22 March 2017
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Have Your Say: Anita Albrecht and the Trouble with BMI

June 12, 2014
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Body Mass Index (BMI)—perpetually a controversial figure in the world of sport—has come under fire once again after Miss Galaxy Universe competitor Anita Albrecht recently revealed that she has been classified on the scale as almost obese.

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Albrecht recently made news after a nurse advised her to lose weight and eat less, an assessment solely based on the 39-year-old body builder and personal trainer’s BMI. Albrecht is 1.5 metres tall and weighs 66 kg, which gives her a BMI of 29.

BMI is determined quite simply: divide weight (in kilograms) by height (in metres), then divide this number by height once more. According to this formula, a BMI below 18 means a person is underweight, 18.5-24.9 indicates a normal weight, 25-30 is labelled as in the overweight category, and 30 and above tips into the obese category.

‘One of my biggest pet peeves is BMI,’ Albrecht told the Huffington Post. ‘It purely takes into account weight and height only but does not even consider body composition (muscle vs fat) at all. For this reason it deems many people either underweight or overweight who may not be at all.’

BMI has its uses, but has faced major criticism as an outdated system that does not appreciate the wide spectrum of health. Albrecht is quick to point out that the scale does not take into account different lifestyles: critically here, BMI does not distinguish between body fat and muscle weight. This inevitably skews the stats for athletes and body builders, and particularly women—an otherwise healthy group who will often end up with very high BMIs.

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Beyond simply being a medical number, BMI can have worrying implications for sportswomen looking to shape a healthy diet around their exercise plans—the emotional difficulties of being labelled ‘overweight’ notwithstanding. In a world where too many active women are not getting enough fuel, treating as gospel an index that does not take body shape or lifestyle into account can be quite dangerous.

Albrecht, for example, was advised based on her BMI that she should limit her calorie intake to 1000 a day in order to lose weight. A 1000 calorie/day diet is tiny on any scale, but especially so for a body builder. Nutrition is much more complex than just the intake of calories: food intake should depend on exercise rates and activities. It is not merely a matter of total number of calories, it has to be the right combination of calories.

A balanced cardio/weights training plan (as well as balanced nutrition; including plenty of carbohydrates, protein, fresh vegetables, and water) is essential for anybody who wants to tone up, get stronger, or gain muscle. Especially in the world of athletes, who follow a strict exercise plan, this rings very true. According to Maxishop, the Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, and protein expert Dr. Peter Lemon recently concluded that when you exercise you more than double your need for protein.

As the debate rages on, sportswomen can often feel caught up in the midst of scientific and societal struggles. We are perhaps best advised to listen to our bodies when it comes to both exercise and food, cutting corners with neither. Albrecht summed it up: ‘Lift those weights, [be in] your best ever shape and healthy inside and out, get your composition done regularly, forget BMI and enjoy the changes the gym can make for you.

 

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