More than ever before female athletes are at the forefront of sports with athletes such as Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas, and Christine Sinclair excelling in their respective sports, sports is no longer something just for the boys. While sports are a fantastic way for girls to remain healthy, build confidence, and a lifelong love for physical activity, many female athletes are participating in sport in an unhealthy manner. With media constantly promoting that thinner is better many athletes strive to reach unhealthy weight goals and will do anything to reach these goals including not under eating and over exercising.
These unhealthy behaviors lead to an interrelated disorder called the female athlete triad.
The triad is an interrelated illness that can have extreme effects on the performance and overall health of the athlete. The components that make up the triad include disordered eating, amenorrhea, and premature osteoporosis. Disordered eating is a term that covers a wide array of abnormal eating behaviors, such as anorexia nervosa, crash dieting, and bulimia. Food is the fuel that keeps us going and this is particularly important in high performing athletes. Disordered eating limits calorie and critical nutrient intake, which likely leads to burnout and precipitates the other components of the triad; amenorrhea and premature osteoporosis. The combination of a low calorie intake, poor nutrition, and high-energy demands can lead to hormonal changes that alter or complete stop the menstrual cycle. Amenorrhea is the complete loss of menstruation, this can either happen as a delay in menstruation at the normal age of development or consecutively missing menstruation cycles. Athletes with prolonged amenorrhea have an increased risk for decreased bone mass or premature osteoporosis. Lack of menstruation disrupts the body’s bone-building processes and weakens the bones making them more susceptible to fracture. At crucial developmental stages where young athletes should be building bone mass they are losing it leading to premature osteoporosis. Females in any sport can develop one or more parts of the triad, trends show that athletes participating in sports where appearance is rewarded or where leanness is emphasized are at greater risk for developing the triad.
Know The Warning Signs:
- Irregular menstrual cycles or delayed menstruation
- Chronic fatigue
- Stress fractures
- Recurring injuries
- Obsessive dieting or calorie restriction
- Obsessive desire to become more thin
- Difficulty sleeping
- Build healthy eating habits which will enhance and training, performance and healthy development
- Consult a sport nutritionist to help you design an appropriate diet that is specific to your sport and to your body’s energy needs
- Focus on a healthy body image, rather than an ideal body weight
- Monitor your menstrual cycle by using a diary or calendar
- Consult your physician if you have menstrual irregularities or have recurrent injuries or stress fractures
- Seek help if you feel you’re overly concerned with your body image.