Low fat diet linked to injury risk in runners

April 23, 2003 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Sports Nutrition and Exercise

Low fat diet linked to injury risk in runners

Female recreational runners who eat an average amount of fat in their diets may be less likely than those who opt for a slightly more restrictive cuisine to develop injuries, new study findings suggest.

These results contradict a "common attitude" among female runners that a low-fat and low-cal diet may reduce the risk of injury, say researchers from the University at Buffalo in New York told Reuters Health.

The idea is, the lighter you are, the faster you'll run. Some runners believe that a lighter body, which sustains less pounding on the joints, may also protect them from injury.

However, the scientists found that women whose diet consisted of 30% of calories from fat -- a healthy amount, according to experts -- were less likely to be injured during a year of running than women whose diet consisted of only 27% of calories from fat.

The research team followed 87 adult female recreational runners for one year, noting their diets and whether they developed injuries. The participants ran an average of 30 miles per week. Fifty-five percent of the female runners developed an injury over the course of the year.

Injured and non-injured runners tended to maintain the same amount of physical activity, but women who developed injuries tended to eat a diet that was lower in fat and calories than did women who remained injury-free. On average, women runners who developed injuries ate 63 grams of fat per day in their diet, while those who escaped injury reported intakes of 80 grams of fat each day.

Workouts can cause microscopic muscle damage. And women who ate relatively low levels of fat and calories may not have been taking in enough nutrients to repair that minor damage, the researchers suggest, putting them at higher risk of injury during their next workout.

Alternatively, previous research has suggested that a very low-fat diet -- more restrictive than the one adopted by injured runners in this study -- can reduce endurance. Women who adopted even moderately low-fat diets may also have less endurance than others, she said, putting them at risk of a fatigue-related injury.

Other factors that increased the risk of injury among women runners included a history of previous injury, difference in leg length, and poor flexibility, especially in the calves.

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