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Hints and Tips

Which sports seem to produce low self-esteem?

A strange paradox of sporting activity is that participation often leads to higher self-esteem. In certain sports it can also lead to an increased risk of developing eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, both of which are usually associated with low self- esteem. Certain sports seem to carry an increased risk of eating problems.

For example, in the United States, about 93% of collegiate athletes who develop eating disorders are female, and these athletes are usually found in a fairly small number of sports, including gymnastics, cross-country, swimming, and track and field. The few cases reported in men are clustered in the sports of cross-country, track and field, gymnastics, and wrestling.

What actually causes the eating disorders?

A combination of individual and family factors is often involved in producing an eating problem, and cultural factors apparently put females at especially high risk. Over the past three decades, the socially acceptable weight for women in Western societies has progressively decreased, while the incidence of eating disorders has steadily risen.

Why are eating disorders linked with certain sports?

Individuals dissatisfied with their bodies may be drawn to "calorie-burning" sports like running and swimming. In addition, scientific research suggesting that "lean is better" for performance may contribute to the problem, and aesthetic sports such as gymnastics probably place far too high a premium on being super-thin. Recovering from an eating disorder is a complex process involving counselling and the raising of self-esteem and self-acceptance. Athletes can do a number of things to reduce their risk of developing an eating disorder, and coaches should realise that they can take steps to help prevent eating disorders in their athletes.

Alice Lindeman, an eating disorder researcher at the University of Indiana, recommends that athletes be aware of the following facts:

  • There is a range of weight, which is appropriate for any particular sport. No one weight is ideal, and the lowest possible weight is usually not an option. Eating too little can actually depress metabolism and make one fatter, not slimmer.
  • Eating more food can be a great way to improve body composition, because the increased caloric intake replenishes muscles and allows higher-quality training, which burns away fat naturally
  • Fear of fat in the body should not translate into fear of fat on the plate. Fat is an essential nutrient required for the absorption of vitamins D, E, A, and K, so some fat must be included in the diet
  • Taking in more calories can improve menstrual function, which heightens bone health and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

Coaches should de-emphasise weight and refrain from commenting on body weight as they speak with their athletes. Coaches should also avoid group "weigh-ins", which can heighten humiliation and embarrassment for the athlete who feels too fat and may push an athlete onto the road leading to a full-blown eating problem.

These 24 questions could help you find out why you had a poor performance in your last race

  1. Were you rested enough 48 hours before the race?
  2. Were you travel-weary on the day?
  3. Did your last meal before the race have enough time to be digested?
  4. Did your last meal before the race contain gaseous food - egg, for instance?
  5. Did you have your usual warm-up?
  6. Did you have a race plan? Was this carried out as planned? If not, why not?
  7. Did you taper for this race?
  8. If the race was in excess of 10K, did you take in extra carbohydrate for the past 72 hours?
  9. If the race was in excess of 10 miles and the temperature above 70 degrees F, did you take on board adequate fluid replacement?
  10. Did you feel tired as you lined up for this race in spite of 48 hours rest? To what did you attribute this tiredness?
  11. Have you suffered recently from pins-and-needles in the feet and hands, or numbness in the feet? If so, you should have a comprehensive blood test for iron and magnesium deficiency.
  12. Have you suffered from frequent infections during the past six weeks? If so, you may have a zinc deficiency in your diet.
  13. Did you practice visualisation for the race? This involves being alone in a state of quietness, and first, watching yourself running in the race, then second, being in the race and actually taking in everything involved, such as crowd noise, sound of running feet, and carrying out your plan.
  14. What was your mental state before this race? Being nervous is a natural reaction to being tested, both physically and mentally.
  15. Was your nervousness excessive? If so, did you try to think positively by telling yourself what your race plan was and firmly establishing in your mind how you were going to carry it out?
  16. Did you feel before this race that your training was adequate both in quantity and quality? If not, what element of it do you think was lacking? If you had some misgivings, and if coached, did you express your doubts to your coach? If not, why not?
  17. Do you think your coach understands the needs of your event?
  18. Do you think your coach understands your capabilities and goals?
  19. Are you over trained or under trained?
  20. Have you in your own mind a clear idea of what is required in training for your event?
  21. Do you know the physiological breakdown of your event - in other words, what is aerobic and what is anaerobic, what aerobic training involves and what anaerobic training involves?
  22. Are you over stressed in your non-athletics life? You may work full-time; do you consider this a hindrance to your athletics progress? If so, is it possible for you to become a full-time athlete or a part time worker?
  23. If you feel over stressed other than by a full-time job, can you pinpoint stresses and take active steps to reduce them?
  24. Most athletes have a bee in their bonnet about some aspect of their preparation - it may be more speed, more mileage, or even less of both. Have you such a bee in your own bonnet? If so, have you discussed it with your coach?

Is it sensible to exercise when you are ill?

You wake up in the morning with a bad cold, but you have been planning the day's work out for a long time, and you really do not want to miss it, or you have been overeating during the holidays and you really need to lose some weight. Should you go ahead and complete your training session, or take the day off?

To answer that question, a little common sense is in order. The reality is that if you are ill, you are probably tired, and your muscle strength is below par. That being true, you might as well face the fact that your workout is going to be sub optimal, so why do it? Some additional rest will actually leave you in better shape to train intensely in a day or two.

From a health perspective, insisting on working out when you are sick can be downright dangerous. Instead of having a rhinovirus infection (rhinoviruses are the ones which produce the common cold), you might actually be infected with something more lethal, like a virus that can cause pneumonia, or a "Coxsackie" virus, which can infect your heart and even cause sudden death as you train.

If you do not buy these first two arguments for rest, then use what exercise and health experts call the "neck check" to determine whether you can train. If all of your symptoms are above the neck (stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and/or scratchy throat), it is okay to start your usual workout at about half speed. If you feel better after 10 minutes or so, you can increase your intensity and finish your workout.

Otherwise, take some chicken soup, vitamin C, and fluids to bed with you, and try again in a day or two. However, by all means do NOT work out if you have a fever or symptoms below the neck (aching muscles, a hacking cough, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhoea). Working out under those conditions is risky, and you will recover much faster from your illness if you rest.


Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Hints and Tips. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 6 / October), p. 12-13

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Hints and Tips [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni6a10.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years' experience as an endurance athlete.

Recommended Reading

  • EICHNER, E. and RANDY, M.D. (1995) Contagious Infections in Competitive Sports. Sports Science Exchange, 8 (3)
  • EICHNER, E. (1994) Self-esteem: Its Application to Eating Disorders and Athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 4, p. 237-252

Related Pages

The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: