Sports and exercise are part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle. People who play sports are healthier; get better grades; are less likely to experience depression; and use alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs less frequently than people who aren't athletes. But for some girls, not balancing the needs of their bodies and their sports can have major consequences. Some girls who play sports or exercise intensely are at risk for a problem called female athlete triad. Female athlete triad is a combination of three conditions: disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis. A female athlete can have one, two, or all three parts of the triad.
Female athlete triad is a combination of three conditions caused by exercising and poor diet.
Disordered Eating - Girls who play sports may try to lose weight to improve their athletic performance, especially in sports where a thin, lean body shape is valued - such as gymnastics, figure skating or ballet dancing. Teen girls may try to limit how much they eat, purge themselves or over exercise as a way to lose weight. Symptoms are similar to bulimia and anorexia and include having a low body weight for their height and age and episodes of binge eating and purging.
Amenorrhea - A girl with female athlete triad may experience decreases in estrogen (the hormone that helps to regulate the menstrual cycle), because she is participating in intense exercise and reducing her weight. This can cause a girl's periods to become out of whack or stop altogether. Some girls who participate intensively in sports may never even get their first period because they've been training so hard - this is calledprimary amenorrhea.
Osteoporosis - Low estrogen levels and poor nutrition can lead to osteoporosi, which is a weakening of the bones due to the loss of bone density and improper bone formation. This condition can lead to stress fractures and other injuries due to weakened bones - causing long term damage to a female athlete's career. Because of poor nutrition, a girl's body may not be able to help these injuries heal properly. If you find yourself getting a bone fractures without any significant injury - that may be a sign of osteoporosis.
Girls who are highly competitive athletes and participate in sports that require frequent training are at risk of getting female athlete triad. Girls with female athlete triad often care so much about their sports that they'll do almost anything to improve their performance. Some girls may even be told by coaches, [kwlink]parents [/kwlink] or teammates that losing weight would improve their scores or times. Focusing on weight or body appearance in sports such as gymnastics, diving, figure skating or martial arts, can put a girl at risk for disordered eating. Poor nutrition, combined with the intense exercise can lead to one or all of the three conditions that are part of female athlete triad.
Female athletes can prevent female athlete triad simply by following a healthy exercise and eating routine. Losing a few pounds usually won't improve an athlete's performance at all. If a girl loses weight when she doesn't need to, it interferes with healthy body functions such as menstruation and bone growth. If you're a female athlete who's exercising lots, make sure you don't skip any meals or snacks and are eating enough food to take you through periods of intense exercise. It's also a good idea to keep track of your periods on a calendar. If you start missing your periods, you'll know right away and can talk to your doctor. Most importantly, make sure you're exercising and playing sports the way YOU want to. If parents, coaches or anyone else is putting pressure on you to eat or exercise in a way that's not healthy, make a change.