Perfect Height & Weight for Athletes

Woman standing on athletic track
Different body shapes suit different sports. (Image: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

As an athlete, you want to get in the best shape possible, but understanding exactly what that means can be a challenge. Weight tables drawn up for the general population do not necessarily reflect appropriate height-to-weight ratios for athletes. The type of sport you engage in determines how extra pounds affect your performance.

BMI Limitations

Body mass index is a number derived from your height and weight; it helps health-care professionals identify a healthy weight range. Health-related websites such as that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention feature BMI calculators that allow you find out your own BMI. A body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 falls in the healthy range. Athletes can get misleading results when they use BMI calculators, however. As a fit athlete, you likely have a greater percentage of lean muscle mass and less fat tissue than an inactive person. Muscle is denser than fat, so you might weigh more. Although you are fitter and leaner than the sedentary person, your BMI might indicate you are overweight, or even obese.

Gravity's Pull

A few extra pounds on your frame can make your workout more grueling. You must balance the downsides of extra weight versus the risk of losing stamina when you eat and weigh too little. Long-distance runner and Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein tells the New York Times" that he found his ideal performance weight by trial and error, for example. All endurance athletes need some energy stores from which to draw. If you eat too little and are too thin, you actually force your body to break down muscle tissue when you exercise. The demands of some sports lead to unhealthy weight loss. Ski jumpers soar farther when they weigh less, and males in the Olympic sport succumb to eating disorders and anorexia in their quest for gold medals, Wolfram Mueller, professor at the Center of Human Performance Research at the University of Graz in Austria, tells the newspaper.

Sport Specific

Athletes such as sprinters rely on explosive power and strength. Tall, muscular sprinters sometimes dwarf the lean, slight marathoners, yet each athlete is the proper size for his event. Nature plays a part in what sport you excel at, as do diet and training. Shot-put champions typically are tall and large. High-jumping competitors are usually tall, lean and have short torsos and very long legs. Figure skaters limit the damage done to their ankles when landing a triple jump on a thin blade if they weigh less than speed skating champions do.

Endurance

You cannot perform any type of athletic feat if you do not have the fuel reserves to keep you moving. Tennis champion Andre Agassi had trouble finding the ideal competition weight, his longtime trainer, Gil Reyes, told the "New York Times.” Dieting is problematic for athletes because inadequate fuel harms performance. Working out longer and harder is better than reducing food intake, Reyes explains. Successful long-distance swimmers have higher fat levels than long-distance runners do. The exact mechanism that causes swimmers to accumulate and store more fat is a matter of debate, but cold-water swimmers benefit from some extra insulation, according to a 2007 article in “Swimmer” magazine.

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