Not Worth the Weight

December 4, 2018

It’s common for young football players to intentionally try to gain weight for their sport. However, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Medicine, this practice may put them at risk for health problems later in life.

Instead of looking at how extra weight can put more stress on a player’s bones and joints, the study focused on the long-term health effects of gaining weight. It found that football players who gained weight between the end of high school and the end of their playing careers were at an increased risk of developing several major health problems, including heart disease, sleep apnea, brain or cognitive impairment, and metabolic concerns, such as diabetes.

“This actually looked at gaining weight intentionally at a younger age and how it can affect you down the road—that there can be ramifications that aren’t always taken into consideration when someone gains weight at a younger age,” Todd Grime, MD, a sports medicine physician at OrthoCincy’s Orthopaedic Urgent Care in Ohio, told

For certain players, especially those who play on the offensive or defensive line, bulking up can be one of the primary ways they try to get an edge over their opponent. But this new study cautions coaches and players about the potential consequences of this practice, many of which might not be noticed until the player is much older.

“You know, unfortunately, that’s part of our society now: If a little bit is good, a lot is better. And that’s not necessarily the case,” said Dr. Grime, who was not involved in the study.

The researchers who conducted the study looked at 3,500 football players who bulked up while playing in high school and college before going on to play professionally. They found that for every 10 pounds the players gained since their early years of playing, heart disease risk increased nearly 15 percent by the time they reached the age of 50.

Perhaps one contributing factor for this result is that unhealthy eating habits can be covered up during a player’s career, since they are extremely physically active and burning a lot of calories. But once they stop playing, the effects of these eating habits start to become clear.

Dr. Grime hopes the findings from this study will help guide players toward a better approach to eating.

“Gaining weight in high school or college doesn’t necessarily have to be a permanent thing,” he said. “If we’re just counseling them that there are ramifications down the road when your playing days are over, that getting down to a healthy weight is something that you’re going to want to think about.”

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