Sportswoman triad: what is it and why does it occur?

Missing periods, low energy, and weak bones are all signs of the female athlete triad. Find out how to deal with the disorder.

Last update: 03 October, 2021

Focused on reaching their peak performance, some athletes suffer from the female athlete triad, a condition that impairs eating habits, it causes bone weakness and causes amenorrhea.

The syndrome is associated with pressure, sometimes promoted by the coach or the environment, especially in disciplines that demand low body weight. This is indicated by a work published by the magazine Nutrición Hospitalaria.

What is the triad of the athlete woman?

The triad of sportswomen negatively influences the athlete's performance, leading to endocrine, skeletal, reproductive disorders, central nervous system and cardiovascular disorders, as well as gastrointestinal and kidney failure. This medical problem, which also leads to psychological consequences, has three roots.

1. Calorie deficit

When the athlete does not eat the amounts commensurate with the level of the discipline she practices, low energy availability occurs. Although the imbalance sometimes happens by accident, it can be the result of an eating disorder.

You realize the moment that the body sends signals demanding higher caloric intake. In general, girls do not eat enough and avoid foods they consider inappropriate. In addition to damaging their performance, they are in danger of injury, slowing down their development and suffering from diseases.

By reducing caloric intake in excess, women with this syndrome do not ingest the basic nutrients for their body.

2. Lack of menstruation

Missing your period is another sign. Far from representing relief from the absence of colic or PMS, missing your period is not healthy. Doesn't always happen as part of the athlete triad, but to rule out options it is essential to consult a doctor.

Menstruation disorders known as oligomenorrhea or amenorrhea They are produced by consuming insufficient calories. The physical exercise carried out by these athletes is very intense and there is a greater chance of producing less hormones.

3. Low bone density

A young athlete who does not eat properly and suffers from amenorrhea, has a tendency to develop osteoporosis. Low bone density carries risks of injury and fractures, according to an article published by Sports Science Exchange.

Symptoms of the female athlete triad

Some women are likely to experience signs of the triad, but are unaware of them. In addition to amenorrhea, weak bones, and low calories, athletes report poor concentration, significant weight loss, and stress fractures.

In addition, tend to have cavities, low blood pressure, bradycardia, chest pain, anxiety or depression, brittle nails and hair, body dysmorphic disorder, sensitivity to cold and fatigue.

Causes and risk factors

Typically, the syndrome is triggered by high competitiveness, rigorous weight control, an obsession with thinness, and exercising more than you should.

The condition is frequent in disciplines that classify by weight category, like martial arts, weightlifting or rowing. Sports or activities that positively value thinness, such as diving, figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics and ballet, increase the risk.

How to treat the triad of the female athlete?

To know the causes of the disorder, the family, the coach, the physical trainer and those around the patient, together with the doctor, have to record a thorough medical history that detects the deficiencies and helps to break down the erroneous beliefs. With an accurate diagnosis, the following treatment phases are followed:

  • Nutritional therapy: the daily consumption of food is improved from the quantity, frequency and way of preparation. The specialist will adjust a healthy plan that corresponds to the characteristics of the athlete.
  • Hormone therapy: Increasing the caloric intake favors the hormonal system and regulates menstruation. Treatment could include anything from relaxation techniques to connective tissue massage.
  • Therapy for bone mass: This phase is achieved once the athlete lowers the intensity of the workouts and follows a healthy diet. The changes in the density of the bones are noticed little by little.
Women with this syndrome are more prone to fractures due to a lack of adequate bone density.

Prevention and lifestyle

Breaking the taboo that for some women represents talking about menstruation is of great help in the treatment of the syndrome. In the same way, disseminating information about the triad is key to prevention.

As part of a healthy lifestyle, it is recommended that the athlete keep a record of her menstrual periods and go to the nutritionist to adapt a diet rich in calcium, iron and protein. It is not advisable to skip meals and it is good to have a snack in the gym locker or in your purse.

It is also important not to give in to pressure from parents, team or coaches. Since far from enjoying sports, health is put at risk.

How to help an athlete suffering from the triad?

Facing the symptoms of the female athlete triad it is essential to seek professional assistance. When you are not the patient, but you know someone who expresses the signs, communicate your suspicions so they can ask for help.

In the case of a sports team, before and during the participation of athletes, the condition should be ruled out with a questioning that addresses the details of menstruation, contraceptive prescription, diet, weight control and injuries . It is not only the responsibility of the woman, but of all those involved in that sport.