As a registered dietitian, I try to keep abreast of sport/nutrition topics that may benefit my clients. Recently, I came across a study published in the Journal of American Academy Pediatrics by Amanda Weiss Kelly, M.D, which had many important points I would like to discuss in this column.
A new medical condition called “Female Athlete Triad” has been discovered, and it’s one that we must be on a lookout for among junior female (and sometimes male) athletes. Triad conditions include eating disorders, menstrual issues and weakened bones, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Experts suggest that all three conditions must be present together to cause long-term health issues, and that they are triggered by strenuous sports training and not eating enough to supplement the body's demands.
In order to properly diagnose Female Athlete Triad, doctors or nutritionists should ask a number of questions about eating habits, menstrual patterns and orthopedic issues such as stress fractures. While the emphasis is on girls, boys can also be affected by bone issues and eating disorders.
Depending on the answers, a doctor can decide what to do next. If a girl has had stress fractures without any increase in training and has irregular menstrual periods, testing bone health may be your next step.
Kids do not need to have an eating disorder to be affected by the Triad, but not consuming enough calories and missing key nutritional elements may impact bone health and lead to stress fractures and menstrual issues.
The proper thing to do is to make sure that your children are getting enough calories to meet their output. Teens, on average, require approximately 1,800-2,200 calories per day just to properly grow up. Depending on the intensity of the sport and training, caloric intake must be adjusted. A registered dietitian can help you calculate proper proportions of calories/protein/fat and fluids, and suggest a proper meal plan.
Kids need an extra 100 calories for every mile they run. That means if your child runs two to three miles during a tennis match or a practice, he or she must add 200-300 calories to their daily caloric intake (for example, a banana and two tablespoons of peanut butter or a smoothie will account for that caloric loss).
According to the report, up to one-third of high school female athletes may have at least one component of the Triad, so it is very important to closely monitor their activity and seek medical advice in order to prevent permanent damage.