In my last blog, I wrote about The Female Athlete Triad; a common, yet serious medical condition that can affect female athletes & fitness lovers.

To recap, The Female Athlete Triad is a combination of three medical conditions that are all linked to each other:

  1. Low energy availability & disordered eating
  2. Menstrual problems
  3. Weak bones & stress fractures

Now its time for Part 2 of The Female Athlete Triad – prevention and treatment strategies. There are many nutrition-related options to help prevent and manage this condition, and enable females enjoy fitness & sport in a healthy and happy way.

 

Prevention

One of the keys to preventing The Female Athlete Triad is awareness and education. Educating females, athletes, parents and coaches about what The Triad is, signs and symptoms (click here) and steps to prevent it are essential.

 

To help prevent the Triad, it is important that female athletes are educated on nutritional requirements for their age, particularly energy (especially from carbohydrates), calcium and vitamin D. Good nutrition and adequate energy intake will ensure a healthy weight and foster good bone formation.

As a Female involved in sport & fitness:

  • Focus on healthy, nutritious eating for optimal performance
  • Avoid restrictive eating practices or cutting out specific foods/food groups
  • Don’t avoid carbohydrates-rich foods – carbohydrates are essential for optimal fitness training as they are your body’s primary fuel source. Choose healthy carbohydrate options like sweet potato, oats, brown rice, yoghurt & fruit.
  • Eat regular meals and snacks to fuel you for training – don’t skip meals or snacks, especially pre & post workout snacks
  • Monitor your menstrual cycle by using a diary or calendar
  • Consult your doctor if you have irregular/missed periods or recurrent injuries and stress fractures
  • Seek the help of a Dietitian to design a healthy diet specific to your sport and to your body’s energy needs
  • Talk with someone if you are concerned about your body image or weight
  • Seek emotional support from parents, coaches, friends and teammates


As a Coach:

  • Encourage your female athletes to eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Remind your female athletes that healthy eating is an important part of successful training and competition
  • Focus on health and a positive body image, not body weight
  • Educate your athletes about the Triad and warning signs and symptoms
  • Avoid out-of-competition weigh-ins
  • Include weight based training to strengthen bones
  • Link your athletes with other health professionals including Dietitians and counselors
  • Look for warning signs and symptoms of the Triad and help your athletes seek medical advice

 

As a Parent:

  • Provide your children with healthy meals and snacks
  • Talk with your children about The Female Athlete Triad and healthy body development
  • Look for warning signs and symptoms of the Triad and seek medical help if you are concerned
  • Focus on health and a positive body image, not body weight


Management & Treatment

 

Managing and treating the Female Athlete Triad requires a team approach – the female athlete, parents, coach, Dietitian, G.P. and other health professionals.

 

The first aim of treatment for any Triad component is to increase energy availability. This may involve increasing energy intake from foods or reducing energy expenditure from exercise. Nutrition counselling from a Dietitian is essential to have energy needs assessed. Increasing energy availability should restore menstrual cycles and optimise bone mineral density. Ensuring adequate amounts of bone building nutrients including calcium, vitamin D & K, protein and other essential nutrients will aid bone recovery. Amounts can be determined by a Dietitian and dietary supplements may be necessary.


What If I Think Someone I Know Has It?

It is easy to ignore female athlete triad and hope it goes away. But successful treatment requires help from a doctor and other health professionals. If a friend, sister or teammate has signs and symptoms of female athlete triad, discuss your concerns with her and encourage her to seek treatment. If she refuses, you may need to mention your concern to a parent or coach.

Tips for Female Athletes

  • Keep track of your periods – keep a record on a calendar or in your phone of when your have your periods. That way, if you start missing periods, you’ll know right away and you’ll have accurate information to give to your doctor.
  • Visit a dietitian – they will help you get your dietary game plan into gear and find out if you’re getting enough key nutrients such as iron, calcium, and protein. And if you need supplements, a Dietitian can recommend the best choices.
  • Don’t skip meals or snacks – if you’re constantly on the go, it can be easy to skip meals and snacks. But eating now will improve performance later, so stock up with healthy snacks like fruit, muesli bars, fruit muffins, yoghurt tubs to ensure you have something tasty and easy to eat on the go.
  • Talk to someone – if you are concerned about your health or you have some of the signs and symptoms of the Female Athlete Triad, it is important to talk to someone about it. Talk to relative, friend, coach, and seek medical help. Talking to a doctor or dietitian will be confidential.

    Remember: It’s your body and your life; you can stop unhealthy consequences of the Triad if you seek help and live healthy and compete at your best!