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Changing the Conversation from Weight Loss to Performance

The misconception that “lighter is better” has undermined endurance athletes of all genders, but a shocking number of female athletes have been emotionally and physiologically destroyed by weigh-ins and negative body talk. Coaches can learn how to best navigate conversations on this topic with these simple guidelines.

Black-and-white image of a woman running past a vineyard

As coaches we need to be careful about making generalized assumptions about our athletes based on gender or body size. (The same applies to people in general.) We also need to be clear about our area of expertise and what athletes hire us for: how to train for and compete in endurance sports. 

With that backdrop, a coach shouldn’t initiate conversations about body weight or body composition. Let your athlete lead the way in these conversations, if the topic comes up at all. For many of your athletes, it won’t. For those that it does, the role of the endurance sports coach is to guide the athlete in understanding how those goals interact with training and racing. 

The following do’s and don’ts can help frame those conversations if they arise: 


  • Assume the athlete is training with the goal of or for the purpose of weight loss. It’s more appropriate to assume that they’re doing the sport simply because they like it, just like everyone else. 
  • Initiate conversations about body weight or body composition. If the athlete doesn’t bring up the topic, then they are comfortable in their body, and rightly so. 
  • Ask an athlete to track their weight, body fat, or food intake. None of these directly equate or correlate to fitness, and they place an inappropriate emphasis on body size as a primary indicator of an athlete’s ability to succeed in their sport. 
  • Assume that healthy eating equates to healthy body weight/composition and conversely that unhealthy eating equates to unhealthy body weight/composition. The formula that converts food intake to body weight is more individualized and more complex than simply calories in minus calories out. 


  • Talk with your athletes about how to properly fuel their training—before, during, and after workouts. A detailed discussion of fueling protocols can prevent under-fueling during workouts as well as under- and over-fueling after workouts. 
  • Explain why fueling is so important: It powers the workout, aids in muscular recovery, restores glycogen levels, maintains hormone balance, and promotes better sleep. 
  • Pay attention to signs that an athlete is underfueling their workouts—whether they are beginning their workouts underfueled or not taking in adequate fuel during the workout itself—and revisit the fueling protocols above.  
  • Emphasize strength and fitness over size. An athlete’s body will inevitably change as strength and fitness grow, but not always in the same way.