USA Swimming gives some bad nutritional advice on dietary fat, Part 2

Big mistake #2: The author forgot the audience.

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 11.47.07 AMThis is nutritional advice for the athletes of USA Swimming. In 2016, there were 336,036 year-round swimmers in USA Swimming. More than 96% of these swimmers were 18 or younger (and 56% are female).

There is currently no evidence that endurance-trained athletes under the age of 18 suffer from cardiovascular disease brought on by consumption of dietary fats.

Young athletes do (rarely but tragically) suffer from, and die of, cardiovascular diseases. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common of the (still very uncommon) genetic heart abnormalities that afflict young athletes. Here’s the thing though. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a genetic condition. It is not caused by eating coconut oil.

You want to clear the confusion on fat for young swimmers? Start by telling them:

  • Don’t worry about it.
  • Right now, researchers disagree about the health value of various fats – saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated.
  • Most things you’ll hear about dietary fats and health are wrong, so ignore it.
  • There is no evidence that any dietary fats pose a health risk to fit young athletes.
  • You may want to review current nutritional guidelines when you are in your 20s.

Parsing the different types of fats based on saturation, as the author does, and saying that some fats need to be avoided might (or might not) be useful for sedentary middle-aged office workers.

For the audience of young swimmers, this message on dietary fat is a needless distraction at best. And it potentially causes confusion, and fear, about food in general.

For most teen and preteen athletes, their primary nutritional challenge is to simply eat more food. They have limited time (and appetite) to consume the food needed to grow to their full potential and compete in the arena of their choosing. Their parents are unlikely to have the time to do independent nutritional research. These families need good, simple advice.

It is irresponsible to indulge your personal anxieties about the dangers of saturated fat when you are talking to teenage endurance athletes. You especially put at risk your largest and most vulnerable audience, those young female athletes who appear to be at greatest risk of undereating saturated fat.

More on that when we discuss the (serious and dangerous) female athlete triad.

The standard disclaimer: I am a parent of a serious teen swimmer. I am not a physician. I do not hold any certification in the field of nutrition. I am not a registered dietician. I read research publications and nutrition reports, but I do not do any independent research. Basically, I am lay-person, motivated by my concern for the well-being of my kid. For me to be able to tell that nutritional advice is bad, it has to be really bad.

 

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