The Female Athlete Triad is named for three health problems that are linked:
- low energy availability
- menstrual problems
- weak bones
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.
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.)
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.
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