How Athletes Gain Weight After Retirement

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor a health professional, and all studies, stats, and events following were from my own personal research, experiences and observations.

UPDATE: Because of the response from this post, I’ve started a Facebook Group so that all of us former athletes can get our health back together! Check it out here: Athlete Reboot.

How many former college and professional athletes have you seen that are surprisingly now overweight and unhealthy looking?

When an athlete is at the top of their game and in midseason form, eating right and lifting weights… some may look at how amazing their bodies work. The ease of transition from one movement to another. The extreme physical hardship the body is capable of going through and power and finess it shows at the same time. The athletes are despised by those that wish to have that body.

But, this perception of the athlete often quickly changes when the athlete steps away from the game and no longer trains for the sport. People begin to say “what happened to him?” in utter disbelief. They see before them somebody who once had 8% body fat but now has 30+% body fat. Somebody who looks out of shape, un-athletic, and well… disappointing. Athletes often face a problem of keeping their weight under control after retirement from their sport they played their whole life.

Why is this?

There are a couple major reasons athletes gain weight and lose their health after retirement aside from the obvious aging factor. The first reason for this is that they don’t usually change their eating habits even though their training habits have changed. When at the top of their game and training multiple times a day, athletes become accustomed to being able to eat whatever they want since the calories will be burned off anyways. This nutrition folly gets us all. It’s extremely hard to change eating habits, especially for athletes who aren’t in training.

Nutrition Folly

The first year for an athlete after they step away from their sport is usually the hardest on their health. They typically feel that there is a major burden taken off of their shoulders of having to stay fit and healthy. They begin to binge a bit and eat whatever they want and however much they want. Gaining weight is usually expected, but normally the athlete doesn’t expect the weight to be a very noticeable amount. And, well, normally the athlete just doesn’t care until the weight becomes a problem. They’ve typically never had a weight problem so the thought of it actually happening to them never crosses their mind. In reality, this takes about a year for the athlete to notice because as long as their muscle mass is still there, they don’t feel soft. After a year though of no physical activity, their muscles diminish, and the fat begins to take center stage.

When at peak physical condition, athletes bodies are using up so many calories every day that they can’t put on weight. Unless they are lucky enough to have coaches that are aware of healthy eating strategies… they are capable of looking good, exercising effectively, and keeping off any excess weight, simply because they are burning up so much energy every day.

Gym Strike

The second major problem athletes face after retirement is “man, I deserve a break. I’m not lifting a single weight for the next year.” This gets us all. From college to Hall of Fame athletes after they’re done. The thought of not having to wake up at 5:30 am to go run and punish your body is too attractive to athletes after retirement. They take full advantage of this and I personally have heard more athletes then I can count tell me this after they played their last game. I myself am a victim of this “gym strike.”

For athletes, getting back in the gym is substantially more difficult than it is for the average Joe. The reason being, they have never ran or lifted weights in as bad of shape as they’re now in before. They’re not used to the terrible feel of being out of shape in the gym. This is due to the poor post retirement diet and the year long gym strike. This makes that first day in the gym that much more difficult and showing back up the next day even more difficult. They don’t have a deadline anymore to be at a certain weight and usually tell themselves that they have no reason to be strong anymore. Also, believe it or not, part of their gym problem has to do with their marital status.

Single retired athletes usually start hitting the gym again once they notice their health and looks affect their attractiveness to the opposite sex. Single retired athletes are more likely to get back to a top physical condition after that first year because of the embarrassment. Married retired athletes however are less likely to ever find that physical fitness again. Why? Because they typically aren’t going to clubs and being judged, they don’t typically need their bodies to look good to find a mate, and all in all they believe they don’t have any reason aside from health to be in great shape. They already have their love of their life so they know they will not be dying alone. The driving force for most married retired athletes to get in the gym is at the hand of their wives.

Is there a solution?

The solution is awareness and planning. The weight gain in retiring athletes happens to all levels 0f athletes from elite college athletes to the Hall of Fame professionals. The majority of these athletes don’t ever picture themselves possibly becoming overweight. Their confidence in their bodies gets the best of them since nobody ever mentions training for post sport. For athletes, the only exciting thing about retirement is the break and freedom. This causes extreme laziness and poor eating habits. The solution is knowing ahead of time to stay active, stay fit, and stay moving even if it is at a slower pace than before. Basically, keep being an athlete without taking a major “break” from physical activity.

With a proper awareness program in professional players associations and NCAA and NAIA athletics, I believe this problem for athletes could diminish substantially. Don’t you think that a little post playing advice from the league is the least they owe their athletes for all of the money the athletes made for them?  As long as we have the delicious calorie filled foods our world offers, the weight problems for athletes will never disappear all together. However, by sharing with them other athletes mindsets after their careers are over and then showing them what those mindsets did to the other athletes, I believe many athletes will begin to keep a healthy fitness level post sport. Education is a powerful thing.

