Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Female Athlete Triad: The Condition Teen Girls in Sports Need To Know About

By Hannah Canter, MD
Pediatric Resident at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School 
Member, Texas Medical Association 

Participating in sports is very beneficial for teens. Athletes have better cardiovascular fitness; better school performance; and decreased drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. Yet in recent years, as more girls have become active in sports, our awareness of the potential negative effects of athletics on the female body has increased.

Female athlete triad is a condition in which inadequate calorie intake negatively affects the menstrual cycle and bone health. This can lead to serious problems such as decreased strength and endurance, injuries, and poor growth and development.

Understanding Energy Requirements 

Female athletes need enough energy for exercise in addition to what is required for normal growth and development. Girls who participate in sports that emphasize leanness – such as gymnastics, dance, figure skating, and long-distance running – may be at an increased risk for low energy availability, even if they have a normal body mass index (BMI).

Here is what teen athletes should do:

  • Active teens need to consume approximately 2,300 calories per day, even up to 2,900 calories per day for those who are very active.
  • Calories should come from a balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
  • Girls who are unable to meet these dietary goals may need to see a dietician or decrease the amount of exercise they are doing.

Menstrual Period Abnormalities

If girls are not eating enough calories to keep up with the energy they expend, their menstrual periods can become irregular or even stop completely.

  • Girls who have not started their period by age 15, or girls who go three or more months without a period should be evaluated by a doctor.

Bone Health

Healthy teenage girls gain 2-4 percent in bone mass every year. When girls have irregular periods, or no periods, they are at risk of instead losing 2 percent of bone mass each year. This can lead to osteoporosis and sports-related injuries such as broken bones.

  • All teens should consume 1,200 mg of calcium and 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day for healthy bone growth.
  • Girls who are not having regular periods should increase their daily calcium and vitamin D intake to 1,500 mg and 800 IU, respectively. Good sources of calcium and vitamin D include milk, yogurt, green vegetables, or fortified orange juice and cereal. 
  • The addition of calcium and vitamin D supplements may be necessary for teens whose dietary intake is limited.

Overall, the health benefits of being active in sports outweigh the possible risks. Girls should be encouraged to participate in athletics. Teens, parents, coaches, and doctors just need to keep in mind the increased energy requirements for female athletes. They also should be on the lookout for poor eating habits, irregular periods, or injuries that might point to female athlete triad. Prevention and early treatment of this condition can help promote optimal growth and development, prevent serious injuries, and allow female athletes to perform to the best of their abilities.

1 comment :

Sofia Norton said...

Great points raised and not everyone is really aware of the conditions that athletes face. Thank you for sharing this information.

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