NEW YORK, April 25 (UPI) -- A nutrition expert warns the some 4 million U.S. gymnasts under age 18 that they reach their peak at 15 or 16, when their calorie needs are highest.
Sotiria Tzakas Everett of the Women's Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York says many elite gymnasts not only train 20 to 36 hours a week but they may also adopt restrictive eating habits.
"As both a growing child and athlete, a young gymnast has elevated nutritional needs that must be met despite constraining schedules and the pressure to stay lean," Everett says in a statement. "The ideal body type is not always the healthiest body type."
Everett says gymnasts need proper nutrition to avoid physical and psychological complications -- such as unhealthy body image and missed periods -- and urges coaches, trainers and parents to be on the lookout for signs of undernourishment such as dips in energy, altered moods and frequent stress fractures.
Gymnasts with suspicious eating habits should be scheduled for a nutritional, medical and psychological evaluation, Everett says.
The findings were presented at the Special Surgery's 12th annual sports medicine for the young athlete symposium in New York.