*There are many other reasons why many athletes suffer from post playing days obesity that I did not list. I simply wanted to focus on the two most common issues. Other major reasons for post career obesity are depression and aging.

How I fell into this problem…

I felt like I was going to get in the best shape of my life when I stepped away from baseball. For baseball players, you can’t perform fluidly and quickly being bulky so a lot of muscles you never workout much. I was excited to have so much time to really attack those muscles and see where I could get my body. But, the first thing I did was say I’m taking 6 months off of weights and 6 months off of running to treat myself after years of training. That 6 months turned into 18 months of random useless workouts a couple times a month I did for training for my new sport. After breaking my routine of lifting 5 days a week, I found it very difficult to get back on that routine even with new teammates to train with. Every now and again I’d go on a health spree of a week or two and hit the gym a few times, but when in the gym, I didn’t have the drive that I used to have to push myself. I knew how to lift to be a well built baseball player, but didn’t know how to properly lift to be a healthy well balanced person. This is a problem during my research that I’ve found 9 out of the 10 former athletes faced. It’s 100% a mental problem since our training programs have typically been the same or given to us by somebody else our whole lives. The problem of walking in the gym and feeling like you’re wasting your time since you’re not on a program you think will benefit you, really gets to athletes mentally.

The reason for doing this study is because I’ve noticed so many former athletes fat and out of shape… and well, I finally found myself in the worst shape of my life recently even while playing a new sport. After finishing this mini study, I now feel obligated to do something to help retiring athletes stay healthy and add years to their lives. I flat out don’t have the time in my days right now to be able to dedicate fully to doing a book on this, but would love to partner with somebody and help make it happen. Please contact me if you’re interested and lets make something great!

If you’re a former college or professional athlete and would like to share your story for the studies, please email me at kyle@athletesbrand.com or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear all post playing health stories that are both positive and negative stories to help the research. Any and all stories can help at least one retiring athlete in some way so please share them in the comments section below, or email them my way.

Thanks for reading, stay positive, and lets get back in shape!


*Time for an Athlete Reboot

*Updated on June 17, 2017

After a number of requests and and an incredible response to this post… I’ve decided to take it upon myself and start an email list and a Facebook group so that we can get back into shape together. As athletes, we’re used to having coaches, predetermined game plans, and in many cases teams to train with. So over the next few months I’ll be putting this all together so that we can hold each other accountable, push results, and get competitive about it no matter where we are in the world. It’s time to reboot back to our golden days!

If you want to help or join the team, sign up below so we can bring everyone together and start making this happen.

Step 1) Join the Facebook Group and introduce yourself: Click Here

Step 2) Join the Email List below so we can keep in touch.

Lets Get Back in Shape as a Team

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41 thoughts on “How Athletes Gain Weight After Retirement

  1. At age 68, I weigh the same as when I played D1 college tennis which I still play. My activities are lifting, social tennis. Kayaking, camping and hiking, and skiing.

    However, the main thing that absolutely strokes my ego, keeps my DIET in check, is people who are amazed at how I look and my fitness at my age.

    That constant ego stroking certainly helps the smart food choices.

    I’m writing this from the ski slopes of Winter Park Co.

  2. Hello I am about to turn 27 next month and I am in the worst shape of my life. I am the prime example of what you are talking about. I never stopped the horrible eating habits but I did stop the daily routines at the gym after I stopped playing volleyball. I gained so much weight its really sad. No matter how hard I have tried to get back into a routine I have never been able to get there. I know the key is my eating but I have not been very successful. I love what you are doing and I think it is extremely important. I always was skinny and in great shape and it is scary to think of all the weight I have gained after I stopped playing. I would love to read your book, so please send me more info.

  3. I always said the genetic runs in my family, but it doesn’t. I never noticed that my mom side of the family were athletically built but with a large appetite being from louisiana the members that weren’t consistantly active turned out curvy. On my father’s side of the family most women were heavy set. My immediate family were the difference in health and physical appearance.I’ve only been out of school for 8 months now.Though I still go to the gym its just not as intense as what I have experienced working out and playing with a team on a D1 level for as long as I have. It seems like with every passing month I look in the mirror and only see what was, what should be, and what isn’t 20lbs heavier than I’ve ever been. I have crazy taste buds. I love food and my fight is 60/40 some days and 80/20 others. My New Years Resolution was to go back to that discipline mindframe. Its just hard to wrap my mind around being solely responsible for the health of myself rather than the health of myself and my teammates leading by example. I’m definitely under construction.I’m going to do it though. I love myself too much and I have an awesome body. I’d hate to not put it to use towards life and settling down as a young woman. 😉

  4. I am 30 years old now, retired breakdancer who used to practice 6 – 11 hours a day.

    I remember the mose I could eat and still be hungry was 11 jumbo jacks

    At the age of 17 I got married and didnt practice so much.

