That’s not to say that there aren’t some healthy high-fat foods, only that it poses a risk to you. For example, you can eat a full chicken salad or have a handful of nuts. The two have equal calories, but I know that I’m full from the salad but still trying to reach in the bag for more pistachios.
Observation #2: Humans tend to eat until they hit a certain protein threshold in a given day.
It’s called the Protein Leverage Hypothesis. Protein is the single most important macronutrient for life – you will die very quickly on a no-protein diet. The theory states that humans will seek to ensure they hit their protein needs in a day for survival. Once you’ve hit the threshold, the hunger drive stops.
You ever wonder why you can eat a full plate of pasta (mostly carbohydrate and minimal protein) and not feel full, but it’s hard to eat an entire plain chicken? Your body is still trying to hit its protein threshold with the pasta, so it keeps driving you to eat. After eating some of the chicken, you get full and don’t want to keep going.
To use this to your advantage, frontload your protein in the day to reduce hunger and increase satiety. Have lots of protein and breakfast and lunch. I’m a fan of the ‘Rule of 30’: Have 30 g of protein within 30 minutes of waking up.
- Find your maintenance calories.
- Reduce calories by 10% each week until you hit a weekly weight loss of 0.5-1.5 lbs.
- Fill your plates with low calorie dense foods.
- Frontload your protein.
You now know the “secret” strategy to getting fat loss results. It’s not fancy, but it works.
Ready to take your game to a whole new level?
Check out my advanced programs on Patreon for individualized guidance (and to support what I do).
While you’re at it, come join my Private Discord Server where you can find duo buddies who have the same fire you do to improve themselves (only invite me to duo if you are looking for a back workout). You are the average of the 5 people you hang out with, why not pick people who will push you to be better?
- Stephen ID, Law Smith MJ, Stirrat MR, Perrett DI. Facial skin coloration affects perceived health of human faces. Int J Primatol. 2009;30(6):845–857. doi:10.1007/s10764-009-9380-z
- Whitehead RD, Re D, Xiao D, Ozakinci G, Perrett DI. You are what you eat: Within-subject increases in fruit and vegetable consumption confer beneficial skin-color changes. PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e32988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032988