An Appetite to Win: Disordered Eating Behaviours amongst Competitive Cyclists

Roberts, Charlie Jon, Hurst, Howard Thomas orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-7889-8592, Keay, Nicola, Hamer, Jennifer, Sims, Stacy, Schofield, Katherine and Hardwicke, Jack (2024) An Appetite to Win: Disordered Eating Behaviours amongst Competitive Cyclists. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching . ISSN 1747-9541

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Competitive cyclists may be vulnerable to disordered eating (DE) and eating disorders (ED) due to perceived body composition optimization and external influences within cycling culture and from stakeholders. Therefore, this study aimed to assess DE and ED risk in competitive cyclists using the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26), explore differences in responses based on sex, discipline, and level of competition, and to gain insights into contributing factors towards DE via open-ended survey questions. In total, 203 participants completed a mixed-method questionnaire. Eating disorders were reported by 5.7% (n = 11) of participants, with three being historic cases. The median (inter-quartile range) EAT-26 score was 8 (12) of a total possible score of 78. Disordered eating risk was observed in 16.7% of participants due to an EAT-26 score ≥20. Female participants had significantly higher scores than male participants (12.5 ± 17.5 vs. 6.5 ± 10.0; p = 0.004). There was no significant difference between road cyclists and off-road cyclists (7.0 ± 13.25 vs. 8.0 ± 10.5; p = 0.683). There was a significant difference in scores between novice/club/regional and national/elite/professional cyclists (6.0 ± 11.25 vs. 10.5 ± 12.0; p = 0.007). Thematic analysis of open-text responses found that the social environment of competitive cycling contributed towards DE behaviours and body image issues. These findings indicate competitive cyclists do appear to be an ‘at risk’ population for DE/ED. Therefore, there is need for stakeholders to enhance nutritional services, nutrition education, and create supportive athlete environments.

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