Background: Optimization of body weight and composition is a key priority for elite athletes striving for a competitive advantage. The present investigation was designed to characterize various parameters related to weight control in Olympic competitors.
Design: Cross-sectional study.
Setting: Research unit at a University Hospital.
Participants: 223 athletes (125 men and 98 women, with only 1 drop-out), all members of the Swedish teams participating in the Olympic Games of 2002 and 2004.
Main outcome measurements: Self-reported body weight and height, from which BMI was calculated, variation in weight during the year prior to Olympic competition, and self-reported weight control strategies by questionnaire. The athletes were divided into two groups on the basis of whether their sporting discipline emphasized leanness or not.
Results: The athletes participating in disciplines that emphasize leanness demonstrated a lower mean BMI (22.7 +/- 2.7 vs 3.7 +/- 2.3 for nonlean athletes, P < 0.05), greater variation in weight (5.3% vs 4.7%, P < 0.05), more frequent attempts to lose weight (P < 0.001), longer total training time (P < 0.001), a higher training load yet weighed more than they desired at the time of competition. These differences were most evident in male athletes. Furthermore, 9.4% of lean athletes reported previously suffering from an eating disorder, in comparison to 2.7% of the nonlean athletes (P < 0.05). More athletes in disciplines emphasizing leanness also reported being ill during the prior 3 month period (38.5% vs 21.6%, P < 0.05).
Conclusions: This investigation reveals that the weight control practices employed by Olympic athletes participating disciplines that emphasize leanness appear to be suboptimal. Counseling concerning weight control could be used as a tool to prevent illness and enhance performance.