    When I turned 18 I dropped out of high school to work long hours and jobs back to back it took about three years going from age 17 140lbs to over 200 lbs because I was not practicing anymore my appetite was still same even now I do have the drive when I work out to have intense workout however working long hours and having two kids keeps me maintained at 225 lbs and im only 5 foot 5 size 40

  5. I am actually as you described above. I was a D1athlete (womens rowing) for four years, waking up at 445am, and working out every day. I would even go to the gym on my own for a second workout. It’s been 2 years since I’ve graduated and still in a rut. I workout every now and then but it’s so difficult accepting the fact that I can’t do the same exercises and perform as well as i once did. I’m 20 lbs heavier than I was two years ago, and I still need to find motivation and break thus mental barrier. Any suggestions?

    1. It’s tough. I’m still off and on in a rut too. If it’s something competitive though I’m always excited to go workout, or if I have a goal where I will be letting somebody down then I always go extra hard. I know exactly what you mean by still thinking you can do the regular heavy lifts you once did too… it’s embarrassing to walk into a gym after taking a couple years away and not be able to put up the weights you’re used to. We tend to think everyone notices… however, people don’t care… and people don’t notice… and even if they did notice, who cares? And in 2 weeks time, you will start to get back to the normal feel in the gym. I’ve always hated gyms though. I’d rather be on the field playing than in the gym… so, you may start off by picking up a new sport if you’re not into rowing anymore. I picked up Tennis and kayaking. Tennis provides great cardio if you play competitively, and kayaking is great for upper body strength. I hate treadmills and I don’t like waiting on machines or smelling the beef cakes in the gym. The stronger I had started to get after doing things like that, the more a gym felt appealing though since I wasn’t so embarrassed to walk in and look out of shape and lift lighter weights… Actually, I ended up just getting my own weights at my house so that I could just do some quick exercises whenever I had free time at the house instead of TV. The kayaking got my upper body strength back, and the tennis got my cardio and lower body back. So find something active, a sport, or a new daily hobby like hiking or biking or stand up paddle boarding. Get a friend involved and team up on it together so you have a support system and somebody to share the new experiences with like you did when you had teammates. As college athletes we’re used to having times we had to be to our workouts, people we were letting down if we missed them, and punishments if we missed those times… we’re used to relying on others to hold us accountable for showing up… it sucks to say that, but it’s trained into most of college athletes minds. Now that nobody holds us accountable for not showing up to a workout, it’s easy and relaxing… so finding somebody to hold you accountable would be great if you just can’t find it in yourself to hold yourself accountable. Find a new hobby or sport, hold yourself accountable for doing it consistently at least 3 times a week for now, and set goals for yourself. That’s what I have found to be working great for me. You’re an athlete… once you get the routine, and mindset figured out… you’ll have that old feel and look back in no time. Easier said then done right? And make sure to healthen up your eating habits… that alone can give you that kickstart you need and make your results show even quicker. Thanks so much for reading!

      1. Thank you Kyle I forgot I posted this and randomly stumbled upon your post and I’m motivated from it. Thank you

  6. Hi Kyle. Thank you so much for posting this. I have been looking all over the web for retired athletes who are struggling with the same problems I am having. I would love to get some sort of forum going and I have actually been thinking about going back to get my Masters in higher education administration to develop a cirriculum for senior athletes across the country as a “transition course”.
    I am a retired Division I swimmer. I graduated 1 year ago and I have been terribly depressed. After 18 years of competitive swimming, I feel like I have lost a sense of my identity, let alone my 6-pack abs, supoort system from my team, and passion. I work at a desk job 9-6pm and I try to get up and workout and also work out after work but it’s just not the same. My body has changed SO much. I feel kind of hopeless. I’ve been packing my healthy lunches to work and I try to work out for atleast 30 minutes every day. It seems like nothing I do is productive. I don’t want to have to join the Master’s swim team because I am burnt out on swimming and it makes me mad seeing all of these skinny fit girls around me at the gym who tell me “just eat right and do your 30 minute lifts every day”… How can I go from 4-5+ hour two-a-days to 30 minutes and still be in shape?! I hate my job and I want to quit and be a personal trainer and swim coach but I feel like I have gotten way too fat to do that now and I know I need to get my mental edge back before I pursue that. Speaking of mental.. I struggled with annorexia when I was swimming in college and I know that messed a lot of things up. Now I have a lot of hormone problems and I really screwed myself over. Do you think there is any way to help this? There are so many things out there and I have no idea what to do – Crossfit? More cardio? Strength train every day? Paleo diet? IIFYM? I am so overwhelmed I just need help! I think the main thing I need help with is to stop trying to find fulfillment and my identity in my looks and performance. But I’ve always been like that! How did you get the motivation back? How did you not get depressed that something you loved is over and you don’t get to see your team every day? Does it get easier or is the first year the worst? Thank you

