What are some complications of the female athlete triad?

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Answered by: Clayton, An Expert in the Nutrition - General Category
The female athlete triad is a condition characterized by the existence of three disorders in some female athletes. These conditions include an eating disorder or a severe negative energy balance followed by loss of menstruation which is generally a precursor to early onset osteoporosis.

As can be observed, one generally leads to the other thus creating the triangle effect of the female athlete triad. Active women like most women in our society have placed a great deal of emphasis on physical appearance and weight. Many times the pressure to conform to an idealistic body type and size for a lot of women is felt in their personal lives as well as their athletic endeavors. Signals from the outside world telling women that they need to be thin and the pressure from coaches, teammates, officials and sometimes even fans expressing the need to fit the stereotype of a sport is enough to give even the female athlete with the strongest mental outlook the development of some sort of a disorder.



However, in many instances failure to meet certain weight standards for a given sport can compromise performance and in most cases cause a woman to lose her spot or be cut all together from the team. Furthermore, for many women participating in sports is a way to attend college and at no cost to the athlete no less. As the pressure to be thin and possess a certain “look” increases in certain sports, some women may engage in disordered eating to achieve the desired physical, outward outcome. These disordered eating behaviors, whether it is bulimia or anorexia can lead to disruptions in menstrual cycles that can further lead to bone loss.

The most interesting complication of the triad is the onset of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis in essence is the loss of mineral density in the bones; calcium as well as magnesium and phosphorus are three things found to be out of balance or completely lacking in many athletes. Many women with menstrual dysfunction typically display drastically lower levels of reproductive hormones such as estrogen as well as progesterone.



When estrogen levels are lowered in women it is extremely difficult for bones to retain calcium. This can lead to a gradual and sometimes dangerous situation. Many women can suffer from stress fractures and muscle tears as a result of these conditions. Many times the result of under eating and over exercising can deplete certain minerals and electrolytes essential to the maintenance of proper fluid balance within a cell. For an athlete this can impede performance, induce cramping and on a larger scale cause irregular heartbeats and even death.

A proper calcium to phosphorus balance (1:1 or1:2) is essential to make sure a body is not void of precious calcium.(2) During an interview conducted with Professional Trainer Rick Sosias he was quoted as saying, “calcium is essential to the success of the female athlete. I recommend the implementation of a yogurt drink or snack as part of their post workout regimen to insure that their bodies receive the proper amount in their diets.” With these yogurt drinks and snacks, women also receive an adequate amount of probiotics as well as protein. Depending on the type of drink or snack, female athletes may receive a good source of carbohydrates to recover from a hard training session as well.

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