What is the Female Athlete Triad?
The Female Athlete Triad is a term used to describe the relationship between three health problems:
This syndrome has been observed in women athletes who participate in sports where leanness is perceived to improve performance. Sometimes it occurs in girls or women who are unaware that their food choices or excessive physical activity are having a negative effect on their health. They become trapped in a cycle of dangerous food patterns and obsessive training trying to achieve a low and unrealistic body weight. Unfortunately, these women don’t realize that they are heading for significant health problems and compromised athletic performance.
The components of the Female Athlete Triad are related in the following way:
When we hear the term "eating disorders", we think of anorexia nervosa or bulimia. These are at the extreme end of a spectrum of unhealthy eating patterns. More subtle forms of disordered eating include:
Disordered patterns of eating deprive your body of needed protein and calories, eventually causing you to lose your monthly period. This is detrimental not only for energy and performance, but for strong bones and good health. Clinical experience shows that the sooner you seek help for eating behaviors that are out of control, the easier it will be to get you back on track.
Amenorrhea means that you stop having your period for 3 months or longer. If you haven’t had your first period by age 16, this is also considered amenorrhea. Check with your doctor to find out what’s going on. Not having your period is a sign that something is wrong with your hormone balance (or you’re pregnant!). Even though it may be a great relief not to have to worry about the discomfort or inconvenience of your monthly cycle, this is a warning that something is seriously out of balance. If ignored, this can lead to early osteoporosis and high risk of stress fracture.
As our bodies grow, our bones grow too. We build bone particularly during times of rapid growth and development, like adolescence, and continue until somewhere between the ages of 25 to 35. Then gradual losses of bone begin. Bone loss accelerates for women during the years right after menopause (around 50). It’s important to enter our adult years with as much bone as possible, to prevent osteoporosis. Osteoporosis refers to bone loss and lack of bone formation which increases your risk of broken bones. We usually think of osteoporosis as a disease of old women. You might picture an elderly, frail woman with a humpback spine. But osteoporosis is destruction of bone that silently progresses over many years and only becomes evident with problems like a fracture, a distorted spine or pain. Young women who are diagnosed with the Female Athlete Triad have demonstrated low bone density similar to women in their 50’s or 60’s! They may have had one or more stress fractures. It may NOT be possible to replace bone that’s been lost during our growing years, so it’s important to maintain good habits during this critical bone-building time.
What can you do?
What else are you doing to improve your performance?
Athletes have achieved "personal bests" when their body fat levels were higher than other team members.
Everyone has an ideal body composition that is unique to them. Certain body types appear to be more successful in certain sports activities. Have you chosen a sports activity that takes advantage of your genetic body build and natural gifts?
Women's Sports Medicine Center,
Hospital for Special Surgery