Bulking Up In Pursuit of Athletic Prowess Has Consequences Later On

The appearance of professional football player William “Refrigerator” Perry used to bother me. It was clear that he had been encouraged to get really big, and I worried about all that extra weight he carried. There were others almost as heavy, of course, but the Fridge was especially likable-he had charisma and an obvious sense of humor. (For fun, he once boxed 7-foot, 7-inch super-skinny former NBA player Manute Bol. He even entered the 2003 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, coming in about 40 hot dogs behind the winner.) I worried about his health.

In a 2005 article on CNN.com,. Perry said, “I was about the only 300-pound guy in the league; there were maybe two or three of us [at the time]. Now you’ve got 400-pound guys playing…”

My fears seem well-founded. Thankfully, Perry is still with us*, but according to a new study published in the current issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, college football players who gain weight to increase their athletic prowess might be increasing their risk for diabetes and heart disease later on.

In a press release, Jackie Buell, director of sports nutrition at Ohio State University, said that almost half of a sample of collegiate offensive and defensive linemen who participated in the study who took part in the study had metabolic syndrome. This means that they had at least three of the five five symptomsrisk factors that predictforecast higher odds of developing heart disease and diabetes than people who don’t have the risk factors.

The five markers of metabolic syndrome are:

  1. excess fat in the abdominal area (measured by waist circumference); 
  2. borderline or high blood pressure; 
  3. cholesterol problems that foster plaque buildup in arteries; 
  4. insulin resistance or glucose intolerance; 
  5. and a protein in the blood that indicates inflammation.

We’ve run published many numerous articles in Diabetes Health about how the latest research says that reducing abdominal fat is the best way to prevent disease in the long run. Buell said in the press release that “if a male athlete’s waist measurements and blood pressure exceed set points-a 40-inch waist and a blood pressure reading higher than 130 over 85-he ideally should undergo a blood test to see if high cholesterol, glucose, and triglyceride levels [also] indicate that he might benefit from nutrition counseling and other health guidance to prevent chronic disease down the road.”

According to Buell, the main worry is what happens to these athletes after they stop participating in sports. Statistically, few college athletes go on to become professionals. Buell suggests that athletes such as college football linemen might be unwilling to lose weight during their football careers, but that they should be given health counseling when they stop playing competitively.

The researchers said that the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Guidelines proposed by the National Cholesterol Education Program could function as a guide for athletes with numerous risk factors. The guidelines recommend that saturated fats constitute no more than 7 percent of total calories, that fats constitute 25 percent to 35 percent of daily calories, and that dietary cholesterol be held to less than 200 milligrams per day.

“We understand that these athletes want to be big, but they can’t assume that all their weight gain is lean mass just because they’re lifting weights and taking protein supplements,” Buell said. “The bottom line is that we’re seeing more and more abdominal obesity. And these findings show that athletes aren’t necessarily off the hook when it comes to health risks.”

* Perry is suffering from the effects of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which affects the peripheral nervous system and causes progressive weakness.

Sources: EurekAlert, Ohio State University

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