Male Athletes Have Poor Body Image, Too

1 in 5 Male Athletes Think They're Not Muscular Enough

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 8, 2003 -- Having poor body image is often associated with women but a new study shows that male athletes have their share of problems with it, too.

A survey of elite college athletes showed that 20% of male athletes believed they weren't muscular enough. Jennifer Cater, a psychologist at Ohio State University Sports Medicine Center, recently presented the research at the meeting of the American Psychological Association.

It appears, however, that male and female athletes view body image problems differently. Women in the study wanted to lose weight (an average 6.8 pounds), while men wanted to gain (an average 3.2 pounds).

Men Struggle With Magazine Images

"Some male athletes see pictures in men's fitness magazines of big, extremely muscular men and feel that they don't measure up," Carter says in a news release. Researchers also found the following about male athletes:

  • 22% believed that parts of their body were too fat.
  • 20% believe they are not sufficiently lean and muscular.
  • 9% use and/or spend a lot of money on performance-enhancing drugs or substances.
  • 5% avoid situations exposing their bodies.

Carter's study specifically looked at athletes in "lean" sports -- gymnastics, swimming, diving, cross country running, and track. There is an added pressure in these sports to be lean for aesthetic or performance reasons she says.

The findings for athletes in lean sports showed that 17.5% of them showed symptoms of eating disorders compared with only 9% of athletes in non-lean sports -- basketball, football, and hockey.

Overall the study shows that men make up an estimated 10% of the American eating disorder population.

Carter says the problem needs more attention, especially because there is little research on it and poor body image can be disguised in men. "I don't have male athletes approaching me to say they have an eating disorder, but I do see athletes who say they are concerned about their body and want to be bigger and more muscular. Sometimes their desire to be more muscular has little to do with improving their athletic performance," she says.