BMI, or body mass index, can help determine if your body weight is within a healthy range. Female athletes have the same healthy BMI range as non-athletes. However, because BMIs are based on height and body weight, very muscular women—such as bodybuilders—can have BMIs above a healthy range, but still be healthy.
A normal BMI is within a healthy range and reduces your risk for developing conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, your BMI is healthy if it’s between 18.5 and 24.9—regardless of whether or not you’re an athlete. BMIs 25 and above are classified as overweight or obese, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. However, researchers who conducted a study published in a 2012 edition of “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” determined that BMI is not a reliable indicator of body fat percentage in women athletes.
Calculate Your BMI
You can easily calculate your BMI using just your height and body weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to determine your body mass index multiply your body weight in pounds by your height in inches; divide by your height in inches again, and multiply that number by 703. For example, a 130-pound, 5-foot-4 female athlete has a BMI of 22.3, which is within a healthy range.
Determine Body Fat
Athletes with BMIs 25 or above aren’t necessarily obese, since lean muscle mass is more dense than body fat. A better way to help determine an athlete’s disease risks is to estimate her body fat percentage. Ask your doctor, dietitian or personal trainer if they can help determine your body fat using bioelectrical impedance analysis, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, skin fold calipers or another method. Researchers who conducted the 2012 study published in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” report that in elite women athletes the median body fat was 24.3 percent. In this study, women athletes with less than 12 percent body fat were classified as having a low body fat, while women with body fat greater than 33 percent were classified as obese.
Eating the right number of calories can help female athletes stay healthy and optimize their athletic performance—regardless of their BMI. According to the University of Missouri, women athletes need about 20 to 23 calories per pound of body weight each day, or about 2,600 to 2,990 calories per day for a 130-pound woman. Female athletes who are overweight can lose about 1 pound per week by reducing their energy intake by 500 calories a day.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Calculate Your Body Mass Index
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention: About BMI for Adults
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Are Under- and Overweight Female Elite Athletes Thin and Fat? A Controlled Study
- University of Missouri: Female Calorie Needs
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.