This week I gave a talk on the nutritional considerations of the Female Athlete Triad for a physical therapy workshop. The last time I had given a talk on this topic was several years ago as a dietetic student. Since then, there have been several updates, and we know a lot more about this disorder than we used to. The components of the female athlete triad include 1) disordered eating, 2) amenorrhea (lack of menstruation for 3-6 months), and 3) osteoporosis. This triad does not only occur in the athletic female population, but can occur in any active female. The main cause of the female athlete triad stems from a condition we call “low energy availability.” For athletes, energy availability may be thought of as the amount of today’s dietary energy remaining after exercise for the body’s other processes (ie. maintaining body temperature, building new cells, immunity, reproduction, and locomotion). Basically: Dietary intake – calories spent in exercise = calories needed for basic physiological functions Low energy availability tends to occur more often in athletes due to the effect that they burn a significant amount of calories through exercise, yet don’t take in the calories to match it! Therefore, non-essential things suffer or stop….including menstrual function which appears to be one of the first things to be disturbed. Consequently, low circulating estrogen (a hormone which helps to protect our bones), low calorie intake, and low micronutrient levels (such as calcium) negatively impact our bones causing them to become weak and more susceptible to fractures, etc. The sunny side of this blog today is the news that the SLU athletic department is funding one of the nutrition department’s Registered Dietietian to work 20 hours a week with our SLU athletes! What a natural fit! One of the first responsibilities this RD will tackle are issues related to the Female Athlete Triad and will provide nutrition education for our athletes and faculty. The female athlete triad can result in damage that potentially can’t be undone. Let’s prevent the cascade from occurring to begin with. Kudos to athletic department for bringing a dietitian on-board and taking a proactive stance!
Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.