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Female Athlete Triad

Girls Rock

Gone are the days when the sports arena was exclusively a man’s world. Increasingly girls and women are looking beyond the casual jog or basic resistance training and choosing to enter competitive sports.

That sounds like good news. Usually it is. As everyone knows, regular exercise can improve health and physical fitness. It can also add to a sense of well-being.

Too Much of a Good Thing

However, dedicated individuals who possess a competitive drive, as well as a strong work ethic may need to watch out. In some cases females take their passion for sports beyond what is reasonable and develop a dangerous disorder that can put their health at serious risk.

It’s called Female Athlete Triad and has three components: eating disorders, amenorrhea and osteoporosis.

Female Athlete Triad - Three Parts of a Bigger Disorder

Disordered eating originates with a compulsive commitment to extreme weight loss. These eating behaviors include binging and purging, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and others. They can lead to long-term sickness and even death.

Amenorrhea is the absence of menstrual periods. Female athletes should know it is not normal for intense training to result in the stopping of periods. What can adversely affect menstrual periods, however, is low body fat. The long-term, and even permanent, consequences can be an inability to have a healthy pregnancy or to become pregnant at all.

Osteoporosis is a disease that leads to weak, brittle bones. They can easily fracture or break – just the opposite of what an athlete wants!

Peak bone-mass building takes place from puberty to one’s mid-twenties. During these years it’s essential to strengthen the skeleton so osteoporosis will be less likely to occur later in life.

But this critical process can be undermined when energy is depleted following intense exercise. The body simply doesn’t have enough energy remaining to create as much bone tissue as needed. Additionally, even if some energy were there, the calcium that is vital for bone strength is used first by the body for muscle function.

Risk Factors

Female Athlete Triad tends to be seen in participants in sports that require a thin body or those that group players according to weight.

Warning Signs of the Triad

What can female athletes do? Be aware and watch for the signs. They include early dieting, weight loss, an unrealistic belief that performance is enhanced by weight loss, skipping meals, not eating with family or friends, irregular periods or no periods, cold hands and feet, dry skin, hair loss, stress fractures, increased rate of injury, delayed healing time, mood changes, decreased ability to concentrate and depression.

An Ounce of Prevention

The very best way to prevent Female Athlete Triad is to know about the disorder and educate others. Learn about the kind of nutrition and eating that is part of a healthy lifestyle.

Good nourishment needs to include protein and fat in addition to carbohydrates. Soft drinks can contribute to weak bones.

It’s easy to see how a little bit of knowledge can lead to powerful health. Consider consulting a dietitian for meal or snack recommendations. And latch on to a true role model – one who eats a healthy balance of foods and has a body image that’s not extreme.