    1. MacKenzie,
      I think you should go for being a personal trainer & swim coach! I think you would be excellent. As a personal trainer, you would know how it feels not to be in the shape that you desire. You would be an inspiration as a swim coach. I realize there are a lot of other factors,but what is a step you could take? In motivating others, you would motivate yourself.
      Chantee

    2. Hi Mackenzie,
      I was a Division 1 water polo player, and swimmer. I am literally going through the exact same thing. I swam competitively for 18 years, and I have gained so much weight and am extremely depressed. Swimming and water polo was my identity it was always every part of who I was. I was bulimic on and off in high school and college though I never admitted it to anyone or received help. I was eating healthy and went gluten, dairy, and soy free, and exercising but nothing like I was and I cant seem to get remotely back to where I was.

      I was coaching for the past 5 years for club team I swam for 16 years, but I recently retired. It was even harder because I used to get in the pool with the kids and wouldn’t because I didn’t feel comfortable in a suit, especially when most saw me before I gained all the weight, and was tan, and ridiculously thin. I would love to get back in the pool and was going to play for OPP (old people polo) but there is no way I can fit in any of my old polo suits and don’t feel comfortable having anyone see me in a bathing suit. How can I feel like myself when I went from being in a suit more than I was in clothes, to not being in a pool at all.

      I’ve recently went to a weight loss clinic and it has definitely brought me to an all time low. I have gained a total of 70 pounds since I stopped playing. Have you found any encouragement or anything that has helped you? I don’t know where to go from here. I’ve lost myself mentally and physically, and am no longer recognizing myself. It was nice to hear I am not alone.

    3. Hey Mackenzie,
      Thanks SO much for sharing your story and stuggle. There’s no easy solution. It’s especially hard for one time elite athletes because we aren’t satisfied until we’re back to our rock hard self. It’s all about swallowing your pride though, staying confident, and getting after it.

      I hate gyms. So I’ve picked up new sports, and began eating clean. I did paleo for awhile, and lost 10 pounds in a week, but I missed food so much! So I don’t recommend it if you love food haha. But I recommend you pickup an adventure sport of some kind as a hobby. I picked up kayaking recently and it activates all of the core and upper body and allows me to get out and see new parts of the world. I go to the gym when I can or have a mood for it, otherwise I opt to go hike, kayak, or shoot a basketball for hours.

      You being a swimmer though, you have the edge in getting back in shape because swimming is one of the best workouts on the planet. That’s why swimmers have such sick bods as you know. So I’d suggest that if you want to get back in the water as a workout, go to pools that aren’t where you’ll run into old teammates or anybody that you know from competition. It will give you a sense of security to know that the people that knew you as a freak athlete won’t see you when you’re uncomfortable.

      The first 2-3 weeks will be TOUGH but after that you find a groove and fall in love with that feeling of strength and being fit that you forgot about. Maybe we could start some sort of support group to hold each other liable?

    4. Mackenzie<
      First of all, thanks for explaining the mental aspect of having to let go of a sport you loved. It is as complicated and confusing and at times as demoralizing as you portrayed it, especially the identity crisis aspect of it. It's normal to feel depressed, I guess. I don't have a clue whether at this time you've figured something out or not. But I think every athlete is different in his circumstances, whether psychological or physical. Losing your identity happens to lots of average people, but a lot of issues- such as eating disorders, depressive episodes, substance abuse, or obsessive-compulsive behaviors- get convulated when it comes to athletes that ended their career and no longer know how to deal with their bodies or with the lack of structure in their lives. I think the best thing you can do for yourself is to ask for help from a full team of specialists until you are able to adapt and develop a new set of skills and habits. A therapist, a nutritionist, a personal trainer and a doctor are a winning combination for that. Best of luck 🙂

    5. Mackenzie –

      I’m WITH YOU. I played rugby in college and I absolutely LOVED it. There’s nothing I’ve experienced quite as brutal as 80 minutes of rugby every weekend, but I put my body through it and wouldn’t take a second of it back. I struggle primarily because I feel like as a woman, there’s this body-positive message I keep trying to tell myself but the athlete in me just won’t let that happen. My brain keeps telling me that every gained pound is a step away from being the athlete I once was, and I just can’t deal with the pounds I want to lose, even though I’m still wearing the same size. I just FEEL fat. And slow. And weak. Have you found anything that works for you recently? I’d love to chat more via email if you have (ashleydjobe@gmail.com)

