Sunday, July 29, 2007

Does absolute strength + absolute size necessarily equal good health?

I am prompted to ask this question after the death of US strongman Jesse Marunde this week at the age of 27. By all accounts, Mr. Marunde was a terrific athlete, good father, loving husband and human being. He was 6'5" and 300 lbs and collapsed at while working out--possibly just after high volume and heavy squatting. An autopsy is to be preformed, and only then will we know if the event was cardiac, vascular or related to something else.

Do we really understand the physiologic stresses a human body must tolerate with the training load and caloric intake necessary to create and maintain such strength and size? I'm not sure we do. Our culture glorifies these larger-than-life men, but I'm not sure we understand the health implications of developing and maintaining such mass and strength.

I take the nutrition and the health of my clients and patients very seriously--especially the young people. I try to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. I had a conversation recently with a coach of a junior (20 and under) athlete who is in one of the higher weight classes. This coach told me that this young person already shows signs of hypertension, despite a significant reduction in body fat and increase in fitness over several years. And this coach is having somewhat of a challenge in getting the parents to take the issue seriously.

These types of small, but insidious warning signs must prompt us all--coaches, clinicians, parents--to think about the health, not just the performance, of our athletes from the very beginning. Especially those of us in the strength and power arena. Biggest and strongest at a young age may not always be best in terms of health and longevity. This idea might be tough for many in the more macho sports to swallow; but we owe it to our young people to help them understand the long-term implications of their eating and training habits, and help them monitor their health throughout the process.


Anonymous said...

Do you think he was on anything? (Dan John has a catalogue of throwers and lifters who have died much too young and postulates supplementation.) I knew a 27 year old lifter with bp in the 300's before he went on meds, but there may have been a familial effect there.

But I also watched a lightweight rower die after winning a race -- a product of an electrolyte imbalance from sucking down and an extremely tough final. But ultimately, he was just too tall to be that light. A heroic death, maybe, but a stupid one for any 22-year-old.

At some point, competitive athletes are concerned with winning over fitness, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

He may have been on something. But, in my opinion 300lbs if muscle (even on a 6'5 frame) is still 300lbs. That's a lot of weight to carry around. There might be a reason we don't see big-tall old people.

Factor in the possibility of supplementation; but even if not, he was still a big guy.

I'm sure most competitive athletes at that level are more concerned with winning over fitness. The shame of it is that if that is what caused his death, then he unknowingly put his will to win over watching his kids grow up. It is tragic.