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Weight Change in Athletes

To meet demands of a sport, it is common for an athlete to lose or gain weight. Irrespective of the reason, this weight change should be gradual and should be accomplished at the beginning of the season or off season before an event as weight and body composition are the two major factors that influence the performance of an athlete. By incorporating additional energy in the diet in combination with strength training (to promote growth of desired muscle mass) weight gain can be accomplished. But this will largely depend on an athlete’s genetic makeup and his dedication and inclination to do so. Weight gain would also depend on degree of positive energy balance, type of exercise done in a training program and number of rest and recovery days per week.

Weight loss however should be done only when necessary under the guidance of a registered dietician trained in the field of sports nutrition, as decreased energy intake can compromise nutrient intakes and hinder performance with decrease with both muscle mass and body fat. If weight loss is necessary, it should be done slowly, approximately 1-2 lbs pre week and no fad diets should be followed. The aim should be to maintain healthful body weight that is based on genetic, social, sport, physiologic and psychological factors. A realistic goal should be set keeping in mind that a healthful weigh should be maintained with minimum risks of illness and injuries and allows positive advances in sport performance.

Weight loss and weight gain should be done carefully as a failure might result in boycott from the team, restricted participation or elimination from the competition. These changes will affect the athletes psychologically and might result in chronic dieting or binging to lose or gain weight. This can ultimately lead to eating disorders, other health consequences and low nutrient profile in an athlete. This cycle is primarily due to the pressure on athletes to achieve a weight goal.

Especially weight loss can be problematic in female athletes than male counterparts because of the small stature and lower energy needs. Hormonal changes are reported in females who have low energy intake and high energy output. There are alteration in the secretion of luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone (pituitary gonadotropins) that leads to changes in the secretion of ovarian hormones causing amenorrhea. This in turn leads to loss of bone mass in young female athletes. Energy availability to maintain the vital body functions is decreased and this negative energy balance due to chronic dieting with heavy exercise leads to ‘energy drain’ which affects the health and performance of an athlete. Having a balanced diet will suffice the nutritional and energy need of an athlete and help then to improve the over all nutritional and reproductive function. 
Submitted on January 16, 2014