A recent study in the June issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that 11% of the tested 123 high school and college football players qualified as having metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a disease that is comprised of a number of different risk factors including: obesity, high blood sugar (diabetes or prediabetes), high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure and low testosterone. Each of the scores from these independent risk factors is put into a formula that will give a metabolic syndrome score. This is syndrome that is typically and should only be seen in a population over 50 years of age. It is largely lifestyle related and in many cases preventable or at least can be significantly delayed until a later part of one’s life. If diabetes and heart disease are not present with metabolic syndrome in an individual, the risk for these diseases is highly increased. Of the 123 high school and college football players screened, 14 had metabolic syndrome, 7 were high school players, 7 were college players, all were offensive or defensive lineman.
This is an alarming revelation, and should be a warning to coaches. Coaches often encourage weight gain in football players, especially in linemen. This is both unwarranted in most cases (especially since the weight gain is usually from fat) as well as potentially life threatening in the long run, significantly increasing the risk for diabetes and heart disease later in life. Retired NFL linemen (almost 60%) have more than twice the risk of having Metabolic syndrome of their age related piers (less than 30%).
From a performance standpoint, excessive body fat lowers relative strength (strength to body weight ratio) and reduces speed and performance in most situations. It is far better to be lighter and stronger, than obese for nearly every situation for every position. Metabolic syndrome should not be prevalent in any sport, at any age. This prevalence is unacceptable and suggests that change has to be made in what our priorities are for our athletes. Their health should never be risked for perceived increased or even actual increased performance.
Body fat% should be monitored in all athletes, those testing as obese should be encouraged to loose weight through healthy lifestyle changes including diet and exercise.