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A female gymnast performing a gymnastic manoeuvre with a ball.

New guidelines are shaking up the world of sport by advising against routine, systematic weighing and measuring of athletes.

An international group of experts, which includes Dr Lindsay Macnaughton from our Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, say there is little proof that a certain body composition or percentage of body fat improves athletic performance.  

They say focusing too much on weight and body composition in athletes, both amateur and elite, can lead to unhealthy habits and should be carefully considered. This is particularly true for young athletes who could be at greater risk and are still developing physically. 

Body pressure 

The conclusion of the expert group is clear: no athlete should be exposed to the body pressure, both physical and mental, that people can feel when subjected to extensive measuring and weighing. 

Fragile bones, increased risk of injuries, weakened immune systems, impaired performance and development of eating disorders are concerns. Eating disorders are 2-3 times more common among athletes compared to the general public. 

The researchers recommend: 

  • Limit how often elite athletes are weighed and measured. Do it only with comprehensive information, written consent and only if the athlete has access to a team of support staff. 
  • Follow strict guidelines on which athletes are measured, how often, what methods to use and how to handle the data. 
  • Athletes under 18 years should not be measured unless there is a clear medical need. 

Muscle not weight 

Weigh-ins are standard in many sports but in recent years, there has been pushback against this practice. 

The research team carried out an international survey among professionals who conduct measurements of athletes. This showed that over three quarters of them are concerned about how the athletes handle the measurements taken and the objectives that are set for them as a result. Unfortunately, this level of practitioner concern has not changed over the last 10 years. 

They also found that increased muscle mass, not low body fat, is better linked to performance. Elite athletes are already near their optimal build. Optimal nutrition, technique, training, rest and other factors matter more. 

For young people especially, developing muscle mass and strength is more beneficial than lowering body fat. The priority should be to fuel growth through diet and recovery. 

Find out more 

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