Youth Athletes

The body composition of young athletes is influenced by their growth and maturity status. With few exceptions, young athletes of both sexes tend to be at or above median reference values in height and mass; exceptions are gymnasts of both sexes and female figure skaters. Elite young male athletes tend to be, on average, advanced in maturity status, although there is variation among sports. Earlier maturation in males is associated with larger size and FFM, greater strength and power, and a lower % Fat compared with average (''on time'') and later maturing peers of the same chronologic age. The size, strength, and power associated with earlier maturation in males are an advantage in many sports. Elite young female athletes tend to be, on average, average and later in maturity status compared with peers of the same chronologic age. Later maturation in females is associated with smaller body size, a more linear physique, lower % Fat, and generally better performances compared with early maturing peers [35]. Discussions of the body composition of young athletes should consider individual differences in maturity status; studies rarely consider maturity-association variation among young athletes. Variation associated with individual differences in biologic maturation is a potential confounding factor in evaluating the body composition of young athletes.

Because FFM follows a growth pattern similar to that for height and mass, and FFM is highly correlated with height and mass, most studies of body composition of young athletes emphasize % Fat. As noted, excessive fatness tends to exert a negative influence on performances, especially performances that require the movement or projection of the body through space (ie, running, jumping, vaulting), in contrast to those that require projection of objects (ie, shot put, discus throw). Coaches of young athletes often focus on weight control and relative fatness. Middle school, high school, and collegiate wrestling currently set minimum weight or % Fat requirements (see later).

Estimates of the relative fatness of adolescent athletes in a variety of sports are shown relative to data for nonathletes in Fig. 1. The estimates are means based on densitometry with one exception; data for a sample of female gymnasts based on DXA also are included. Allowing for variation among samples and in methodology, athletes as a rule have a lower % Fat than nonathletes of the same chronologic age. Male athletes and nonathletes show a decrease in % Fat during adolescence; athletes have less relative fatness at most ages, but there is considerable overlap (Fig. 1A). In contrast, % Fat in female athletes tends to be reasonably stable across adolescence, whereas that for nonathletes increases with age (Fig. 1B). The difference in % Fat between female athletes

MALE ATHLETES

MALE ATHLETES

8 10 12 14 16 18 20 Age, years

8 10 12 14 16 18 20 Age, years

FEMALE ATHLETES

X 15

8 10 12 14 16 18 20 Age, years

Fig. 1. Estimates of % Fat in samples of youth athletes. (A) Males. (B) Females. Male athletes include cyclists, wrestlers, gymnasts, runners, jumpers, and volleyball, ice hockey, and American football players. Female athletes include swimmers, runners, jumpers, gymnasts, and speed skaters. (See ref. [35] for sources of data. Data for the nonathlete reference from Malina et al [35,39].)

and nonathletes is greater than that between male athletes and nonathletes. Allowing for the sports represented, there seems to be more variation in % Fat among female than male athletes 14 to 18 years old.

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