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Running on empty

September 25, 2006|Janet Cromley | Times Staff Writer

FEMALE college athletes now have additional incentive to belly up to the training table.

A new study of 76 female athletes found that those who engaged in disordered eating, including bulimia, anorexia and insufficient caloric intake, were more likely to incur stress fractures than their well-nourished peers.

The finding was part of a larger study on the causes of exercise-related leg pain among soccer, field hockey, cross-country and volleyball athletes, conducted by Mark Reinking, assistant professor of physical therapy at Saint Louis University's Doisy College of Health Sciences.

Compared with their noninjured counterparts, Reinking says, "the [five] athletes who experienced stress fractures during the study period had significantly lower tibial bone density and a higher mean score" on a scale that measures disordered eating. Some researchers think that insufficient caloric intake may trigger hormonal changes leading to thinning and weakening of the bones, thus rendering certain athletes more prone to fracture.

Although Reinking says the findings raise new questions -- such as how long insufficient caloric intake must occur before it begins to do damage -- he's sure about one thing. "Eating well is important," he says. The research was reported in the September issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

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janet.cromley@latimes.com

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