Female Athlete Triad: know what it is!

The Female Athlete Triad is named for three health problems that are linked:

  • low energy availability
  • menstrual problems
  • weak bones

ENERGY AVAILABILITY

Energy availability refers to how much energy from food is available to your body after you have exercised. If you don’t eat enough, your energy availability will be very low after you dance- so low that other healthy functions like getting your period, repairing muscle tissue, and building bone won’t be able to happen.

Dancers, athletes, and other physical performers can also lose strength and muscle mass when the amount of food eaten is too low compared to the level of activity. Over time, this can cause you to feel more and more tired, get sick more often, and take longer to recover after injury.

MENSTRUAL PROBLEMS

When the body doesn’t get enough food and energy, its normal reproductive functions can be interrupted. Missing a period every once and awhile can be a sign that you aren’t getting enough calories in your diet. Missing three or more cycles in a row is a sign that your body isn’t happy. It means your body isn’t producing enough estrogen, a hormone that is necessary for menstruation and…building strong bones. (The term for this is amenorrhea.)

WEAK BONES

I’ll bet you didn’t know that your period was linked to bone health. (I certainly didn’t when I was dancing.) I also didn’t know that peak years for building bone start in puberty and end at age 20. This is such a small window to build strong bones!

In order to make the most of it, your body needs to have food and energy available; when your hormones communicate that not enough energy is available, your old bone cells don’t get replaced with new ones. Weak bones are susceptible to breaks and fractures, which keep you from performing and weaken your skeleton.

THE CONNECTION

So remember how these three things are connected: low energy from not eating enough food can cause your reproductive system to “shut down” and not produce a menstrual cycle; when this happens, the body isn’t producing enough estrogen which is needed to build and maintain strong bones. When your bones become compromised, you are at risk for developing stress fractures and early osteoporosis.

If you have even one of these three things: low energy availability/erratic eating habits, irregular periods, or stress fractures/reactions, you could be at risk for developing the Female Athlete Triad. And that means you could be at risk for getting injured.

If you have any one of these components of the Triad, talk to your parents and doctor right away. If they don’t know what the Triad is, print out this page and share it with them. Please don’t compromise all of your hard work and dreams for the future by ignoring the warning signs of the Triad!

HOW DIET FITS IN

All of this information serves as a reminder that eating a healthy diet is crucial to becoming a strong performer. We may think that we know what we’re doing when we play around with our diet in order to fit into a costume or feel ready for an audition, but your body does not go along with these practices. Your body knows what it needs to perform its best: it needs regular energy availability, which is a fancy way of saying FOOD.

If you don’t know what to eat, or feel that your eating habits are not good ones, email me  or talk to your parents or doctor. As a health coach, I help performers find ways to maximize their energy and keep their bodies healthy. You don’t have to do it alone.

Source: The Female Athlete Triad Coalition, femaleathletetriad.org

Healthy Body Workshop Take-Aways

A growth spurt can leave you feeling discombobulated. 

The School at Steps’ Healthy Body Workshop- take-aways continued…please see my previous post for the first part.

  • Physical Development

Among other things, Dr. Andrew Price, orthopedic surgeon, spoke to the challenges posed by a growth spurt.

Did you know that when you are going through a growth spurt your muscles are weaker and tighter than usual? It makes sense when you think about it because your bones are growing and the muscles are racing to keep up with the new length acquired. Usually, students find that they are suddenly very tight (especially in the hamstrings) and weak. It can be hard to lift your legs anywhere near your usual height. But don’t despair. This is all natural.

The take-away here is not to push yourself during a growth spurt.

Go easy on leg extensions and big jumps until your body is finished the spurt. Then focus on strengthening and stretching again. It’s best to talk to your doctor and your dance teacher if you think you are going through a growth spurt. They’ll help you navigate these new parameters so you don’t get injured.

  • Maintaining a Healthy Self-Image

Like many of you, I had followed the aftermath of a certain New York Times’ critic’s remarks about NYCB Principal Jenifer Ringer and her partner’s weight in December 2010. It was great to have her on the panel to speak to her own personal experience with staying healthy as a dancer, as well as dealing with the above-mentioned remarks.

The big take-aways were two.

  • First, that Jenifer, like a lot of young dancers, spent a number of years trying to make her body into something it wasn’t. She didn’t accept her body and spent years hating herself. Her story was about coming to terms with her body and learning to love herself, which included what she called her “womanly curves.”
  • The second take-away had to do with the New York Times critic’s comment. Ringer said that his comment was her worst nightmare come true. And yet, she felt fine. She was not devastated by it.

She attributed her ability to manage that comment to the years of work that she had already put in to accepting herself and loving herself as a healthy, womanly dancer. Her words were so positive, so affirming, and so important to hear. This level of self-awareness and acceptance of our bodies is something that we can all strive for as we learn to navigate the expectations of this training and art form.

Healthy Body Workshop at STEPS

On April 9, 2011, the School at Steps (SAS) in New York City held a  “Healthy Body Workshop” for their students and the public. A number of professionals in the wellness world in NYC spoke on topics ranging from “occupational hazards” (Dr. Linda Hamilton) to yoga and meditation for dancers (TaraMarie Perri).

New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer was also there to speak to her own experiences with staying healthy both physically and mentally. It was a wonderful event and one that all dancers, students and professionals would have benefitted from attending.

Take-Aways

Here are some of the take-aways for those of you who couldn’t be there.

  • Alternative/Supplementary Training: Yoga and Meditation

TaraMarie Perri, dancer, yoga instructor, and founder of Mind Body Dancer, spoke about taking the things we already do well as dancers one step further, like body awareness. She engaged us in a breathing and body scan exercise to allow the mind and body to check in with each other and take stock of emotions as well as tensions. Once you are comfortable with the practice, it only takes a few minutes and is a great way to start your day, getting your mind and body in harmony.

Taking up a meditative practice like yoga can bring important things to your dancing that aren’t usually focused on in dance training. Mindful breathing, a sense of calm, and a mind-body awareness will enhance your connection to your artistry as well as your technique.

It can take time to become comfortable with a new form of movement, so don’t give up if it feels strange at first. Let your body and mind get used to thinking and working in a new way.

  • Occupational Stress Management in Dance

Dr. Linda Hamilton, clinical psychologist, spoke about a number of physical and emotional stresses common to dancers and how to manage them. The main idea was that dance training can be stressful and no one expects young dancers to just “deal with it.”

From the quest for perfection to the physical strain on your bodies, there are therapies, coping strategies, and techniques to put your health and well-being at the center of your experience. One good one I like is reframing any negative talk you have in your head in a positive way. You’d be surprised how much it changes the outcomes in the studio, not to mention your quality of life.

Another good take-away here was that 70% of injuries occur after 5 hours of dancing. As dancers, we are often trained to think that more is better, but this not true when it comes to physical activity. Repetition causes fatigue and fatigue causes injury.

Try not to get stuck in this negative cycle. Instead, try alternative forms of exercise that work other parts of your body and mind (like yoga!). This statistic is also good to keep in mind as we move into summer intensive season. We want to work smarter, not more.

Tune in to the next post to hear the take-aways from Dr. Price, an orthopedic surgeon who works with dancers, and NYCB principal ballerina, Jenifer Ringer.

Photo credit: OzRock79