Elite Athletics isn't about health!

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A study done at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana by Katherine Beals, PHD and at Arizona State University by Melinda M Manore, PHD, observed that as high as 72 percent of female athletes do not eat enough to sustain them. The average intake of a female athlete is 1500 calories or less daily when they likely use from 2700 to 3000 calories a day.

The scientists named this, 'disordered eating' or a 'sub clinical eating disorder'. Scientists feel that the mal nourishment might be to blame for the fact that women have 75 percent MORE sports injuries like stress fractures than do their male counterparts. Additionally, not eating enough can cause the female athlete triad: amenorrhea, anorexia and osteoporosis.

The study compared the eating habits of female and male athletes with those of their non-athletic gender. The result was while athletic men ate as much as 150 percent more than non-athletic men, athletic women were eating significantly LESS than non-athletic women. And in a society where most women (up to 70 percent) curve their eating below their daily caloric needs to strive for excessive thinness, these results were rather distressing.

For example, while male gymnasts ate about 140 percent as much as average males, female gymnasts only ate about 80 percent of what non athletic women eat. Male bodybuilders ate as much as non bodybuilders but female bodybuilders consumed less than 45 percent of what non-bodybuilder females consume. Of the female athletes, swimmers seem to eat the best, averaging about 90 percent of the average female food intake.

The results of the Beals study are not surprising. Women athletes are highly pressured to starve themselves as to not form muscles which are considered to be 'unfeminine'. Also, since female athletes are paid considerably less than their male counterparts, many feel they wish to supplement their income with modeling which requires them to starve to stay very thin.

Under-nourished females may have more bodyfat

A study at Georgia State University of elite female gymnasts showed that those gymnasts who ate less than 1200 calories a day, actually had a higher bodyfat percentage than those gymnasts who averaged more than 1800 calories a day. The reason for this may be that when a person is in a state of semi starvation or starvation, their bodies tend to preserve the fat and burn the muscle in an effort to reduce the metabolism and thus the need for food (this is a survival adaptation which in a real starvation situation would allow the person to live longer with less food).

Are Male Athletes so healthy?

A study reported on in the Internal Medicine Review, June 2001, reported that whereas the average male has about 4 upper respiratory infections a year, male elite athletes may have as many as 10 upper respiratory infections a year. Scientists were not sure why this was but think it might be because the elite athletes often over-train, which causes a weakening of their immune system.

(An exception may be swimmer, Michael Phelps, who unashamedly eats 10,000 calories a day!) :)

Finally when Oxygen Magazine did a special on the ladies in "Fitness America", they found that none of the women contestants were menstruating (which typically happens when the bodyfat percentage gets too low). (Several studies have linked amenorrhea with early osteoporosis)

Elite athletics is not about health.


Muscle and Fitness - April 1999.

Oxygen Magazine 2003

Internal Medicine Review, June 2001

Reuters Health service and more