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Sports Nutrition Guide: Section 7 - Special Concerns For Athletic Females!

Regardless of what type of athlete you are, a scientific based sports nutrition program can help you get the edge you need. Read this series for more details.

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Refer to the Awesome Muscles Online Podcast Seminar Series, with Daniel Gastelu for more information about these and related sports nutrition, training, fitness and weight maintenance topics.

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Section 7: Special Concerns For Athletic Females

Recent research indicates that while female athletes require nutrition similar to male athletes on a pound for pound basis, female athletes have a greater risk of developing nutritional disorders. As the number of female athletes continues to increase, and as well as females who are exercising on a regular basis, medial professionals have reported an increase in athletic injuries and ailments among women.

A set of symptoms frequently observed among female athletes - termed the female athlete triad - can have devastating effects on those who fall victim to it. Being aware of the reasons for and the prevention and cure of this disorder is critical to the health of all female athletes.

This is important for women and men to know about, as this disorder is often overlooked, so the more people who know about it, the more likely it will be identified and result in prompt treatment. But, the best approach for dealing with the female athlete triad is to prevent if from occurring in the first place by practicing healthy sports nutrition, which includes eating right and taking the right sports supplements needed for peak health and peak performance.

[ Q: ] What is the "female athlete triad"?

    A: The female athlete triad is a set of health problems that commonly occur in female athletes. It is characterized by disordered eating and menstrual irregularities (amenorrhea), which can eventually lead to osteoporosis (bone loss). Early diagnosis of this disorder is critical to prevent severe health problems.

    Menstrual irregularities are the first warning sign. Historically, the triad has been viewed as a trivial occurrence. However, medical researchers now consider this condition to be more serious than previously thought.

    More recently, the sports medical community has pointed out that screening and testing for an early warning sign of osteoporosis could help identify the female athlete triad, so nutritional actions can be taken to prevent osteoporosis from developing.

    Using bone mineral density testing, the term osteopenia is used to describe a reduced bone density category that is between normal bone density and osteoporosis. Based on the clinical evidence it appears that more female athletes have been measured to have osteopenia, and very few develop ever osteoporosis.

    Logically, it makes sense to detect the reduction of bone density, under any name. When healthy athletic people are well nourished, their bone density is actually denser then non-athletic people.

    The first line of defense is to evaluate the athlete's diet, and make sure they are consuming dietary supplements to fill in the nutritional gaps we know occur based on numerous dietary intake surveys conducted with athletes, in addition to a healthy dietary intake of conventional foods.

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[ Q: ] What causes the female athlete triad?

    A: Poor nutrition combined with strenuous training is the root cause of the female athlete triad. Inadequate nutritional practices create deficiencies in energy and essential nutrients, leading to a poor state of health.

    This is typically associated with a loss of body weight, which triggers the development of menstrual irregularities-the early warning signs of over-training and inadequate nutrition. Then, if the condition is allowed to persist, osteoporosis develops, which leads to an increased risk of bone fractures.

[ Q: ] What is disordered eating?

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    A: Disordered eating is not to be confused with eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, which are psychiatric in nature. These eating disorders do occur among female athletes and are another serious problem of which to be aware. However, disordered eating involves abnormal eating patterns.

    It includes poor nutrition habits, eating the wrong foods ("junk" foods), undertaking unnecessary or extreme dieting, and using purging tactics or laxatives for weight control.

    Disordered eating leads to an energy deficit, decreased metabolic rate, and reduced structure and function of the body. When it is combined with intense athletic training, it's easy to see how this duo can lead to health problems.

[ Q: ] What are the specific causes of the menstrual irregularities of the female athlete triad?

    A: There are many factors that can cause menstrual irregularities; however, the primary cause is triggered by poor nutrition and intensive training, which depletes the body's nutrient balance and alters its function. Eventually, ovarian function becomes impaired and can even lead to shutting down the production of estrogen and other hormones.

    While amenorrhea-lack of menstruation-is observed in a small percentage of non-athletic females (less than 5 percent), it can occur in as many as 40 percent or more of athletic females.

    There are two types of amenorrhea observed in the female athlete triad: primary and secondary.

    1. Primary amenorrhea is when there is an absence of menstruation in females who have reached the age sixteen and have developed young adult feminine features. It is very important to prevent the triad from occurring in teenaged female athletes. Any type of menstrual irregularities in teenaged females should be given serious attention and prompt treatment.

    2. Secondary amenorrhea is when there is an absence of three to twelve consecutive menstrual periods any time after the first menstrual cycle not caused by pregnancy. If this occurs, prompt medical attention is warranted.

    The term is derived from Greek: a = negative, men = month, rhoia = flow. Historically, the term amenorrhoea has often been used as a euphemism for "unwanted pregnancy" and many folk treatments for this condition are in fact abortifacients.

[ Q: ] Does exercise help prevent osteoporosis?

    A: Osteoporosis is a condition marked by decreased bone mass and an increased risk of bone fracture. It has several causes and is most often thought of as occurring in older females. It can be prevented and treated with a program of exercise and proper nutrition.

    However, doctors recently made a connection between secondary amenorrhea and osteoporosis in young adult athletic females. Secondary amenorrhea causes weakening of the bone tissue and leads to an increased risk of bone fractures.

    For example, amenorrheic female runners have lower bone densities than normally menstruating runners. If the secondary amenorrhea is allowed to persist, researchers believe that normal bone formation may not be able to be restored and the triad's osteoporosis may not be able to be reversed.

[ Q: ] What measures can be taken to prevent the female athlete triad?

    A: First and foremost, you must strictly adhere to a healthy sports nutrition program, including using high quality sports nutrition supplements.

    This means eating the proper amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids, divided among five to seven daily meals; maintaining adequate fluid intake; and taking sports supplements to insure intake of the essential nutrients, such as essential fatty acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals-especially calcium and magnesium.

    The major cause of osteoporosis is poor nutrition. In fact, the FDA has approved a health claim for foods and supplements high in calcium (over 200 mg per serving) as being able to help prevent osteoporosis.

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    It is also good practice to keep a training journal, documenting your training, competitions, medical exams, health problems, medications, diet, supplement intake, sleep patterns, menstrual periods, and behavior patterns.

    Keeping a training journal takes just minutes a day and will prove to be extremely beneficial, resulting in improved performance and optimum health.

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Notice and Disclaimer: This sports nutrition guide and related articles and seminar series are not intended for use as a substitute for consultation with a qualified medical practitioner. If you have symptoms of any illness or injury, it is essential that you see your doctor immediately for proper treatment.

This information is for education and entertainment purposes only. We strongly recommend that you consult a physician before beginning any exercise program and nutrition program. You should understand that participating in any exercise program can result in physical injury and you agree to do so at your risk.