Female Athlete Triad

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In females, three associated medical conditions form the female athlete triad: disordered eating, amenorrhea (suppression of the menstrual cycle), and osteoporosis (weakening of the bones). A female athlete can have one, two, or all of these conditions.

Disordered eating is a medical term that includes a broad spectrum of eating disorders. Girls may feel pressured to "lose a few pounds" to increase performance. The intentions may be good at the start, but it can escalate to serious health problems. Heavy exercise and low calorie intake can cause a drop in estrogen (a hormone), which has a protective effect on bone. Low-

ered estrogen can also lead to irregular menstrual periods, or to the complete cessation of periods. Amenorrhea is not a normal response to high levels of physical activity, but a sign of serious potential problems.

With lowered estrogen levels, the female athlete can experience bone loss similar to that seen in menopause. Unfortunately, the lost bone is never replaced. This has both short- and long-term consequences on bone health. The increased risk of bone damage, for example, can lead to stress fractures and osteoporosis.

Athletes spend many hours training so their body can perform at its best. It is important that proper nutrition also be a focus so the hours aren't spent in vain. An adequately nourished body provides the proper fuel to maximize athletic effort. see also Dehydration; Ergogenic Aids; Female Athlete Triad.

Kim Schenck


American Dietetic Association (2000). "Nutrition and Athletic Performance: Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine." Journal of American Dietetic Association 100:1543-1566.

Clark, Nancy (2003). Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Coleman, Ellen (2003). Eating for Endurance. Boulder, CO: Bull Publishing.

Sizer, Frances, and Whitney, Eleanor (2003). Nutrition Concepts and Controversies. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Internet Resources

University of Illinois Extension. "Sports and Nutrition: The Winning Connection." Available from <http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/hsnut>

menopause: phase in a woman's life during which ovulation and menstruation end stress: heightened state of nervousness or unease

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