What is the Female Athlete Triad?
The Female Athlete Triad is a serious health problem that is comprised of three interrelated medical conditions: disordered eating, decreased bone mineral density, and amenorrhea/menstrual disturbances. The potential impact of not only each singular condition, but of a combination of the three, is detrimental to health and performance.
The three corners of the triad are related to one another both psychologically and physiologically. The pressure to perform at an optimal standard often leads to a perceived need to maintain a low body weight. This results in an increased training volume and low energy intake. Ultimately this pattern of disordered eating can lead to changes in or an absence of the menstrual cycle due to a decreased production of estrogen. Estrogen is a key hormone in maintaining sufficient bone mineral density, and an inadequacy of this hormone can lead to decreased bone mineral density.
- Participating in a sport that places extra emphasis on a lean figure and low body weight, such as gymnastics, running, figure skating, dancing, swimming/diving, etc.
- Playing sports that require weight checks
- Controlling parents and/or coaches
- Social isolation due to participating in sports
- Disciplinary consequences for weight gain
- Pressure to win “at all costs”
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of Female Athlete Triad include:
- Constantly feeling tired or fatigued
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- Restricting food intake
- Trouble sleeping
- Stress fractures and other frequent/recurrent injuries
- Constantly striving to be thin
What is the treatment for Female Athlete Triad?
When a female is suffering from the Female Athlete Triad it is important to attack the issue from every angle. The best care an individual suffering with the Triad can receive consists of putting together a team of medical professionals, including doctors, nutritionists, and psychologists. It is important to seek medical attention if even only one aspect of the Triad is present. Treatment may vary depending on the individual, but the ultimate goal is to increase the health and the nutritional status of the woman/girl.
What can be done to help prevent the Female Athlete Triad?
The best way to prevent the Triad from happening is through education. Athletes, parents, coaches, and athletic trainers should be able to recognize the components of the Triad and to know the appropriate steps to take if one or more of the Triad’s conditions is suspected.
It is important for both coaches and parents to:
- Focus on a positive body image and health, NOT body weight
- Support the athletes throughout training and competition
- Remind the athlete that maintaining a healthy diet is an important part of successful training and performance
For the athlete it is important to:
- Monitor your menstrual cycle and consult a physician if you experience any irregularities
- Consult a medical professional if you experience any recurrent injuries or stress fractures
- Seek emotional support from teammates, parents, and coaches
- Seek counseling and/or a nutritionist if you suspect you are overly concerned about your body image and body weight
The author of this article is Jessica Heider, MS, ATC from Athletico- Gold Coast.