Ask NoFair: Eating for Weight Loss or Eating for Performance?

Posted on: September 27th 2017

Eating for performance | Roller Derby Athletics

About a million years ago, Booty asked me what the biggest mistake people make when changing their diet to fuel for derby. The unequivocal answer is that they start eating for weight loss instead of eating for performance.

There are SO many diets out there, mostly directed at weight loss, and it’s super easy to get overwhelmed. But a healthy nutrition strategy doesn’t need to be complicated.

If you’re starting from not-so-great dietary habits, don’t even worry about eating for performance just yet. Focus on eating veggies and lean protein with every meal or snack, and work on listening to your body’s hunger cues. Too many of us ignore these cues and just eat base on habit. Try to challenge yourself to form new habits.

If you’ve already got the above under control, it’s time to dig into the difference between fueling your activities, versus eating to lose weight.

Don’t get me wrong, you can do both (and many derby athletes do), but your approach to food changes from a “10 pounds in 10 weeks” approach to a “here are some healthy strategies to use forever” approach.

Eating to Perform

Your ideal volume of various nutrients per day will be determined by your daily activities. As long as you’re eating high-quality, whole foods, you can easily adjust the amount you’re eating to suit your needs. While it would totally be easier for there to be an “exact right number of calories to eat” and an “exact right way to eat them”, the truth is that life doesn’t work that way. There will be days where you need more, days where you need less, days when you’re sick, days when you’re rehabbing an injury, days when you’re at a tournament. To eat well, you need to know the basics of portioning to help you adapt to those changing conditions.

A simple portioning tool is right at the end of your arm – your hand!


You can gauge your protein serving by the size of your palm. 1-2 palms per serving is a good rule of thumb.


Carbs can be measured in your cupped hand. Again, 1-2 hands per serving. The more active you are, and the more muscle you carry, the more carbs you’ll need day to day. And we’re talking low-glycemic complex and simple carbs – fruits, veggies, whole grains and whole dairy products – limit your processed carbs!


Healthy fats get measured with your thumb, 1-2 thumbs per serving.

Fruits, Leafy Greens and Veggies

These get measured with your fist. A leafy green serving should be 2 fists worth, starchy veggies like potatoes and yams should be a half fist.

When you eat is important too! Ideally, aim to eat every 2-4 hours. Frequent eating helps to stimulate your metabolism, balance your blood sugar and helps you maintain lean mass while burning off fat mass. Eating more frequently will also help to keep you in touch with your hunger signals.

“But that seems like so much eating!”

5 meals per day is only a guideline. If weight loss is your goal, you may eat less frequently (3-4 times/day), if weight gain is your goal, you may need to eat more (up to 8 times/day). Each eating opportunity can be the same size, or some can be smaller and faster, some can be more elaborate. Whatever works for you!

Making a point of eating 1-2 hours before your training session and within an hour of your training session ending will do a whole host of good things for your body. It will:

  • Replenish the muscle glycogen that you lose during activity
  • Reduce muscle protein breakdown
  • Increase muscle protein synthesis
  • Reduce post-training soreness and fatigue, enhance recovery
  • Reduce cortisol levels

When eating for performance, both the pre and post training meal should definitely contain both carbs and protein to give you the maximum benefit.

>> Want to get more guidance on all this? Check out the DerbyFuel program!

So what’s the difference between eating to perform and eating to lose weight?

If you want fat loss, you should keep your starchy carbs for your post-training meals. Why? Well, if you want to lose fat you need most of your carbs to come from fruits and vegetables, with a small amount of additional carbs coming from higher-sugar sources during training and higher-starch sources post-training. Your body will be most carb-tolerant and insulin sensitive after a workout, and will better process the carbs into energy.

If muscle gain is part of your goals, you definitely need carbs pre- and post- training, but you’ll also need more of them more of the time.

Remember, as an athlete, YOU NEED TO EAT. A LOT. Dieting to lose weight is often about self-denial. Eating to perform is about giving your body what it needs to do its job.

How do I track all of this?

I highly recommend using an app or journal to keep track of things, especially when you’re starting out and just getting a sense of how often and how much to eat. You want to start with your baseline of caloric intake for the day (geared to your level of activity and goals). For example, in the Derby Fuel meal plans, we start with a baseline of 1500-1750 calories per day (for women, 3000-3500 for men), and those numbers can go up (generally not down) depending on your energy needs and goals. Remember though, the quality of those calories is far more important than the quantity.

