Tips For Athletes Seeking An Elite Vertical Jump

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Please know that while I normally don’t talk about weight loss, in certain specific instances for certain groups of people the topic can become relevant without crossing into eating disorders.

Case in point:

Certain athletes are required by their sports to jump exceptionally high: volleyball, basketball, track and field, etc.

In addition to a highly intense vertical jump training program like Vert Shock, athletes pursuing such high flying sports require an extremely optimized approach to diet, if they’re to maximize their vertical jump.

Today we’re going to unpack a few of the key dietary concepts elite athletes need to be mindful of if they’re going to attain that coveted 40+ inch vertical jump!

Gradually Reduce Bodyfat To An Elite Training Level

Elite jumpers all have one thing in common: they’re ripped…

If you look at athletes like Ben Patrick and Isaiah Rivera, who are well known for their 40+ inch vertical jumps, you’re not going to find much in the way of excess bodyfat.

Other well known high flyers like Kadour Ziani also don’t seem to be carrying any unnecessary bodyfat.

Except with the exception of offseason Zion Williamson, fat simply don’t fly!

Having less fat on your frame puts less pressure on your ankles, knees, and hips which means you can save your joints from the unnecessary stress.

Fat is also non-functional body mass which means it contributes nothing to our ability to jump higher!

If we removed all excess fat, we’d be lighter but just as strong (if we did it properly), which means we’d be a more powerful athlete, pound for pound.

So the question then becomes, how lean is lean enough and how do we get there as effeciently as possible?

How Much Bodyfat Is Allowed?

Each athlete’s “genetic set point” for bodyfat will be different: some guys can walk around at 7% all year round without an issue, whereas 10% will be a struggle to attain and maintain for others.

From a genetic standpoint, some of us are going to have it super easy and others of us are going to have to work extremely hard to stay lean year round.

To be an elite jumper, shoot for no more than 10% bodyfat.

Most athletes should be okay with maintaining this bodyfat percentage year round, and it can be dialled in as necessary to peak for certain events.

Maintain A High Metabolism & Cut Extremely Slowly

Suppose you’re walking around at a comfortable 15% bodyfat and decide you need to get to around 10% bodyfat in order to pursue an elite jumping performance, how do we go about bridging that gap?

Jumpers need to maintain or increase their strength in order to produce enough force to jump high (Power = Strength * Rate of Force Development). In order to stay super explosive, we need to hang onto as much muscle mass as humanly possible while cutting down on bodyfat.

Naturally, this means we need to very gradually cut calories from our diet.

Cut As Few Calories As Humanly Possible To Begin With

I recommend eating just 150-250 calories below maintenance per day only, which will equate to a loss of slightly less than half a pound per week.

If you’re 15% bodyfat and weigh 200lbs, then you have 10lbs to lose to get to the desired 10% bodyfat. At roughly 0.4lbs per week, it’ll take you about 6 months to lose the desired weight.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… Six months is an extremely long time to wait just to lose 10lbs. But it’s the most effective way to safely bring your bodyfat down without massively increasing cortisol or SHBG, which can lead to a cascade of undesirable outcomes.(1)

Cutting Weight Slowly Maintains Homeostasis, Muscle, & Strength

Losing fat much faster than this can also lead to lower testosterone and a host of hormonal imbalances that can make adhering to your diet extremely difficult.

This slow and steady approach to dieting means we also won’t need to worry about including any diet breaks or maintenance phases as our deficit is realatively low.

As jumpers, we need to be strong in order to produce large amounts of force. By cutting too aggressively, we’ll struggle to continue lifting heavy in the gym and may end up quite a bit weaker than we were to begin with.

Focus More On “Calories Out” Rather than “Calories In”

Instead of just thinking about cutting calories, we also want to play around with the other levers we have at our disposal.

If we can increase our daily caloric expenditure (i.e. do some more cardio), we’ll be able to keep our metabolism nice and high, which means we should always be able to consume enough protein to help our muscles recover from training.

It’ll also mean we’re able to eat more food throughout the day which will help control hunger and again increase adherence.

But it also means that once we’ve reached our 10% bodyfat destination, we’ll have an easier time shifting back into maintenance or muscle building mode as we can simply reduce our cardio while keeping our caloric intake static.

If we choose not to increase our caloric expenditure during the cut, our metabolism will slowly drop over time, causing us to hit a weight loss plateau.

For many athletes this is super discouraging – you’re eating under your caloric maintenance but not losing weight, what gives!?

What people often miss is that as you lose weight, your metabolism slows down and your ‘caloric maintenance level’ will drop to below what it was at the start of your diet.

So if you’re not increasing your caloric expenditure, to continue losing weight while dieting you need to continually be reducing your calories over time.

I’ve found that it’s often much easier to manipulate the “calories out” variable (i.e. increasing activity throughout the day) than it is to be overly focused on the “calories in” aspect of the equation.

Increase Your Metabolism Before Beginning The Cut

If you’re an athlete, chances are you’re already doing a fair bit of activity, but it’s not uncommon for us to get lazy during the offseason and to spend far too much time lazing around when we’re not working out.

If you’re only burning 2,000 calories per day on average before beginning your weight cut, it’s going to end up getting pretty nasty down the stretch when you’re practically starving yourself to lose those last few pounds.

However if you can ramp your metabolism up to 4,000 calories prior to beginning your fat loss period (or at the start of it), by eating lots and doing a lot of activity, getting to your goal bodyfat percentage should be a lot easier, but you’ll also be better positioned to begin packing on muscle and strength after you’ve reached your desired bodyfat percentage.

Conclusion

One of the easiest ways to increase your vertical jump is to get rid of any excess bodyfat you have on your frame.

It is however super important that you do this gradually, so as to maintain the strength required to jump high.

Cutting fat too quickly can lead to hormonal issues, muscle loss, and regaining the fat as soon as you finish cutting down.

By having the patience to take things slowly, you’ll see an increase in relative strength and power while also putting yourself in an advantageous metabolic position to resume gaining lean muscle mass after the cut is complete.

References

1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25028999/

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.

@jared_levenson

Watch "How To" free masterclass training To become Peaceful and free!

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