Sunday, February 12, 2006


MedPage published a review of the IOC's new treatment guidelines for the female athlete triad. In the review, the writer quotes the guidelines' authors as saying, "Disordered eating with athletes typically involves a willful attempt by the athlete to create a negative energy balance. Part of this attempt is based on the premise that a thinner or leaner body can enhance performance (e.g., lightweight rowing, distance running) and/or a thinner appearance can render a better score in sports that are judged (e.g., diving, figure skating, gymnastics)."

Catch the problem here? Lightweight rowers do not believe that a thinner or leaner body, once below weight, enhances athletic performance. And making weight is done because it is required, not because lower weight enhances performance. There is absolutely no incentive to lose weight below 130 pounds. The incentive is to be as close to 130 as possible, while still ensuring that you make weight. No rower in her right mind would want to create a "negative energy balance." Of course, an individual with an eating disorder could be seen as not being in her "right mind." The point here, however, is that unlike non-athletes, lightweight rowers actually have an incentive not to create this negative energy balance. This would suggest that any worries about what making weight does to the fragile psyche of those delicate lightweights is balanced by the offsetting incentive not to go below 130.

One of the worries about the proposal to add hydration testing to lightweight weigh-ins is that it DOES provide an incentive to go below 130. Some weight would need to be reserved for water alone. Because you can never know for certain before actual testing on race day if you meet the hydration requirement, you'll have to drop below 130 to make room for the extra water you'll have to consume.

By the way, the actual Olympic triad guidelines mentions a study by Brownell and Rodin which it says suggests that "athletes have more problems with eating, dieting, and body image than nonathletes, and the problem appears to be greatest in sports in which there is an emphasis on thinness, either for performance or appearance. Athletes most at risk would be those involved not only in sports that emphasize a thin body size or shape (e.g.,
distance running) but also in sports that utilize weight categories (e.g., rowing, martial arts)..." I don't have Brownell and Rodin's book so I can't read what they actually conclude, but as usual the statement is mushy. Rodin, however, is the former president of Penn - maybe that's why there are no lightweights there?

No comments: