The Female Athlete Triad: Concerns and Preventions

Oct 04, 2014
Tagged with: The Female Athlete Triad: Concerns and Preventions

As a female dancer, I run into issues with timing of meals/snacks and figuring out what foods will give me the sustained energy I need to make it through ballet class and hours of rehearsal without making me feel heavy or bloated. I imagine other female athletes can share my frustrations; but before I talk about possible strategies to solving those problems, I want to address a serious concern for many female athletes. It’s known as the Female Athlete Triad. The Female Athlete Triad occurs when a female athlete does not consume enough energy or calories to fuel physical activity AND the body’s basic needs to function. This can lead to disturbances in the menstrual function and poor bone health. This condition is most commonly found in females who participate in sports that require them to be slim and lean; however, this can also happen to women who have distorted eating patterns and who exercise a lot. The most common sign of the Female Athlete Triad is amenorrhea (absence of the menstrual cycle for 3 consecutive months). Other issues that could arise from not getting enough calories are fatigue, depressed immune function (you may get sick frequently), stress fractures or other injuries, dehydration, depleted energy stores, and infertility. If you are an athlete, any of these issues can have a negative impact on your performance as well as your health. It’s important for female athletes that are experiencing these issues to seek treatment or advisement from professionals like sports medicine physicians, sports dietitians, and sports psychologists. A main method for treating the Female Athlete Triad is developing a nutrition plan that is specific to the athletes sport or physical activity. So how do all active females, athletes or not, stay healthy and strong? Provide the body with proper nutrition and hydration specific to the females needs at all times. Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful over the years.

  • Timing, timing, timing
    • Try out different timings of meals and snacks before working out to figure out what works best for you. You may find that a meal 3 to 4 hours before and a snack 30 to 60 minutes before working out works well.
    • Do you need to fuel up during exercise? Endurance athletes usually require some type of fuel during their event to provide additional energy. Sports drinks that contain carbohydrates and electrolytes may be helpful during team events or workouts lasting longer than an hour.
    • After exercising, be sure to have a snack or meal within 15 to 60 minutes. Providing your body with proper nutrition during this time span can facilitate recovery (repair damaged muscles and replete nutrients stored in the body).
  • Fueling the body
    • Try out different foods and drinks to figure out what works best before a workout. You want to make sure that it has carbohydrates and some protein. Some athletes find that eating fats and fiber too close to working out can upset the stomach.
    • If you need to fuel up during a workout, you want to grab something that has carbohydrates and electrolytes (especially if you sweat). Specific sports products may be helpful but you can always just eat some banana or granola bar.
    • To help your body recover after a workout, make sure you eat or drink something that has protein and carbohydrates. For many female sports teams, chocolate milk is the go-to after workout snack. It’s high in protein, contains carbohydrates, and also has calcium and other nutrients that are important for the female body. A liquid snack may also be great after a workout when you’re not hungry enough to eat a full snack or meal.

What snacks or meals have you found helpful around a workout? Do you take any additional supplements to ensure that your female body is getting enough nutrients?

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Author: Carleton Rivers