5 Reasons Why Former Athletes Struggle to Stay in Shape After Sports

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Former athletes are some of my favorite people to work with. They work hard and already have a solid foundation for exercise which makes progressing much easier, especially in the beginning.

They also have great body awareness which makes learning the technique of lifting much easier as well, this allows them to progress at a much faster rate.

One common theme I have noticed over my years of coaching is the number of former athletes that either decide to work with me or reach out wanting to improve their fitness.

Im not talking just college athletes, but also people who just played in high school as well.

The convos usually go something like this:

“I used to be so active but now I feel and look terrible”

“I used to be in great shape but since I started working I am noticing the pounds coming on, I used to be defined but now it seems all my weight just goes to my stomach”

“I dont move like I used to”

“I feel weak and have no energy, I used to be able to practice and lift for hours”

“I get into a good routine with my workouts, but I dont stick to it for long without injuries popping up or getting burnt out”

I have also seen this personally, there are many guys and gals who used to play sports and now every time I see them they get a little more out of shape each time.

In this article, I want to go over 5 theories of mine as to why former athletes are at high risk of gaining weight and getting out of shape as they age so you can avoid this.

1. Activity Levels

This is a big one. When you were playing sports there wasn’t a day that went by where you weren’t getting at least 1-2 hours of some sort of physical activity in. Some more intense than others. Some days were probably upwards of 3-5 hours per day. And we are just talking sports-related activity here, this doesn’t count the other things you did throughout the day that increased your activity levels.

Once you were done with sports you either furthered your education or started a new career, either one most likely did not require you to move as much as you did when you played sports.

In order to lose or maintain weight you must be in a calorie deficit or maintenance(for more on what a calorie deficit is read here). If you go from moving 3-5 hours plus all day to barely moving your body you will burn fewer calories throughout the day, and if you don’t adjust your nutrition you will see weight gain over time.

Furthermore, there is a theory that having more muscle can help with how your body utilizes the food you eat. If you stop working out or being active you will lose muscle. So not only do you burn less calories throughout the day, but your body also doesn’t use the food you give it as well.

Application: With online clients we have them track their daily activity levels by tracking steps. This can be a good way to ensure you maintain a good amount of physical activity. Aim for 8k plus per day as a starting point.

2. No Education With Nutrition

I used to play sports myself (very mediocre) and we never were given much advice on how to eat. People I talk to today say the same thing, although there seems to be a little more emphasis on it, which is a step in the right direction.

I get it though, I know I never worried about what I ate. I was lean so I figured what I was doing was right.

Man was I wrong, the more I have learned from my studies the more I realize just how important nutrition is. But that is a different topic.

The point is, athletes are not really told what to eat and since their activity levels are so high they can eat whatever they want and it doesn’t matter. They rarely will gain weight, for most athletes keeping their weight on is a struggle. Our bodies get used to this and you get used to eating a certain way.

When you stop playing sports you lose all that extra activity that we talked about, but rarely do your eating habits change.

No longer can you eat and drink what you want and you struggle to gain or maintain your weight like you used to. Its the opposite now.

It’s not uncommon for athletes to quit playing sports and then the next time you see them they have gained 15 plus pounds.

Not only do you move less now, but its tough to break the habit of eating what you want when you want since that is what you’re used to.

Former athletes are left out to dry in an environment where there is too much calorie dense/tasty food easily available.

The end result? Being in a calorie surplus and your weight slowly creeping up over time.

Its important former athletes find ways to adopt new eating habits that is in line with their new lifestyle.

Application: With online clients, we work on finding the right amount of food for their activity levels, body, and goals. This usually begins with the client tracking their protein, calorie intake, and activity levels.

3. Mindset Towards Working Out is Skewed

Whenever I first started working out on my own I thought I always had to push myself and feel fatigued and tired after each workout. Luckily I learned that isnt sustainable or the best way to go about things if you are just wanting to look and feel better. This stemmed from my time playing sports.

With former athletes I work with, one of the toughest challenges is changing how they view exercise. Not every workout has to leave you feeling beat up, sweaty, and fatigued.

They think they need to lift the most weight and go 100% during each and every workout. “Ignore the pain! “ “Push through!”

Again, I understand. Whenever you played sports the workouts and practices were challenging, some very challenging. You were also in the best shape of your life so you associate this with how you get into shape.

However, another reason athletes are at high risk of weight gain is because they keep this approach (its also ingrained in their mind) only to find themselves hurt or burnt out and not able to sustain that type of intensity in their workouts.

They think oh its just becuase im getting older. No.

Its because that isnt how you should train regularly. It isnt sustainable.

Long lay offs from the gym (whether its from injury, burn out, or not being consistent) is the biggest reason why people don’t see results.

Application: With online clients the goal is long term progress and staying healthy, not trying to win every workout. Not every workout has to leave you feeling sweaty and beat up.

4. All or Nothing Approach

When you played sports it required a lot of your time. Again, you were in the best shape of your life during this time so you think in order to be in shape you have to put in hours and hours to reap the benefits.


This leads to you thinking that you dont have the time or if you cant put in the crazy hours and give 110% what is the point?

It takes a lot less time to look and feel better and does not require a huge chunk of time. This is good because you can now enjoy other aspects of your life while staying in shape.

Not to mention you have work, family, and social obligations now that take up much of your time. You dont have hours to put into working out anymore.

Application: With online clients we focus on 3-5 training sessions per week that last 45-60 minutes.

5. No Clear Goal

Athletes thrive off of goals. This is why I love working with them. They work hard and if they set their mind to something they get it done.

The biggest reason why you got out of shape after sports is because you dont have a clear goal with your fitness. You never had to, it just always happened as a by product of playing your sport.

Just saying “ I need to get back in shape” doesnt do anything. There is no goal there. Again, as an athlete you thrive off of goals. You must be working towards something.

Application: With online clients we have an initial strategy call where we dive deep into your goals. We get clear on where exactly you want to go.

If you are a former athlete who wants to get back into shape through expert training and nutrition programming apply here to work with me 1 on 1.

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