Let’s face it, we all want to look great. We all want to feel healthy. And something which can be overlooked from time to time is the ability to have balance. There is no point going down the road towards a successful physique transformation when you’re not reaching optimal health levels.
Something which can occur with women when trying to achieve certain body composition goals, is a condition called the female athlete triad. Essentially this condition can be broken down into 3 particular categories:
- Energy Balance (caloric restriction)
- Menstrual Cycle Function
- Bone Density (bone health)
These 3 key areas of the triad can occur with different severity depending on various factors. Let’s dive into more details with these important areas & i’ll explain what you need to know regarding effective prevention.
1. Energy Balance (caloric restriction)
If you use social media or browse the internet, it doesn’t take long to be bombarded by weight loss programs. And women are being put under so much pressure to look a certain way in today’s society. Dropping calories ultra low and having prolonged periods of energy restriction will cause weight loss, but you’re also putting yourself at a high risk from a host of other problems.
Under eating can also lead to eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia, and especially for athletes, this is the most common occurrence with the triad.
A safe way for women to look at a physique transformation, competition preparation or a particular sporting goal, is to understand the benefits & importance of higher calories with the right foods. The “strong-healthy look” needs to overtake the “ultra-thin look” for the overall purpose of keeping women, in particular athletes maintaining optimal health levels.
The good news is that body recomposition is being promoted all over the internet right now with women adopting the strong not skinny movement. You can learn more about this program here.
2. Menstrual Cycle Function
Having a high level of energy expenditure and training volume added with a steep negative energy balance is a recipe for menstrual cycle hormone disturbance & the potential for developing amenorrhea (missing at least 3 menstrual periods in a row).
Menstrual cycle irregularities can effect just about any athlete from any sport which requires lower body fat levels & a high energy output. The most common cause of this occurs from inadequate nutritional intake, high levels of stress and over-training without focusing on optimizing recovery.
It’s important to understand that a missed period doesn’t always mean you’re being effected by the female athlete triad. If you’re experiencing a missed period regularly, then you might want to communicate this with your health professional & coach who can explore this further with you, as there can be other reasons prompting menstrual cycle irregularities.
3. Bone Density (bone health)
Women who are experiencing effects of the triad are typically at a higher risk for developing weaker bones & the potential of developing in more severe cases, osteoporosis.
This weakening off the bones usually comes from a decrease in certain hormones including estrogen. For this reason it’s so important for women to have sufficient calories from the right food sources. Proper nutrition will include calories to fuel each intense exercise session, optimize lean body mass growth & allow for sufficient recovery.
Prevention of The Female Athlete Triad
If you are competing at an advanced level or performing regular training under caloric restriction, give yourself adequate time to drop your body fat %, and give yourself adequate time to increase your lean body mass.
Dropping your calories too low too quickly is a recipe to fuel the occurrence of the female athlete triad. Give yourself proper time for optimizing recovery & ensuring stress is under control. Remember that the “skinny-look” is out… the new & healthy physique for women is the “strong-look”, and most important being happy with yourself in a healthy way.
If you are feeling any symptoms of the triad or you feel like you have a negative relationship with eating & gaining weight. You should communicate this with your coach & doctor to ensure you’re staying healthy & reaching optimal health levels.
- Berga SL, Mortola JF, Girton L, et al. Neuroendocrine aberrations in women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1989;68(2):301-308
- Abraham SF, Beumont PJ, Fraser IS, Llewellyn-Jones D. Body weight, exercise and menstrual status among ballet dancers in training. Br J Obstet Gynaecol. 1982;89(7):507-510
- Beals KA, Meyer NL. Female athlete triad update. Clin Sports Med. 2007;26(1):69-89
- Byrne S, McLean N. Elite athletes: effects of the pressure to be thin. J Sci Med Sport. 2002;5(2):80-94
- Gibson JH, Mitchell A, Reeve J, Harries MG. Treatment of reduced bone mineral density in athletic amenorrhea: a pilot study. Osteoporos Int. 1999;10(4):284-289
- Loucks AB. Energy balance and body composition in sports and exercise. J Sports Sci. 2004;22(1):1-14
- Myburgh KH, Hutchins J, Fataar AB, Hough SF, Noakes TD. Low bone density is an etiologic factor for stress fractures in athletes. Ann Intern Med. 1990;113(10):754-759
- Yeager KK, Agostini R, Nattiv A, Drinkwater B. The female athlete triad: disordered eating, amenorrhea, osteoporosis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993;25(7):775-777