The Female Athlete Triad (Part 1)

May 29, 2017


What is it?

Running is a fantastic way to keep the mind and body healthy.  However, a proportion of adolescent and young female athletes may experience symptoms related to the female athlete triad - a condition that manifests as a combination of two or three of the following issues:


Disordered Eating


When an athlete does not eat enough food to fuel their running or avoids certain types of foods that are thought to be bad (eg foods containing fat) this can result in decreased performance.  Not only will the athlete tire and get sick more easily (as well as recover at a slower rate) – they might also experience more serious problems such as iron-deficiency anaemia, menstrual issues and stress fractures.


Irregular or Missed Periods


This can occur as a result of under-fuelling and over-training. In these circumstances, the body lacks the energy to maintain normal functions such as menstruation. In some cases, a girl’s first period may be delayed while others (even those who entered puberty with normal periods) can sometimes see them grow more infrequent over time or stop altogether due to excessive training and erratic eating habits. When this happens, the body produces less oestrogen which compromises the strength of the bones and can also make it difficult to become pregnant or maintain a healthy pregnancy and have children. 


Osteoporosis and stress fractures


Low oestrogen and poor nutrition (resulting in too little calcium and vitamin D) can lead to stress fractures and the early onset of osteoporosis (weak bones that break easily). Peak bone-building years occur between the onset of puberty and about 20 years of age - running is a great form of weight-bearing exercise to help girls build up their “bone bank” but this will only prove successful if they are getting adequate nutrition.



Common Myths associated with the Female Athlete Triad


Myth: It is ok not to menstruate 

Reality: If a female athlete has not had a period for 3 months or more she needs to see her GP immediately


Myth: Thinner is better for performance

Reality: Being underweight reduces muscle mass and prevents an athlete from achieving their optimum performance. A strong body is vital if targets are to be met.


Myth: Multiple stress fractures are typical when training

Reality:  This is an indication that the bones are unable to deal effectively with the exertion, perhaps as a result of a mismanaged diet and/or training load



I hope you enjoyed reading,





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