  7. I turn 29 in a few days, during my playing days in my early twenties, I was 6’4 340 lbs solid, when people would as me how much I weighed and I would tell them they always say “you don’t look like your 340 lbs.” When I was done playing ball, I myself went on “gym strike” for a few years. It took getting a hug from an ex girlfriend and her replying ” damn baby you getting soft”, for me to realize I that I had to do something. I was 360 lbs and flabby. I figured getting back in the gym wouldn’t be a big deal, since during my prime I could bench press 450+ lbs. I went to the gym and got the shock of my life I couldn’t bench press 200 lbs, I couldn’t jog half a mile, I felt like a shell of a man…at 27 lol. It can be shocking to see the results of getting lazy, especially after being a “machine” a few years prior. Well, after dedicating myself to the gym and cardio, I’m “down” to a solid 285, I lift weights (bench 380), and run two to three miles at least three times a week. Its weird, I used to loathe working out and running during my playing days, but now I don’t feel right if I miss a workout. Long story short, it’s possible to get back in playing shape, you just have to swallow a lot of pride and start back from square one. So “good luck” to all the other former athletes that are trying to get back in game shape, it’s totally doable, just remember to stretch,lol, we ain’t kids anymore.
    Peace and love

    1. Man thanks for the comment. I wrote this post and got caught up in my job and forgot all about my blog until now. But YOU are the success story people need to hear. The biggest thing for former elite athletes who find themselves out of shape is the embarrassment. We all once had so much pride in our strength and body and then all of a sudden it’s gone. Then we go to the gym thinking we’ll pick up where we left off and it’s incredibly disappointing that we can’t lift the weights we used to and on top of that our dri-fit shirts have rolls all of a sudden showing through. It’s embarrassing so we give up after not seeing results in a week.

      But you my man, you’re doing it! You got past the hump and you’re dead right that it’s all about just swallowing the pride and getting after it. Thanks for sharing and I hope other athletes can get inspired by your story!

  8. Kyle, it’s sometimes more than just “gym strike” or natural aging.
    Some/many of us having nagging injuries or aches and pains that really make it hard to workout the way we used to. In my case, rotator cuff injuries kept me out of the gym for a long time, and now that I don’t play competitively, when I work out I can feel/ hear clicks and pops in my shoulders and that scares me frankly, and discourages me from working out. Although I suppose I could still do cardio ;).
    And then there’s the ego. When we can’t lift what we used to, it’s a blow to your ego, and maybe something that blocks us from going back in moderation.

    1. I 100% agree with both points! Great points to add, thanks Lars. Injuries are definitely a factor for many athletes, and injuries are very discouraging when they hinder an athlete. And ego is the one that got me the most. I hated walking into a gym and seeing others do more than me with ease, while I struggled with what were once my warm up weights. Even when I’d work out alone I’d feel embarrassed and frustrated at myself for feeling too week or getting tired too quickly.

  9. I wasn’t a professional athlete or even a Division I college athlete, but I’ve always been in excellent shape and an extreme sports (mountain biking, surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding) athlete. I have been in excellent shape my entire life. In the past few years have also discovered the science/art of brewing my own beer at home. The calorie intake is tremendous. I’m still maintaining, but have had to increase my workout load to compensate for my intake of enjoying an increase of my own craft brewed beverages. I’m torn, I love all of my hobbies, including the new one that involves less fitness and a bit more relaxation. I’m not the same person that I was, fitness wise, but am still in great shape relative to my age peers (40 years old). Sometimes being in perfect athletic shape and having the ideal body might not be the most important thing in life. Enjoying life, staying somewhat fit, relaxing and doing other hobbies is also important.

  10. Former LPGA tour player.

    For me it was all about my goals. How does my appearance affect my business. As an athlete I wanted to be mentally sharp. Eating fatty fat foods, not oxygenating my brain got my head to feel like a big ol slug of nothing. Then my thinking lost the big picture and I wouldn’t take that moment to be grounded to my purpose. I got frustrated because I wasn’t being creative and so the cycle continued… Grrrr. Frustrating.

    That same emotional feeling was no different from when I was ‘TRYING to play the game of golf instead of going with the flow of my game.

    So I sat with myself and realized that I wasn’t happy. I had to adapt my athletic thinking to being an ordinary athlete. No superstar. Just a persistent, consistent little bit of exercise 3 days a week and not eating that something because the picture of my goal was more important than food or lack of exercise. Finally I have figured out a fun game with myself!!! I win. Yeah…

  11. Thank you so much for posting this article! This is my current situation. I just ended my career almost a year ago and I am in the worst shape I have ever been in. After packing on the pounds, I just feel embarrassed and sluggish. I feel like if I told people I was a collegiate field hockey player they would think how in the world. I am finding it super hard to get motivated and I hate the gym. I just bought all my own weights to workout at home but I find it so hard to motivate myself given that for 11 years, training and having that support system was the norm. I need to find a new activity to bring out the athlete in me but I just don’t know where to start.

