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What is the Female Athlete Triad?

Thursday 6 January in Sport

Sports Performance Services very own Ben Carling is back with Islandlife to discuss an important, but often overlooked issue women have with their fitness goals.

I’m going to talk about an important, possibly sensitive, topic today. The Female Athlete Triad.

Now, I know the word ‘athlete’ is in there; that’s because my research happens to be in the world of Strength & Conditioning. However, it is highly relevant to all females that engage in fitness; so please keep reading.

The Female Triad is an interrelationship between:

It is somewhat common amongst the female population, on a varying scale – particularly young females who engage in sport and fitness.

To make a diagnosis, only one of the 3 triad needs to be present. Early detection, recognition and treatment are fundamental to reduce severity and/or increasing risk of suffering the other pillars of the triad.

Although there are many, I want to highlight two catalyst that are likely contributing factors… social media and the desire to compete at your very best.

Now, more than ever, social media is flooded with perceptions of body image – It’s literally everywhere on all social media platforms. . In sport, a low level of body fat can often be advantageous – something called a strength and power to weight ratio. We all like to win, but at what cost?

So how does the all this actually become a problem?

Often, a low energy balance is a precursor. What I mean by that is a low-calorie intake, a calorie deficit, can result in a reduction of body fat. Our bodies are all different, we all require a maintenance amount of calories to fuel us for our individual day to day and level of activity. This is called BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). Clearly, in order to maintain (and increase) muscle, tendon, ligament, bone health and strength we require adequate amounts of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Like a car, run low on fuel or oil, and you’ll eventually run into a problem.

So, it’s easy to understand how a female can go from Eumenorrhea (normal, regular menstrual cycle), optimal energy intake and optimal bone health to Amenorrhea, disordered eating and Osteoporosis. This article isn’t meant to scare in any way shape or form, but instead highlight a real issue that, if detected early, can be corrected by professionals and experts in this field.

Spotting the signs are important.

To name a few; rapid weight loss, chronic fatigue, low force fractures (without significant impact), anxiety/depression, compulsive exercise behaviour and ascent or irregular menstrual cycle. If you present any of these symptoms, you must seek the help of your GP straight away.

What can we do to prevent it?

It’s important to be open and honest – we need to look out for one another. As a coach, my door is always open to any of my clients and athletes should they feel the need to talk. A well-balanced diet should go a long way to making sure sufficient dietary macro and micronutrients are consumed but if you are unsure then speak to a dietician or nutritionist. Studies have shown that less focus on endurance cardiovascular based activities while following a proper, well planned out strength training programme 2-3 times a week is proven to strengthen and improve muscle and bone health.

Thanks for reading, feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions.


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