Amy Stephens


Licensed dietitian

specializing in sports nutrition

and eating disorders

5 Myths You Hear as a College Athlete

TW: This content mentions eating disorders and body image.

1. Thinner = faster

It is crucial for an athlete to fuel their body for performance. A stronger athlete is a better athlete. Many athletes believe that in order to be in peak condition performing  as fast as possible, they need to sit at a very low body fat percentage or lose weight. Being in a state of low energy availability is extremely harmful to an athlete’s physical and mental well being. 

When an athlete focuses on weight loss and the external “aesthetics” of their body, they may believe that weight loss is always a good thing. Unfortunately, that same athlete may be in an unnecessary state of low energy availability due to malnourishment, causing their body to focus its metabolic and physiological energy primarily on survival, rather than its other natural processes. In a study by Melin, Heikura, Tenforde, and Mountjoy, an athlete training for over 90 mins per day can even fall into a low energy availability state of survival if they are consuming less than 2,300 calories a day (depending on the athlete/training session). Prolonged weight loss or maintaining a low body weight that inhibits the body’s ability to carry out its processes can be dangerous. Low energy availability results in hormonal imbalances, menstrual dysfunction, decreased bone mineral density, immune system dysfunction, and threatens cardiovascular health and organ function. 


2. I have to be strict about my nutrition to achieve my goals  

 A balanced diet is a healthy diet. When you are eating enough, every food fits. Athletes do not need to miss out on social experiences to stick to a strict nutrition regimen. Due to societal ideas of a positive correlation between low body weight and increased success in sports performance, many endurance athletes are subject to low energy availability, developing eating disorders, and further damaging their health. In a survey by Tenforde et al. in 2015, out of 748 runners surveyed, 23% of females and 8% of males reported skipping meals or dieting to lose

weight during their youth, or early years in the sport (Watson, 2017). This suggests that false ideals around body weight and performance are instilled in athletes at a very young age, who may then grow and become entrenched in the mindset that they need to be extremely rigid around their nutrition. Rigid or restricted manipulation of caloric and nutrition intake may sacrifice an athlete’s long-term health. 

3. I should eat the same as my non-athlete friends

Your friends may not be putting in 7+ hours a week of training like you are. Most people eat intuitively, listening to their own body’s hunger cues. If they don’t feel like eating breakfast, they won’t. If they are not hungry within 3-4 hours of eating a meal, they will not force themselves to eat a snack. Everybody’s needs are different, but it is important for athletes to note that they should absolutely not compare their own eating habits to their non-athlete peers. For an athlete, even a sustained energy deficit of ~300 calories per day can lead to a variety of health issues (Cialdella-Kam et al., 2014). While athletes absolutely do not need to constantly be thinking about food or how to fuel their training properly, comparing themselves to their peers and attempting to follow an eating pattern that doesn’t fit their personal goals may result in low energy availability, hindering their health and ultimately their performance as an athlete.

4. Not having a regular period is normal for high intensity female athletes  

Even if your teammates talk about their irregular menstrual cycles, this is not normal. Healthy hormones are crucial for an athlete’s overall health. Exercise related menstrual dysfunction is associated with compromised bone health such as risk of osteoporosis and stress fractures. Additionally, exercise related menstrual dysfunction is also associated with a variety of other health issues, such as cardiovascular dysfunction, endothelial dysfunction, increased cortisol levels, and higher risk for muscular injuries (Ciadella-Kam, 2014). Although it sounds convenient, a missing period poses the risk for many health consequences.

5. Sleep is not important

While it is hard to balance college sports, academics, and a social life, it is crucial not to neglect sleep. Sleep is an integral part of recovery and many studies suggest evidence that sleep deprivation negatively affects performance. Sleep deprivation raises the risk of injury and illness in addition to hindering recovery from practices or workouts (Watson, 2017). Athletes need at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night.


Cialdella-Kam L, Guebels CP, Maddalozzo GF, Manore MM. Dietary intervention restored menses in female athletes with exercise-associated menstrual dysfunction with limited impact on bone and muscle health. Nutrients. 2014 Jul 31;6(8):3018-39. doi: 

10.3390/nu6083018. PMID: 25090245; PMCID: PMC4145292. 

Melin, A. K., Heikura, I. A., Tenforde, A., & Mountjoy, M. (2019). Energy Availability in Athletics: Health, Performance, and Physique, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(2), 152-164. Retrieved Jun 19, 2023, from 

Watson AM. Sleep and Athletic Performance. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2017 Nov/Dec;16(6):413-418. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000418. PMID: 29135639.

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