    1. Hey Jenn,
      I 100% can relate! I bought my own stuff and it sat for years too haha. Join the email list on the article, I promise there’s no catch, and lets do this together! I’m ready to get back to my old self! – Kyle

  12. Thank you for writing this article! It is exactly what I needed to hear. After playing NCAA volleyball, finding motivation to train again is so difficult. I find myself going to the gym, sitting outside for an hour and then going home.. Mostly because I know that my workout will just go to waste, If I make it to the gym after work, the next time I end up going back is a month later. I miss being on a training schedule and I miss being exceptional at something. I feel that if I go to the gym, it is unfullfilling because it is just a reminder that I will never be in the type of shape I once was. It’s been exactly a year since I finished college sports and I’ve been dealing on and off with depression. I dread how much more my body will fall out of shape as time goes on. I would love to hear about what motivates you and what kind of post-athlete training programs some of you have tried!

    1. Hey Ashley! Thanks so much for commenting and stopping by. There’s nothing saying that you can’t get into the shape that you used to be in. It’s just finding that motivation, and that key trigger that works for you as a motivator. I’d love for you to join the email list on the article, I promise there’s no catch, and lets do this together! I’m ready to get back to my old self! I’ll be shooting out an email to the list this week to announce day and time that we can all hop on a call together and start getting the wheels turning on how we can all help each other out as a support group to find that health that it seems that we all want back! – Kyle

  13. I managed to stay fit after quiting a 14 years life in track and field (3hrs/day, 6 days a week), by practicing aerobics first, and mixed martial arts later. Then I quit exercising for two years to focus on maternity. After my first child I managed to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight using an eliptic excercise machine at home to get ready for a second pregnancy. Then I quit again to focus full time on balancing an extremely demanding career and my family life. This meant 2 years of nearly zero exercise, with barely one or two sessions of martial arts per week. After six years of drastically slowing down, I reached my peak PREGNANCY weight 5 months ago (50lb over 25 BMI), and I felt in the worst shape of my life. Ironically, I could still go through the hour or so of martial arts training with out problem (I heard someone comentioned that waching me training was lIke watching the hippo ballerina in Fantasia…). I had been warned by older friends that getting back in shape would be difficul after turning 40, but I never expected this to be such a huge challenge. So, five months ago I decided to try intermittent fasting (healthy food intake restricted to a time window of 8 to 10 hrs per day, followed by 14-16 hrs fasting) combined with static cycling (I carried portable pedals with me everywhere, and did anywhere from 30 min to 3 hrs of cycling/day), and I was able to lose 20 lb in 6 weeks. I was extremelly excited!! Then I injured myself practicing head kicks at home!! I stopped completely any sport activity for two weeks, then started pedaling again, and stayed off martial arts for two months. Just a couple of days after returning to my regular training I had to focus 100% on work (and family) and I completely stopped exercising for 3 weeks. I honestly didn’t think this would be an issue, since I had barely gained 5 lb, but a few days after I got back to pedaling and martial arts training and I noticed a HUGE difference!! Not just a loss of stamina, strength, and flexibility, but I increased a whole size in clothes, and my face looked noticeably rounder. After three days of intense training, the 5 extra pounds I had gained have turned into 10 extra pounds… I guess I didn’t just gain a bit of fat but lost muscle mass, which now I’m gaining back. Well, I can say that I’m terrified of slowing down again, since I’m now 40lb away of my target weight. I hope your blog reaches many athletes and create awareness among current elite athletes about the challenges ahead. Good luck!

    1. Perhaps your ‘fit’ goals’ are old goals that worked when all you had was sport.. Aging, family, work require new ‘fit goals’ I have to make new ‘fit goals’ every 5 years. Aging is a bitch. Getting into acceptance of ‘fit goals’ turning 59 was another new adjustment for me. Took an injury to my knee to wake me up. Now I love speed walking. Much easier on my body and it keeps my sassy ass from sagging to much.. haha!!! God bless Carla. Pen

    2. I didn’t see anywhere in your comment that you were being careful with the amount of sugar and refined carbs in your diet. It’s sugar and refined carbs that particularly trigger the pancreas to secrete insulin. And it’s insulin that directs excess glucose that cannot be stored in the liver cells and/or muscles cells to be stored in fat cells.

