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Does Less Body Fat Make Someone a Better Athlete?

Posted May 14 2009 4:50pm

This post originated at Encyclopedia Britannica Online, however, I thought it might be useful for Treatment Notes readers as well since I received a great many e-mails and responses about my last post about food and diet myths. This information is also derived from my new book 100 Questions and Answers about Anorexia Nervosa.

Myth #1: The leaner you are, the better athlete you will be.

While a drop in weight may initially increase performance speed in sports, lack of adequate nutrition depletes the body’s  system, resulting in decreased performance overall.

Myth #2:Being thinner than your competition means you will perform better than they will.

Research has not shown strong support for the notion that thinness can enhance athletic performance. Sports nutrition and eating disorders researcher Dr. Pauline Powers identifies three more important keys to athletic performance: genetics, muscle mass, and motivation.

Myth #3: Losing your period is normal when you are a female athlete.

Losing your period (called amenorrhea) is a sign of insufficient nutrition, hormone imbalance, or lack of adequate body fat. It is not normal for healthy development and increases the risk of bone fractures, osteopenia, and early osteoporosis, even among athletes.

Myth #4:If an athlete is performing well, he or she must be healthy.

Not necessarily. According to the Clinical Manual of Eating Disorders, athletes with symptoms of disordered eating are often able to perform well for some time. However, many of the most serious physiological complications emerge silently and without warning.

Myth #5:Taking time off for treatment will interfere with sports performance.

Returning to good health will likely improve sports performance. Sports may be an important part of an athlete’s life; however, good health is key not only to sports performance but to overall quality of life.

Myth #6:If a coach says an athlete has to lose more weight, it must be the right thing to do.

Coaches can be a great source of support and motivation. However, decisions that affect medical health should be made by a physician. Well-meaning coaches may put undue pressure on an athlete by making comments about weight and may be misinformed about the relationship between body weight and sports performance.

Myth #7:Weight-bearing activities actually reduce the risk for osteoporosis, so an athlete is protected.

Exercise alone does not protect against osteoporosis. Adequate nutrition and a healthy body weight are also necessary factors. Excessive exercise and a diet low in fat and calories can actually increase the risk of amenorrhea, a potential precursor to osteoperosis, and the risk of sports-related injury.

Myth #8: Daily training is necessary to maintain athletic performance.

Actually, muscles need days without exercise to refuel and recover. Taking a day or two off from training does not decrease performance and may in fact have performance benefits.

Myth #9:  An athlete that looks healthy is likely to be healthy.

You can not tell just by looking at someone whether he or she is healthy.

Myth #10:  There is no such thing as too much exercise. T he more exercise, the better.

Actually, doctors say that most people should not be exercising more than 30 minutes to an hour, 3-5 times per week

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