Eating behavior and reasons for exercise among competitive collegiate male athletes



Research concerning eating disorders among adolescent and young adult male athletes is limited compared with female counterparts, but increasing evidence indicates that they may be at unique risk for unhealthy exercise and eating behavior. The current study aimed to characterize unhealthy exercise and eating behavior according to competitive athlete status, as well as per sport type.


Collegiate male athletes (N = 611), each affiliated with one of the 10 National College Athletics Association (NCAA) Division I schools in the United States, completed an online survey, reporting on eating and extreme weight control behaviors, and reasons for exercise.


Competitive athletes endorsed increased driven exercise and exercising when sick. Baseball players, cyclists, and wrestlers emerged as the sports with the most players reporting elevated Eating Disorder Examination-Questionnaire scores in a clinical range, and basketball players reported the highest rates of binge eating. overall, baseball players, cyclists, rowers, and wrestlers appeared to demonstrate the greatest vulnerability for unhealthy eating and exercise behavior.


Findings revealed differences between competitive and non-competitive male athletes. Among competitive athletes, results identified unique risk for unhealthy eating and exercise behavior across a variety of sport categories and support continued examination of these attitudes and behaviors in a nuanced manner.

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Evidence obtained from well-designed controlled trials without randomization.

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The authors would like to acknowledge the ATHLETICS consortium, research assistants at the Stanford WEIGHT Lab, and all participants.


Dr. Gorrell is supported by the National Institutes of Health [T32MH0118261-33]; Dr. Nagata is a participant in the Pediatric Scientist Development Program [K12HD00085033], funded by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Pediatric Society; Dr. Timko is supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [K12HD085848; PI: Oquendo]; Dr. Peebles is supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases [K23DK100558]. Original study design and data collection supported by the Stanford Undergraduate Research Program.

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Correspondence to Sasha Gorrell.

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All procedures in the current study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee (Stanford University Panel on Medical Research in Human Subjects, #9465) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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This article is part of Topical Collection on Males and eating and weight disorders.

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Gorrell, S., Nagata, J.M., Hill, K.B. et al. Eating behavior and reasons for exercise among competitive collegiate male athletes. Eat Weight Disord 26, 75–83 (2021).

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  • Male athletes
  • Adolescent male
  • Eating disorders
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Competitive male athletes