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Athletes are constantly looking to lose or maintain weight for optimal performance. In sports that have weight classifications, like wrestling, making and maintaining a certain weight is a precondition to being eligible to compete.
Earlier this week, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) released a position statement on “Safe Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance Practices in Sport and Exercise.” The statement offers recommendations for student-athletes, parents, coaches and trainers concerning safe ways to achieve and maintain weight and body composition goals.
Dr. Paula Sammarone, chair of the position-statement writing group, said that "active people sometimes adopt negative behaviors due to a poor body image from misinformation or influences from coaches, parents, or peers." Dr. Craig A. Horswill, adjunct professor in the department of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois/Chicago, added that "the most common unsafe methods for achieving weight loss goals include mixing dehydration with food restriction and improper dieting to reduce body fat. Disordered eating to lose weight is a definite cause for alarm, even among healthy athletic individuals."
To safely lose weight, follow these seven NATA guidelines:
1. Perform body composition assessments to estimate lean body mass and fat mass. These will help determine a body weight goal that is consistent with safe and optimal performance standards.
2. Assess progress toward reaching the goal based on body composition tests done at regular intervals. Repeat these assessments often.
3. Weight change should not occur at excessive rates. Gain or loss should be steady and at a consistent and safe rate. Weight loss should not exceed 1.5 percent of bodyweight per week.
4. Both diet and exercise should be used to change body weight. Weight goals should reflect the training plans and goals of each individual.
5. During a period of weight change, student-athletes should take in sufficient calories from all food groups. Metabolic and energy needs for physical activity must be considered when developing a diet for weight management.
6. Education on safe dietary and weight management practices should be planned and conducted on a regular basis. Involvement with the performance team, athletic trainers and other nutrition experts is recommended. Coaches, peers and family members who are untrained in safe weight management should refrain from offering information and recommendations on diet, body composition and weight management practices.
7. Athletes should be cautious with the use of dietary and weight management supplements, or with any techniques that lead to rapidly changing body weight through unsubstantiated methods of weight reduction.
According to Dr. Gregory W. Stewart, co-director of the Sports Medicine Program and team physician for the Tulane University athletic department, “there is nothing more important in sports today than keeping our athletes healthy and playing at peak performance level; this position statement is an excellent way to get athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and others thinking about how to manage weight loss or gain effectively and safely.”
Source: NATA Annual National Convention Press Release and information