Is there a lady in your life who is competitive in nature and strongly disciplined?
I’m sure most of you are internally (or even out loud) saying YES!
These attributes can be very beneficial in being an athlete or succeeding in many aspects of life. However, they can also be a part of the equation that can lead to a very serious condition called the Female Athlete Triad, an issue of great concern to the health of the individual.
The Female Athlete Triad is something that is usually not discussed enough among physically active individuals, yet is very real and common. Ladies, it doesn’t matter how old you are as it can happen to any female of childbearing age.
Female Athlete Triad consists of the combination of these three:
Disordered eating describes a range of abnormal and harmful eating behaviors that are used to reduce body mass or maintain below normal body fat levels. This is the primary cause of lack of menses (i.e. no menstrual cycle) in physically active females.
Disordered eating can occur with or without the intentional or non-intentional under-consumption of calories, which results in nutrient deficiencies. And that’s the scary part in that you might be thinking that you are consuming enough of the right calories and nutrients to equal your level of physical activity, but you are not truly getting enough, which is just as harmful as intentionally not eating enough.
The second leg of the triad is irregular menstrual function (lack of regular menstrual function), which has two different degrees:
Both of these degrees of amenorrhea are more prevalent in athletes. Rigorous training schedules can lead to energy deficits. Keep in mind that exercise alone does not cause lack of menses, as amenorrhea is not just a normal part of being an athlete.
Severe consequences can occur when having irregular menstrual function, particularly in relation to bone health, such as:
The above improper bone health related consequences leads us to the third leg of the Triad, osteoporosis. This is where an individual has a bone mass density of 2.5 or more standard deviations below the mean, which is determined by peak bone mass. An individual’s peak bone mass is achieved in adolescence and early adulthood and is strongly linked to bone strength and resistance to fracture.
When discussing osteoporosis, it is also important to consider osteopenia. Osteopenia is known as low bone mass and makes an individual more susceptible to osteoporosis. In this situation an individual has a bone mass density of 1.0-2.5 standard deviations below the mean. Osteopenia is commonly seen in athletes and is of great concern once an individual reaches about 30 years of age since bone mineral density is at it’s max and individuals are no longer able to gain bone mass density beyond this age.
Thus, osteopenia increases your chances of getting a fracture later in life.
So, how will the Triad affect short-term performance?
Triad’s long-term impacts:
How to help prevent the Female Athlete Triad? Here are a few tips to help you stay active and healthy so you can enjoy your sport:
The Female Athlete Triad is preventable and can impact all physically active women. Let’s together continue down the path to long-term health – mind, body and bones.
If you have any experiences with the Triad, I’d love to hear from you below!
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Hello, my name is Stacy Phillips, licensed Functional Nutritionist and Holistic Health, Wellness and Strength & Conditioning Coach with a MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine practicing whole-foods nutrition and physical training to individuals around the globe.
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