The Female Athlete Triad

Disordered eating is common among athletes, and so is the female athlete triad, which consists of disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis.

A blogger at Endocrine Today wondered how to help the girls and young women with this problem. First of all, how do you detect someone with the triad (which, he noted, is ironically abbreviated FAT) if they aren't emaciated? One solution is for coaches to ask directly- though a crochety 60 year old man asking a 15-year-old girl if she needs any Tampax might not yield much in the way of useful answers.

The next question is what do you do if an athlete has developed either of these symptoms? Says the Endocrine Today blog:

Weight gain to the point where normal menstrual function is restored appears to be the only well-documented successful remedy, but that is a hard message to get across. It may be helpful to remind the patient that Michael Phelps won eight gold medals on a daily calorie intake widely reported in our local newspapers to be 10,000 calories a day...

A young cross country runner put it more succinctly in a New York Times article on varsity athletics and eating disorders:

In high school, Emily Brown, 22, lost her period for six months. But lately Ms. Brown, who has increased her mileage as a member of the cross-country team at the University of Minnesota, menstruates normally. How? She eats more.

Proper nutrition should be as much of a part of athletic training as sprinting and stretching.

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Tiptoe said...

I agree with you that nutrition should definitely be emphasized with athletes. I think in general, there is more effort being made into educating coaches and trainers.

The one good thing is that the position statement by ACSM does not say that an athlete has to have all three to be at risk. They've changed their terminology which encompasses more athletes, and ones that may not have been noticed before.

As for what to do with an athletes with the Triad or even low energy availability, for some telling them that they can't play in the game, run, etc. until they receive help works. For others, it doesn't due to the huge D. (denial) and other factors. Ultimately, it is of course up to the athletes which course they take. Not an easy thing or one way or the other.

Crimson Wife said...

I'd settle for coaches to stop telling female athletes to lose weight. I don't blame my ED on the fact that my figure skating coach kept telling me to get below 100 lbs (I'm 5' 2") but it certainly didn't help matters any.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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