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Athletes' Bodies Differ: Deal With It

"But she doesn't look like a runner."

Well, that's because not every athlete--regardless of their sport or position--has the exact same body. Similar to how not everyone in your immediate and extended family aren't carbon copies of one another.

Although it's typically true that sports and their positions have similar body shapes, this isn't always the case. And it bugs me to hear others utter the above statement, because words can lead to a lot of the issues that I end up working closely with athletes on.

For instance, poor body image (dysmorphia), concerning weight loss, the absence of menstruation, and even bone fractures can occur--all related to an athlete manipulating their calories through diet and/or exercise to help achieve a certain body shape.

Thankful for ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue"

Every-so-often in a counseling session, I'll refer to the annual "Body Issue"--a photographer's masterpiece of the many different shapes and sizes of professional athletes.

Source: ESPN.

Source: ESPN The Magazine's "2015 Body Issue"

Rather than flipping through pages to envy the chiseled bodies of athletes the media expects we want to see, the magazine highlights both the nuances and extreme differences between athletic body shapes.

And look how much fun they're having showing off their assets?

What Do Athletes Have to Say?

Search for stories and you'll find them:

Allie Kieffer, American distance runner, placed 5th in the 2017 New York City Marathon (second American woman behind Shalane Flanagan)

"People often said they were surprised I could run so well for being 'bigger.' Or they'd note that I was 'strong,' a notoriously condescending word in running culture."

Rachel Schulist, Hansons Brooks ODP distance runner and former Michigan State University cross-country runner that suffered a malnutrition-related stress fracture

"[H]er new, sturdier body belies the notion that only rail-thin athletes succeed in distance running . . . she called it 'bullshit.'"

Rosie MacLennan, Canadian reigning Olympic trampoline champion

"In a lot of sports there's a body type that's ideal. A lot of athletes put a lot of pressure on themselves to conform to that."

Take-away Message: The Athlete is All That Matters

For athletes, this means:

  • A stellar performance will win you awards--not a six pack.

  • Work with a registered dietitian to help you with setting appropriate and realistic dietary and body composition goals.

  • Own your body, and shut down those that think otherwise.

For dietitians, this means:

  • Working with and advocating for your athletes.

  • Keeping their best interests at the center of the care plan.

  • Correcting naysayers when they voice that "fit" bodies are all that matters when it comes to athletic performance (*cough* mental health of the athlete matters, too!).


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