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Athletic Trainers' Group Releases Weight-Management Guidelines

The National Athletic Trainers' Association released a policy statement on Monday addressing safe weight-loss and -management practices for student-athletes, noting that unhealthy weight-management behaviors decrease athletic performance.

The statementRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, released at NATA's annual meetings in New Orleans, provides seven guidelines for safe weight loss for student-athletes, including performing a body-composition assessment to set a weight goal and keeping gains or losses to no more than 1.5 percent of body weight per week.

In a nod that's sure to please fitness advocates, the fourth guideline stresses that diet and exercise need to play into a healthy weight-management program. Another guideline notes, however, that student-athletes should be cautious when using dietary or weight-management supplements in combination with a weight-management program.

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." The safe weight-loss practices provided by NATA are meant to ensure the health of all student-athletes and physically active students, she said in a press release.

Unhealthy eating habits (specifically, a student-athlete depriving himself/herself of food) or chronic dehydration can limit the growth of muscles and bones, and lower metabolism and hormone production, she said.

"The most common unsafe methods for achieving weight-loss goals include mixing dehydration with food restriction and improper dieting to reduce body fat," said Dr. Craig A. Horswill, a member of the position-statement writing group. "Disordered eating to lose weight is a definite cause for alarm, even among seemingly healthy, athletic individuals."

NATA drove Dr. Horswill's message home with Ashleigh Clare-Kearney, a two-time national champion in gymnastics, who spoke at the presentation. Clare-Kearney told the audience that one of her teammates refused to eat to the point where she suffered broken bones and other injuries.

"You don't come back from that completely," Clare-Kearney said. "You're already breaking down your body when you should be building it up. Educating yourself about dangers and best practices is the first step in making sure you're reaching weight goals safely. I told my teammates to think about their bodies beyond gymnastics and that food is the fuel that energizes the body so you can perform at your peak potential."

NATA already published the policy statement online, and the document was published in the June 2011 edition of the Journal of Athletic Training.

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