A recent answer to a coach’s question…

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…we are battling our own issues here, more aggressively now than in the past and I am wondering what you think is the minimum BMI for a female distance athlete to have to allow her to continue to compete and train (given the struggle between eating disorders and ideal weight).

That’s about as tough as it gets. Multi faceted issues with it. First, I’d get away from BMI. It’s an inaccurate, poor measure on most all levels. How much more does BMI tell you that your own eyes don’t? Some people are bigger than others; the US has an increasing problem with obesity. Genius! Shear genius!

The real key is Body Fat % and here is where the real discussion should be. First I’d dispel the male proliferated generalization that woman’s needs are so much different. Yes, they do need a higher % but all human bodies need a certain level to be healthy. The only gender difference is their slightly higher need, child bearing needs which are not germane to your question, and how/where they store it. Everybody has 2 types of fat, Essential, and Stored which in an athlete’s case can be considered “fuel”? The label “essential” speaks to the primacy of fat to a health body and as such is the barest minimum. (this before adding the demands of training on an athlete’s body).

How do you set a minimum % for the female runner? This brings me back to “essential vs. stored”. Essential fat is huge in hormonal function and as you know, training adaptation hinges on hormonal factors. So an exact optimal amount or exact minimal is a tough target to set. Individual needs are almost impossible to narrow to an absolute % similar to how one workout doesn’t serve all exactly equally.

Here’s where Body Fat % is at least better than BMI. Essential fat for hormonal and immnuo regulation is found in internal organs and marrow. “Essential” fat for child bearing and associated hormonals reflects BMI or “Botticelli” fat if I can trademark a term… This is where the slow girl (see: butt, belly, hips, breasts) looks at the skinny faster one and the light bulb goes off as they miss associate thin with guaranteed success. Its kid logic to believe that lighter guarantees faster, equals greater success. The challenge comes in restating that to: HEALTHIER = greater potential for success. You and I know there are no guarantees…

Now here’s the toughest part….No matter how noble your intentions, whatever voice you speak with comes from the mouth of a coach. There is a resulting, unavoidable conflict on some level in their minds. Whatever you think or feel regarding ….’s Medical staff, they don’t represent a dual role while you do when you speak to health issues. Your best position is to argue for body fat and not BMI as the measure of choice. Argue for what you feel is the appropriate % and from there forward you have to defer. To state it differently, I am sure that Dr. xxxxx has a rudimentary idea of training / conditioning at least equal to your’s of medical issues. How much impute would you welcome from him on your training of healthy runners? Now reverse that and how much should he accept from you on someone with a medical condition. The break point is “What level of health is acceptable for the competitive female collegiate runner?” The tipping point is the college has decided that he gets to decide…

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