Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: Today’s Menu Special: Female College Athletes Aren’t Eating Right (Sports Med Res)
Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Today’s Menu Special: Female College Athletes Aren’t Eating Right

Dietary intakes and eating habits of college athletes: are female college athletes following the current sports nutrition standards?    

Shriver LH, Betts NM, & Wollenberg G. Journal of American College Health. 2013, 61: 1, 10 - 16. 

Collegiate athletics can be very physically demanding, requiring a delicate balance between dietary intake and energy expenditure.  The number of female collegiate athlete participants is increasing over time, and in general, females may be more susceptible to nutrition-related issues. Unfortunately, their dietary habits remain unclear.  The purpose of this study was to assess and compare dietary intake and eating habits in female athletes to the recommended sports nutrition minimums.  Fifty-two female collegiate athletes (mean age = 20 years) from 3 NCAA Division I teams (i.e., soccer, basketball, and track) completed height, mass, body composition, and dietary assessments. Athletes recorded their dietary habits in a food diary over 3 days.  Seventy-four percent of participants failed to meet the minimum recommended intake of carbohydrates (5 g/kg/day).  Additionally, 50% of the participants did not meet the minimum recommended intake for protein.  The authors found that 91% of participants did not meet their estimated energy intake needs.  Lastly, a majority of these females spent most of the day in energy deficit.  Caloric intake was extremely low in the morning hours, and the athletes did not truly eat a substantive meal until dinner hours.       

Clinically, this study demonstrates that there may be a much larger problem than we realize within female collegiate athletes and should be addressed.  As clinicians, we should recognize the high-risk within the female collegiate athlete, be cognizant of this trend so we can recognize it, and facilitate a referral if necessary.  Additionally, some of us may be in a unique position to take preventative measures in efforts to educate this group as they are developing, so that they understand what is and what is not appropriate. This education may help prevent them from falling into this unhealthy behavior.  We want to facilitate the proper care of these problems through appropriate referrals or educational programming.   It has been shown, both anecdotally and in previous research, that female athletes operate under false impressions of adequate calorie consumption when, in reality, they may be doing significant harm to their bodies.  These substantial deficits in meeting energy needs have implications on performance, healing, as well as long-term health.  The sports nutrition guidelines reflect an increased need in calories by the athletic population, but this study has highlighted an extreme problem. Interestingly, this study did not include sports such as gymnastics or volleyball where body image issues have been clearly identified.  This difficult topic affects many different areas (e.g., psychological, physical, psychosocial) that comprise the whole athlete.  Has anyone encountered these types of problems in athletes that they work with?  What are strategies that you use to try to appropriately address this?  What has been successful or unsuccessful for you clinically?

Written by: Nicole Cattano
Reviewed by: Laura McDonald

Related Posts:

Shriver LH, Betts NM, & Wollenberg G (2013). Dietary intakes and eating habits of college athletes: are female college athletes following the current sports nutrition standards? Journal of American College Health, 61 (1), 10-6 PMID: 23305540

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