The Olympics are less than a month away, and athletes from around the world are preparing to compete in over 25 sports. Many of us can only image the hours of training that go into every practice, and we are in awe of these athletes’ physical and mental capabilities.
There’s no better time to remember that we need to be mindful of the health of athletes, especially young stars who have not yet risen to the ranks of stardom. Elite athletes put countless hours into their training, and these efforts are not without the dedicated supervision of numerous coaches, athletic trainers, and dietitians. It could be tempting for an amateur athlete, full of ambition and dedication, to try to take on a rigorous training plan of his or her own without supervision. This could be a rocky road to travel due to the risk of injury alone.
But there are other dangers lurking as well. A casual perusal of the USA Track and Field Association website reveals that they are posting elite athletes’ weights and heights (http://www.usatf.org/Athlete-Bios.aspx). Of particular concern, it lists two female athletes in the underweight range—with BMIs of 17.2 and 16.9. Why does the world need to know their weights? Posting these data is a careless and potentially dangerous move by the USA Track and Field Association. Athletic success is not about weight. However, young girls may focus more on these numbers than their training and may be misled to believe that losing weight and looking like these athletes will lead to success. These dangerous assumptions could lead to disordered eating, which is one of the three characteristics of the female athlete triad, along with amenorrhea and osteoporosis.
Athletes need to be well fueled in order to train and compete to their potential. Significantly limiting caloric intake can cause the body to stop producing vital reproductive hormones such as estrogen. Estrogen plays a key role in women’s menstrual cycle, and without it, a woman may stop getting her period. This is known as amenorrhea. The combination of amenorrhea and poor nutrition can lead to irreversible bone loss (osteoporosis), which can greatly increase risk for fractures and stress fractures. No athlete wants this to happen.
The USA Track and Field Association should consider following the path of other major associations like USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics by not listing weights and heights of athletes. It simply serves no useful purpose and can only do harm. Athletes of all calibers need to be aware of the female athlete triad and train smart with adequate supervision and knowledge about how to fuel the body for optimal performance.
By: Lauren Metzger