At the 62nd Annual Meeting & Clinical Symposia of the National Athletic Trainers Association, held June 19-22 in New Orleans, the NATA released its newest position statement: Safe Weight Loss and Maintenance Practices in Sport and Exercise."
Because unsafe weight management practices can compromise the performance and health of athletes and the public, the NATA statement offers guidelines for coaches, parents and participants to help safely achieve weight and body composition goals.
"These are timely and important recommendations," announced NATA president Marje Albohm to an assembled group of media representatives during a press event to release the guidelines June 19. "Athletes are consumed with being thin, strong and fit. But at what cost? These guidelines provide a consistent, clear message [built upon] a solid foundation of education."
According to position statement writing group member Kathleen Laquale, PhD, ATC, LAT, LDN, professor at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, the NATA statement includes seven key recommendations (summarized):
· A body composition assessment should be used to determine a body weight that's consistent with safety good health and optimal performance in weight-classification sports;
· Regular body composition tests should measure progress toward reaching the target weight;
· Any changes in weigh should be steady and consistent, and weight change should not exceed 1 to 2 pounds per week;
· Both diet and exercise should be used as part of the strategy to change body weight;
· Enough calories taken in from all food groups should occur during weight change;
· Regular education and advice on safe dietary and weight management practices should be delivered by health experts - not coaches, peers or family members;
· Athletes should be cautions with dietary supplements, ergogenic aids or unsubstantiated methods of rapid weight change.
"For years, sports have been plagued by anecdotal and nonscientific recommendations on food restrictions," said Douglas Gregory, MD, a pediatrician and sports medicine physician at Lakeview Medical Center in Suffolk, VA. The publication of these guidelines is a key step in offering evidence-based guidelines to coaches and institutions involved in sports such as wrestling, gymnastics, judo, figure skating and others that require weight classification and/or place an emphasis on body aesthetic.
In some cases, the pressure on student athletes to diet and "make weight" can be strong.
"I began to feel personally attacked," said Ashleigh Clare-Kearney, a Division 1 gymnastics standout and captain of her team at Louisiana State University. At 5-foot-4, 155 lbs., Clare-Kearney was large by gymnastics standards, and despite her talent, most of the top schools in the country shied away from offering her a scholarship. "I was told I would not survive in elite athletics," she said. "LSU took a chance on me."
Clare-Kearney, who is now a first-year law student, reported witnessing disordered eating first-hand in the gymnastics community, and reinforced the importance of the NATA recommendations.
"We deal with weight loss issues on a daily basis," said Gregory Stewart, MD, team physician and chief of the division of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Tulane University in New Orleans. Dr. Stewart stressed that though the university is invested in the health and success of its student athletes, weight management should be a private issue.
"The numbers don't have to be given to coaches or administrators," said Dr. Stewart. "This is a medical issue, and should be treated like a medical issue."The full NATA guidelines were published in the June 2011 Journal of Athletic Training and are viewable here.