Weight regulation practices in athletes: analysis of metabolic and health effects

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1987 Dec;19(6):546-56.


Athletes engage in a number of dietary and weight control practices which may influence metabolism, health, and performance. This paper reviews the literature on these factors with special emphasis on athletes who show large, frequent, and rapid fluctuations in weight (wrestlers) and athletes who maintain low weight and low percent body fat (e.g., distance runners, gymnasts, and figure skaters). A theory is presented which relates these weight patterns and the accompanying dietary habits to changes in body composition, metabolism, metabolic activity of adipose tissue, and the distribution of body fat. Changes in these physiological variables may be manifested in enhanced food efficiency (weight as a function of caloric intake) as the body seeks to protect and replenish its energy stores. This may explain the surprisingly low caloric intakes of some athletes. The health status of the athlete is a concern in this regard because there may be changes in fat distribution, risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and hormonal factors associated with reproductive functioning in both females and males. Amenorrhea in female athletes may be mediated at least in part by regional fat distribution; depletion of femoral fat depots (lactational energy reserves) may be the stimulus for cessation or disruption of menses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Amenorrhea / etiology
  • Amenorrhea / metabolism
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Weight*
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolism*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Sports*
  • Testosterone / blood


  • Testosterone