      I recommend you read the book entitled The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung and compare what you read there to your story. My favorite approach to what he discusses is eating one or two meals a day within a 6-hour window. Typically the first meal will come after I have done a 45-minute to 2-hour low intensity cardio workout (bike ride, walk, or swim) after rolling out of bed. I was a US national champion cyclists in my youth, and now I’m a 54-year-old sorta triathlete. Never eat snacks, and avoid sugar and refined carbs. I also practice a gluten-free diet. Outside of the 6-hour window leaves you doing an 18-hour fast every day. I also like to through in one 40-hour fast a week since I am in the process of losing weight.

  14. D1 retired swimmer. I just wanted to add to the discussion. Is it possible that our bodies were used to spending all of the calories we took in everyday, so that once we stop our bodies go in to a super saving mode? It feels like im burning zero calories when im relatively idle. Im probably eating 1/4 of the food i used to eat. If i stop going to the gym for 1 month, i gain 10 kilograms solid.

    1. Hey Aytac, That’s definitely possible! That also sounds like a very unique experience so it’s interesting to hear. I’d like to know if any other athletes are having this same experience with weight gain when they’re eating ‘less’ and not working out anymore. When I eat less and don’t work out, I lose weight pretty rapidly as my muscle mass drops.

  15. So glad to see others dealing with this same issue! I thought maybe it was just me. I played D1 tennis in college where I was lifting 3 times a week at 6am, 2 hours practices five to six days a week and 1 of 2 matches per week. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders when it was all over. I was engaged and I moved out of state where I didn’t know anyone so all we did was eat and try new places. I joined a gym a few months later but the motivation was just gone and I have just continue to gain weight. I have been so discouraged and just don’t know where to start. Everyone keeps saying just play tennis again and it will fall off but I’m not so sure that I want to. And it doesn’t help that the job I have now is a sit down job. I’ve been watching what I eat more and eat less processed foods and carbs so hopefully I will see a change soon. Getting to the gym is the hard part though after working all day. I have more responsibility now where as before playing tennis and staying in shape was my job.

    1. Hi Nicole,
      I feel you angst. When I left the LPGA tour, I didn’t have a game plan to have balance between exercise and work. Why would I? I just took exercise and work as one idea. Now I had to plan…. Yikes…. I was all over the map for a several years. Kyle and I, Penny Pulz are having a beta group of athletes helping each other to have healthy balance in our lives. Think about signing up and joining the fun of athletes helping athletes find balance in our new ‘regular’ life. Cheers, Penny

    2. Hey Nicole, thanks so much for sharing! It sounds like you need motivation. As you know as an athlete, you can’t get into shape without taking action. Eating well is a start, and possibly the most important thing… but being physically active is even more important when you have a desk job. Most of my work I do is from a computer, so I’ve found a coffee shop by my house that has tables I can work at my computer on that are standing height. I’ve also started to walk to the coffee shop, and found a hobby in kayaking because I’m a big time hater of public gyms haha. I don’t like going and hopping on the hamster wheel, I like to compete or experience new things when I’m active… so I found something that I enjoy. BUT, I think everyone has their own little thing that will help them get active. As Penny said, we’re going to start a group to help each other get healthy again and try to figure out the best tips and programs by trying them amongst ourselves, to hopefully use to help athletes in the future. It’s absolutely free for the first group of members and a chance to have a group of people in the same boat, with the same athlete background to work with. Accountability will be the biggest perk I have a feeling 🙂 Join the email list if you haven’t already, I’ll be sending out the date and webinar link this week for the chat in a couple weeks. – Happy Monday! – Kyle

  16. Feeling a little bashful being a NCAA DII athlete here after seeing the call for Division I only – but after a decade plus of competitive basketball including multiple state and conference championships I’m in the same boat as many of you all. At 6’6″ I’ve always been a big guy – but after leaving the 20 year old 215lb six pack endowed college athlete behind I’ve reached the pinnacle of the 27 year old, married, soon to be Dad with a stay at home desk job pushing the 300 lb mark. I had a few bright spots in the years since collegiate basketball and the easy two handed throw downs – especially the 3 marathons (crossing the finish line holding my wife’s hand on marathon #1 was stellar!).

    I tend to struggle a lot with the shame aspect of it all. Its a terrible cycle that has gotten me very close to a certified food addiction. I look in the mirror I the morning and feel bad – get lost in work because I feel important there – and then when I get a break from work I find food to help me deal with how I feel about my body because it is immediately gratifying and subsequently immediately guilt-laden. Then the cycle spirals down from there. Sports are tough. Being at the pool or boating with the family is tough. Buying size 40 pants kills me – but anything smaller won’t fly unless you cheat and buy stretchy jeans at Costco.

    Totally open to helping where I can here. Still a bit lost in my journey.

