Special Considerations for Female Athletes

You’ve heard that “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” but does this hold true for young athletes? Beyond puberty, we start to see some important differences between young males and females. Female athletes can suffer from specific conditions and athletic injuries that everyone should be aware of.

femaleathletesAthletic Injuries:

  • Female Athletes are more prone to having stress fractures, kneecap disorders, ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears, foot ailments, and shoulder instability. For example, stress fractures are 10-12 times more common in females than men. These are usually caused by overtraining. Women are 2-8 times more likely to tear the ACL, especially those playing high risk sports like soccer, gymnastics, volleyball and downhill skiing. This is mostly due to weaker ligaments, muscle strength and hormonal differences.

Female Athlete Nutritional Needs:

  • Female athletes also have specific vitamin and mineral needs in order to maintain ideal weight and successfully participate in competitive sports. These are mainly iron, calcium and vitamin D.

Iron- Iron is a mineral responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to muscles and tissues, which is essential to an athlete. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, and other issues. Women lose a significant amount of iron each month during menstruation.

Iron recommendation for post-puberty females: 18mg of iron/day.

Food sources: beef, eggs, dark leafy greens, legumes, tuna, peanut butter and brown rice among others.

Calcium and Vitamin D- both calcium and vitamin D are essential in maintaining bone health. There is also a lot of research showing that a large part of the population has low levels vitamin D levels and this can lead to inflammation, poor immune system function and low bone density.

Vitamin D Recommendations: up to 800-1,000 IU per day

Food Sources: fortified  milk, breads, mushrooms, fatty fish, egg yolks and cheese.

Calcium Recommendations: 1,000 mg/day

Food Sources: dairy, bok choy, sesame seeds, sardines, kale, almonds and more.

The Female Athlete Triad:

This syndrome has been well described in female athletes. The American College of Sports Medicine describes the following “stages”

1) Disordered Eating

2) Menstrual Disturbances

3) Osteoporosis

  • Disordered Eating- these behaviors are much more prevalent in female athletes, especially in those participating in sports where a thin body is desirable; ballet, gymnastics, figure skating and distance running. The spectrum of disordered eating may begin with calorie restriction, excessive exercise and rapid weight loss. Behaviors that go along with disordered eating include: a preoccupation with food, wide weight fluctuations over a short period of time, baggy or layered clothing, high body criticism. It is essential parents and coaches look for these signs and address the issue before the problem becomes a serious medical emergency.
  • Menstrual Disturbances/Amenorrhea- low calorie intake and nutritional deficiencies will affect an athlete’s hormonal balance. This hormonal balance is essential to healthy bones! Amenorrhea is defined as the lack of a menstrual cycle for at least three months. It is important to allow and encourage female athletes to increase calorie intake and decrease exercise intensity until regular cycles are reestablished, which can take months.  Calcium and estrogen supplements are recommended to prevent bone loss.
  • Osteoporosis- This is the last and most severe stage of the Female Athlete Triad. Poor diet will eventually lead to bone loss and increased incidence of stress fractures. Education of parents, coaches and athletes regarding appropriate exercise and eating habits is necessary to keep female athletes healthy. Treatment of these conditions usually involves increasing calorie consumption, decreasing in training intensity, and taking calcium supplements.

For more information, go to

http://teens.webmd.com/girls/female-athlete-triad

http://www.femaleathletetriad.org/

 

 

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