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Ben-El Berkovich, Alon Eliakim, Dan Nemet, Aliza Hannah Stark and Tali Sinai

Athletes competing in individual sports such as judo are categorized by weight. Before competitions, weight cutting is common. This cross-sectional study was designed to characterize and determine the prevalence of rapid weight loss (RWL) among adolescent judo competitors. Male athletes aged 12- to 17-years old (N = 108) were recruited from local judo teams. Each participant completed a validated questionnaire regarding RWL practices. Anthropometric measurements were also performed. Average age was 14.6 ± 1.6 years and all participants were of normal body mass index (BMI). RWL was practiced by 80% of the athletes before competition, beginning at an average age of 12.5 ± 2.2 years with the highest prevalence (~94%) in the oldest group of judoka (16–17.9 years). Precompetition weight loss duration was 8 ± 5.4 days, with an average weight reduction of 1.5 ± 1.1 kg. The number of weight loss efforts per athlete in the past season was 2.8 ± 2.2. RWL was achieved by increased physical activity (82.6%), skipped meals (56.3%), or fasting at least once (47%). Two-thirds of the athletes indicated that their coaches were the most influential figure in their decision to lose weight before competition. RWL is highly prevalent in adolescent judo competitors. The methods used by these athletes can potentially lead to significant health risks including compromised nutritional status, diminished physical performance and impaired growth and development. It is of great importance to insure that those who guide young adults in weight loss for competitive sports have the knowledge and understanding to make safe recommendations and appropriate decisions regarding achieving specific weight goals.

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Naama W. Constantini, Alon Eliakim, Levana Zigel, Michal Yaaron and Bareket Falk

Much attention has focused on the nutrition and hematological profile of female athletes, especially gymnasts. The few studies on iron status of male adolescent athletes found a low incidence of iron deficiency. The present study investigated the iron status of male and female gymnasts (G) and compared it with athletes of other sports. Subjects were 68 elite athletes (43 M, 25 F) ages 12-18, of four sports: gymnasts (11 M, 12 F), swimmers (11 M, 6 F), tennis players (10 M, 4 F), and table tennis players (11 M, 3 F). All lived in the national center for gifted athletes, trained over 25 hr a week, ate in the same dining room, and shared a similar lifestyle. Mean levels of hemoglobin (Hb), red blood cell indexes, serum ferritin, serum iron, and transferrin were measured in venous blood. There was no difference in mean Rb among gymnasts (G) and nongymnasts (NG). However, Hb was less than 14 g/dL in 45% of M G vs. only 25% in NG, and less than 13 g/dL in 25% of premenarcheal FG vs. 15% in NG. Low transferrin saturation (< 20%) was detected in 18% of M G and 25% of FG vs. 6% and 8% in male and female NG, respectively (p < .05). The percentage of males suffering from low ferritin level (< 20 ng/ml) was twice as high in G (36%) vs. NG (19%), and about 30% in all females. In summary, iron stores were consistently lower in M G vs. NG. Adolescent athletes of both genders, G in particular, are prone to nonanemic iron deficiency, which might compromise their health and athletic performance.

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Ben-El Berkovich, Aliza H. Stark, Alon Eliakim, Dan Nemet and Tali Sinai

Fasting, skipping meals, and dehydration are common methods of rapid weight loss used prior to competition in weight category sports. This study examines coaches’ attitudes, perceptions, and practices regarding rapid weight loss among judo and taekwondo athletes. A convenience sample of experienced coaches and trainers (n = 68) completed structured questionnaires. Participants in this study were 33.8 ± 9.3 years old; 57 were males and 11 were females; and 59% were certified coaches, with 71% reporting over 20 years of involvement in sports and 68% having more than 10 years of teaching experience. The majority (90%) reported that they usually supervised athletes through the weight loss process. Interventions for weight loss began at 12.7 ± 1.9 years of age, with a recommended precompetition weight loss duration of 16.2 ± 8.2 days and an average reduction of 1.5 ± 0.7 kg. The majority of the responders (92%) recommended that their athletes practice gradual weight loss methods using a combination of dehydration or increased physical activity (80.3%), sweat suits (50.8%), restricted fluid intake (39.3%), training in heated rooms (27%), and sauna (26.2%). Recommendations of spitting (27.8%) or using laxatives, diuretics, diet pills, or vomiting (21.3%) were also reported. Coaches and trainers often encouraged athletes to cut weight before competition. The methods recommended are potentially harmful with severe health risks, including compromised nutritional status and diminished athletic performance. This is of particular concern in young athletes who are still growing and developing physically. Enhancing knowledge and awareness for coaches, athletes, and parents regarding potential dangers, along with improved nutrition education, is critical for reducing the magnitude and misuse of rapid weight loss methods.