Physically and mentally sports may place a lot of pressure on athletes. With near constant training and competitions, it is possible to fall into an energy deficiency. This imbalance of calorie consumption and energy expenditure may be intentional or not. The Female Athlete Triad includes disordered eating, osteoporosis and amenorrhea; all stemming from an energy imbalance in female athletes.
Disordered eating may be a result of an increase in training with no adjustment in diet, or a direct result of restrictive dieting. Some sports are known for a certain “look” among their competitors; for example, the slender frame commonly seen in ice skating, dancing and gymnastics. Female athletes in these sports may restrict their diets to achieve the ideal appearance.
Another component of the triad, a decrease in bone mineral density, may lead to osteoporosis. Caused by poor nutrition, this decrease in bone density is an obvious problem especially in athletes because of the increases risk of stress fractures. Women reach peak bone density in young adulthood, making osteoporosis especially concerning in youth and teen athletes as it affects bone health for the rest of their life.
The final component of the Female Athlete Triad is amenorrhea. An energy imbalance caused by a restrictive diet or excessive training will cause a decrease in estrogen, resulting in an abnormal or absent menstrual cycle.
The Female Athlete Triad (http://www.femaleathletetriad.org)
It is important to note the triad exists more as a continuum, rather than direct cause and effect. For example, an athlete may be suffering from bone density loss due to her diet, but not yet be diagnosed with osteoporosis. It is rare for a female athlete to present with only two of the components, more than likely the third is not yet showing signs. For this reason it is important to treat as soon as any signs present, in order to prevent further progression. If you or anyone you know suffers from any components of the Female Athlete Triad it is important to seek medical attention. Coaches, parents and teammates can help by encouraging proper training, rest and nutrition.