  17. Why Ex-Athletes Get Fat After Retirement

    If you read the book The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung (ISBN: 9781771641258) published 3-1-2016, then you should be able to figure out the answer to why ex-athletes get fat after retirement from their sport. The blog post to which I am replying says ex-athletes get fat because of either eating poorly or not getting enough exercise. Unfortunately, this is supposedly the same reason why non-athletes get fat. So whether or not you are an athlete, ex-athlete, or non-athlete, it doesn’t really make a difference when it comes to getting fat.

    After reading Dr. Fung’s book you will understand that people get fat because they eat too much sugar and refined carbohydrates. Consuming large quantities of these foods causes the pancreas to secrete loads of insulin into the bloodstream to direct blood glucose to liver cells, muscle cells, and fat cells. Over time the body gets into the habit of secreting way more insulin than is healthy. And the body develops a condition/disease called insulin intolerance or insulin resistance.

    Non-athletes usually don’t consume anywhere near as much sugar and refined carbs as high-level athletes, so they typically don’t start getting fat all at once like an ex-athlete. Non-athletes see the progression in insulin resistance grow over a prolonged period of time typically. They gain 2 or 3 pounds a year and over a span of 20 years, voila, they are obese.

    Athletes, on the other hand, need tons of sugar and refined carbs to fuel their athletic training and competitions. Athletes require carbs to perform resistance training, anaerobic interval training, and moderate or high intensity cardio workouts. Basically it is impossible for a highly trained athlete to have their excessive intake of sugar and refined carbs be stored in fat cells. Everything that is input into the body gets burned up. This, however, does not mean that the athlete has not been producing tons of insulin and dumping that insulin (a drug) into their bloodstream dulling the insulin receptors in the liver cells, and the muscle cells. By the time an athlete decides to retire they more than likely will suffer from a pretty serious condition of insulin resistance.

    So when an athlete takes up the lifestyle of a non-athlete (becomes an ex-athlete) coupled with a serious case of insulin resistance, then what does he or she get? Quick and substantial weight gain. It’s not because they are eating poorly, or that they aren’t working out. It’s because any carbs consumed that cannot be stored in the liver or the muscles will be stored as fat compliments of all the insulin their body secretes. And because of all those insulin secretions, the body has serious trouble reaching an unfed state. When insulin is in the bloodstream the body’s stored fat (body fat) cannot be accessed as a source of fuel for the body. The ex-athlete adds to his or her fat stores after every meal, but never chips away at the fat stores before indulging in the next meal.

    The secret to not gaining weight after quitting your calling in sports is to tackle your insulin resistance problem as if you are pre-diabetic and heading toward Type II Diabetes. Read all about it in The Obesity Code I mention above. This is accomplished basically by practicing intermittent fasting until your body decides it doesn’t have to go bonkers secreting tons of insulin into the bloodstream after every meal. Your goal is to be able to go from the fed state to the unfed state before you have your next meal. You will store a little fat after each meal and you will un-store a little fat during the time you are in the unfed state before your next meal. You will be in balance and not gain weight.

  18. I just wanted to stop by here and say thank you for your article. There seems to be very little available for those of us who are ex high performance athletes to help with the transition from a lifetime of sport to being “normal.” I am slightly different compared to those of you who have commented here in the sense that I am eighteen and I only retired from my sport last week. However as a national representative in synchronised swimming I have trained insane hours ever since I qualified for my first international competition at age thirteen. Five years later my sport is the only thing I knew. Being such a high calibre athlete you get to the point where you do nothing but train. Last year I even dropped out of school so I could train forty hours a week. This year was a bit less sport focused but it is still a massive change to suddenly not be that girl that swims anymore, especially since I still want to do my sport, just not at an international level and that is not an option. To go from balancing a training schedule of twenty five hours a week this past year alongside school to nothing. Its hard. And its lonely. I have found very little on the internet that supports recently retired athletes. How do you plan your own workouts? How do you know what to eat? How do you motivate yourself without a team? All these things used to be taken care of for me and suddenly I have to do it alone.

  19. Kyle,
    I’m a 79 year old kettlebell instructor that works with former athletes of which you describe….I work to help them & encourage them every day…..it’s a struggle but many of them work hard to meet their goals!!! Pleases me to no end! Wally Chute, Certified Fitness Instructor

  20. As an ex collegiate cross country and distance runner I was always in shape between running and lifting. I was forced to give it up because of multiple nagging injuries so doctors told me to take a year off to get healthy. So I basically took a whole year from any sort of training and I enjoyed all the free time I had so that one year turned into two. I started noticing I was weighing about 50 pounds more than my normal weight and that was when I decided to start working out again. It’s so much harder than I remembered but it still feels good to go out and run so now I’m back to exercising and the weight seems to be falling off. I’m glad I’m not the only one with this dilemma and I greatly appreciate the support of all the other ex athletes!

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