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Last week, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association issued a new set of guidelines that athletes should follow to lose weight for competition without risking major health complications. The guidelines include tips like the following:
- Use body composition assessments to measure lean body mass versus fat.
- Gradually shed no more than 1.5 percent of body weight a week.
- Eat a balanced diet that includes all food groups.
- Lose weight under the supervision of nutrition, health and weight management experts.
Athletes experience the same pressures as the general population when it comes to losing weight.
These tips may seem like no-brainers to folks who advocate for healthy weight loss in the general population, but athletes are especially susceptible to the extreme pressures of competition that promise scholarships, medals, and financial rewards. Even people who have moved past the point of weight loss can start to obsess over perceived physical irregularities. Muscle dysmorphia, for example, is a condition in which people see themselves to have below average muscle mass.
Unhealthy weight loss can lead to serious health issues, including:
- Loss of bone density
- Mental confusion
- Extremely high sustained heart rate
Earlier this year, a 20 year old US Army recruit died after losing 85 lbs in 4 months on an 800 calorie per day diet. Glenn Wilsey dies of acute cardiac dysrhythmia from an electrolyte imbalance caused by binging, purging and excessive exercise, according to Lorain County Coroner Paul Matus.
Social norms within sports change with policy changes from leading national organizations.
According to an article in USA Today:
Among wrestlers at least, intentional dehydration may be less popular than it used to be due to changes in the rules from the high school level on up that call for urine tests to detect hydration status at weigh-in. In 2006, for example, the National Federation of State High School Associations not only adopted the hydration status rules, but also minimum body fat requirements (greater than 7 percent in boys and 12 percent in girls) in order to compete.
Along with wrestling, the sports of cycling, dance, and gymnastics are high pressure sports where weight can effect performance. Coaches from the junior to elite levels are now being encouraged to watch out for unhealthy and competitive weight loss within their teams.
Weight loss for health and weight loss for performance are more similar than you think.
Whether you are trying to lose 5 lbs to meet weight for a meet, or you want to lose 5 lbs to look good in a bikini next weekend, people with either goal can fall prey to unhealthy weight loss habits. No matter what your weight goals are, some people will stop at nothing to achieve a certain weight, no matter what the consequences. Guidelines that encourage safe weight loss are great for athletes, fans, and coaches alike because they send a clear message that sports organizations will not encourage unhealthy behavior.
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