Some female athletes have experienced menstrual cycle disturbances, but problems with the menstrual cycle are not normal and might be a bigger issue if not treated properly. If a woman is made aware of the health implications involved with a highly intense sport, then she can take steps to prevent these issues. If you are involved with a sport and you do not maintain adequate nutrition and do not allow your body to rest, then you have a possibility of losing your menstrual cycle, a disorder called amenorrhea.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association describes over-training as excessive frequency, volume or intensity of training that results in extreme fatigue, illness or injury. It is classified by decreased performance, elevated resting heart rate, sickness, mood disturbances and loss of menstrual cycle. Over-training is generally the first step in chronic amenorrhea but it can be reversible before you suffer long-term damage. If you are training hard without resting your body and you feel these symptoms, you need to decrease your level of activity and take a break.
Female Athlete Triad
The female athlete triad might occur if over-training is maintained over a long period of time and accompanied by other issues. The triad is a combination of three disorders. These are disordered eating in which not enough calories are taken in to fuel energy needs, disturbed menstrual cycle and low bone density. All three components are generally present, although you might not be aware of obvious signs. Athletes at highest risk of the triad are gymnasts, dancers, swimmers, runners or any sport that places extreme emphasis on weight or maximum performance according to the Female Athlete Triad Coalition.
What You'll Experience
The disordered eating leads to rapid losses of body fat and muscle and therefore a lack of menstrual cycle and energy. Amenorrhea can cause problems with fertility later. The hormonal imbalances from amenorrhea cause calcium to be taken out of bones more rapidly than it can be replaced, causing bone mineral loss. Weaker bones lead to stress fractures and eventually osteoporosis. Bone loss can be made worse by malnutrition and lack of calcium intake and vitamin D. Generally, if you have one sign of the triad, you have them all, even if you don't have any symptoms yet.
If you have started having irregular or missed periods in the previous three months, check with your doctor to rule out other signs of the triad. If you find yourself obsessing over food or exercise, talk to a professional counselor before you see disordered menstrual cycles. If you think you are not getting enough food, carry a lunch box or easy to eat snacks, water or sports drinks. Give your body at least one full day off a week to recover. Your sports performance will increase and you will stay healthy.
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; National Strength and Conditioning Association: Thomas R. Baechel & Roger W. Earle,
- Female Athlete Triad Coalition: Educational Pamphlet