You can use the chart below to give you a rough idea of base intake:

Your Activity Level Lose Weight Maintain Weight Gain Weight
Sedentary (minimal exercise) Bodyweight (lb)

X 10-12

Bodyweight (lb)

X 12-14

Bodyweight (lb)

X 16-18

Moderately Active (exercise 3-4x/wk) Bodyweight (lb)

X 12-14

Bodyweight (lb)

X 14-16

Bodyweight (lb)

X 18-20

Very Active

(exercise 5-7x/wk)

Bodyweight (lb)

X 14-16

Bodyweight (lb)

X 16-18

Bodyweight (lb)

X 20-22

Next, you can follow the chart below to help tweak your individual nutrient breakdown needs by determining your general body type and evaluating your goals:

Body Type Characteristics Typical Goals % Protein % Carbs % Fat

(naturally thin with thin limbs)

Fast metabolic rate, higher carb tolerance Gain muscle strength and size, maintain body weight and strength during exercise Approx. 25% Approx. 55% Approx. 20%

(naturally muscular and athletic)

Moderate metabolic rate, moderate carb tolerance Build muscle mass while maintaining body fat percentage Approx. 30% Approx. 40% Approx. 30%

(naturally broad with thick limbs)

Slow metabolic rate, low carb tolerance Lose body fat, especially in abdominal region Approx. 35% Approx. 25% Approx. 40%

Plug the baseline calories and the macronutrient percentage breakdown into your app (I use myfitnesspal), and get tracking!

At the end of the day, eating for weight loss and eating for performance have the same foundations: eating whole, healthy foods, paying attention to when and what you’re eating. The difference is volume, timing, and more than anything – mindset.

So, what are you eating for?

Got questions or comments? Leave ’em below!

>> And if you want a simple plan to follow, that you can tailor to your goals, Check out DerbyFuel!

Happy fueling!
– Lilith NoFair

2 thoughts on “Ask NoFair: Eating for Weight Loss or Eating for Performance?

  1. About 5 years ago I finally got my butt in gear and went from 185lbs to 135lbs by counting calories and attending step classes or spending an hour on the elliptical 3-4 days a week. I’m 5’4″ and have had two kids but I managed to stay around 140lbs until last year when I joined the local roller derby team. In the past year I’ve gained 10lbs and now fluctuate between 145-150lbs. I don’t diet but I do eat fairly healthy. My breakfast consist of one egg with spinach, cheddar cheese and 2 slices of bacon on low carb bread (I can’t give up bacon, it’s my weakness!) and a cup of coffee with creamer. I work full time so I meal prep my lunches for the week which is one pack of chicken pan grilled and two steam fresh bags of broccoli stir fry veggies separated into five containers which I add about tablespoon of sweet and sour sauce to and I eat this along with either an apple or pear. For a snack during the day I go with some sort of mixed nuts, trail mix or granola bar and another cup of coffee with creamer. My husband cooks dinner so that’s probably my weakest meal but I try to eat a vegetable with whatever meat he prepares. I do eat a snack before bed or after derby practice which is either yogurt or an oatmeal peanut butter mixture. Along with two nights of two hour derby practices I try to workout 4-6 times a week. I usually do a video at home from YouTube and I like to mix it up between weights, barre and cardio. I also try to get to the gym at least once or twice a week to do the weight machines or elliptical. Even though I’ve gained 10lbs I don’t have any trouble fitting into my clothes and I haven’t really changed my habits except I skate more and run less. Do you think some of the weight gain could be muscle and do you have any tips for getting me back on track? I’ve worked so hard to lose the weight and keep it off, basically changed my whole lifestyle and I don’t want to end up 185lbs again. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the question, Stefanie! From what you’ve said, your diet sounds pretty healthy and your training program sounds on track. I would likely attribute the weight gain to adding weight training into your programming (which is a good thing!) and to not counting calories anymore. I wouldn’t worry too much if your clothes are fitting the way you’d like them to and you’re feeling good. If you’re feeling concerned, just start tracking again and make sure that you’re eating enough of each macro to support your activity. All the best!

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