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
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
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
It’s called Female Athlete Triad and has three components: eating disorders,
amenorrhea and osteoporosis.
Female Athlete Triad - Three Parts of a Bigger Disorder
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
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
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.