Football players who gain weight in their youth, to empower their blocks and tackles, carry an enhanced risk of diabetes and heart disease in the future.
The study involving a sample of collegiate offensive and defensive linemen showed that that the players had metabolic syndrome.
The players had at least three of five risk factors that may put them at higher odds of developing heart disease and diabetes than those without the risk factors.
"The current health of the athlete is of obvious concern, but these results suggest more attention needs to be paid to preventing future health problems at the same time," said Jackie Buell, director of sports nutrition at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.
Buell said that the presence of these combined risk factors does not automatically mean the football players are destined for disease. But it does suggest a heightened risk that could be reduced with lifestyle modifications.
He also said that if a male athlete's waist measurements and blood pressure exceed set points - a 40-inch waist and a blood pressure reading higher than 130 over 85 - he ideally should undergo a blood test to see if high cholesterol, glucose and triglyceride levels, too, indicate that he might benefit from nutrition counselling and other health guidance to prevent chronic disease down the road,
"With screening, we could know what their propensities are and teach them how to reduce or eliminate these risk factors before they get out of college," said Buell.
"We understand these athletes want to be big, but they can't assume all their weight gain is lean mass just because they're lifting weights and taking protein supplements.
"The bottom line is we're seeing more and more abdominal obesity. And these findings show that athletes aren't necessarily off the hook when it comes to health risks," he added.
The research is published in the current issue of the Journal of Athletic Training.