The Female Athlete Triad is a group of interrelated conditions that affect female athletes, particularly teenage athletes. It is widely believed that an energy imbalance is the cause, combined with competitive forces. This disrupts eating patterns and body image for female athletes. Despite the fact that this is common in athletes, several aspects of the triad are seen in non-athletes as well.
The three medical conditions associated with the triad are:
- Disordered eating: anorexia, purging, induced vomiting
- Amenorrhea: adverse impact on menstrual cycles
- Osteoporosis: low bone mass/density
There are times when the athlete exercises excessively while the body is experiencing an energy deficit. A reduced caloric intake combined with malnutrition leads to a pattern of disordered eating.
The pressure to ‘be thin’ is compounded by a society that idolizes celebrities and pop stars. This can result in compulsive dieting and exercise. For a growing teenage athlete, bone density can be compromised if there are deficiencies in protein, vitamins and calcium. For female athletes participating in figure skating, ballet and gymnastics in particular, awareness is critical.
Coaches, parents and guardians should be aware of the following warning signs:
- Rapid weight loss or marked leanness
- Obsession about weight, body image and food.
- Shin splints that don’t heal
- Reduced participation or loss of interest in sports