Athletes are often thought of as specimens of advanced health and fitness; however, a recent study has found that those eager to gain size for their sport might also increase the risk of developing complications related to metabolic syndrome. In the study, which was published in the November–December 2008 issue of the Journal of Athletic Training (2008; 43, 608–16), authors screened 70 football linemen for metabolic syndrome risk factors. Based on measures of waist circumference, glucose levels, HDL, blood pressure and triglycerides, nearly half presented with at least three risk factors for the condition. Study author Jackie Buell, director of sports nutrition at Ohio State University, stated that “the current health of the athlete is of obvious concern, but these results suggest more attention needs to be paid to preventing future health problems at the same time.”
Nick Winkelman, CSCS, performance education manager for Athletes’ Performance in Tempe, Arizona, seeks to help his clients pack on pounds safely. “We have a lot of guys who gained a tremendous amount of weight,” says Winkelman. “They sometimes think that when the coach says they need to ‘bulk up,’ they can just go to McDonald’s three times a day.”
While increasing size is often a goal for athletes, how they build bulk is what’s important, he adds. “When first addressing this issue, I always ask the question, ‘Does the type of tissue you’re gaining support your goal?’” Winkelman and his colleagues make it a primary focus to help athletes develop what he calls “functional muscle”— or muscle that is built for power production.
To enhance functional muscle development, Winkelman helps weight-focused athletes improve overall body composition and strength gains—not just size. “If I want an athlete to gain lean mass, I want to make sure that it’s resulting in strength gains.” He also urges his larger athletes to engage in cardiovascular training to improve agility and endurance and to optimize health.