Here’s the truth: Females are not the same as males physiologically speaking, and in sports, that is important.
Whether you are talking about sports performance, body composition, health or overall well-being, understanding how being a female affects you in sports and play can be a big game changer.
What Makes A Female So Different?
The biggest and most obvious difference between a male a female is the physical appearance – Females have reproductive systems males do not, and vice versa.
Building on that, we know that the very systems behind these reproductive systems are tell tale signs towards whether a female is doing physically well or not. For example, one of the most common question I would ask my female clients early in our consultation would be:
“Do you still have your period?”
Your Menstruation Cycle Matters.
In the hunt for better body composition, the loss of one’s menstruation cycle can sometimes be seen as a reward. After all, you no longer have to deal with the pain, mess and emotional roller coaster… right?
Despite what it might look like, the loss of your period brings a few detrimental considerations that might affect your performance or sporting longevity over a period of time. Some of these consequences includes:
- Hormonal imbalances
- Reduced Bone Metabolism
- Prone to injury
- Increased irritability
- Reduced performance in sports
It is also seen as a bigger athletic issue in the female community, which is termed in research as the female athlete triad.
The Female Athlete Triad
The Female Athlete Triad is a combination of three common issues.
Unlike Energy Balance (Calories In VS Calories Out), Energy Availability is a concept that determines whether you have enough food to handle your exercise load. In theory, the equation would look like this:
Energy Availability = Energy Intake – Exercise Energy Expenditure
Low Energy Availability (LEA) would mean that you have not fed your body enough to perform your exercises. In the short term this might lead to reduced performance, concentration, energy levels and potential risk of injury, but in the long term might lead to reduced bone health, increased viral infections, hormonal imbalance and possibly ammenorrhea.
The most common individuals who would face LEA would be ultraendurance athletes because they often can’t fuel enough to meet their exercise energy requirements, and individuals who needs/wants to lose weight/fat, as they go on severely low calorie diets.
As LEA continues to happen, the body will notice the reduced calorie consumption and in an effort to survive, shut down non-essential functions like the reproductive system.
When the body decides to shut down your reproductive functions, the earliest telltale sign would usually be the loss of your menstruation cycle, or what we would term in research as Secondary Amenorrhea. This would usually also signal a shift in hormonal balance as the body tries to conserve energy for your survival.
You will also notice a significant reduction in physical & mental energy levels, mood state, cognitive abilities and find that you are more easily irritated. As your body reduces the functions it regulates, your resting metabolic rate will also be reduced.
Due to a lack of energy intake, bone metabolism will also be affected. In the short term, you might find that you are more prone to injury, but in the long term, your bone health might be affected, especially if you are highly active in endurance sports.
This could lead to osteopenia, where your bone mineral density is below average, and in the long term could lead towards osteoporosis, where your bone is now too brittle. The lack of bone health would of course, shorten the longevity of your sports.
What can I do?
Dealing with the female athlete triad can be simple, yet tricky. If you suspect that you possible have any of the above symptoms, my immediate suggestion will be to consult a physician and a nutritionist/dietitian immediately. This would guarantee the success of getting out of the triad. Meanwhile, these are some immediate steps to work with your healthcare provider.
Measurements and Assessments
You cannot manage what you do not measure. Here are a few test you definitely want to work with your healthcare provider:
- Resting Metabolic Rate Test your metabolic rate
- Nutrition Consultation to understand your energy and nutrient needs
- DEXA Scan to measure Bone Mineral Density
- Blood Panel Test to measure Vitamin D and Calcium
- Ovulation Test
Most of these test require a special lab or a doctor’s assistance and can be hard to gain access to. If you are in Singapore and need any of the above services, send me an email here and I will link you up with the relevant services.
Practical Nutrition Things To Do
As with the assessments, I would highly recommend consulting a nutrition or dietitian if you can.
If you are an endurance athlete trying to figure your way around the female triad and want to work with me, click here, answer the questionnaire and quote “ATHLETETRIAD” on the last question and I will get back to you within 48 hours to schedule a 30 minutes phone call to work with you.
The first thing you want to do is to eat more. Eating more will increase the energy your body can now tap in to perform and therefore allow you to do physical activities as per usual without compromising on other functions in your body.
This would also allow your menstrual cycle to slowly go back to normal and bring your hormonal profiles back to balance. Your bone metabolism will also be restored, reducing the potential of bone related issues.
Best of all, your body will be able to perform during play and still have the energy to support you throughout the rest of the day.
Support Your Bone Health
To support your bone health, you want to make sure that your diet has protein, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K in it, mainly because these are the major nutrients that makes up your bones.
You will be able to find protein sources from most food including meat, dairy, lentils and legumes. Calcium and Vitamin D sources can easily be found in dairy products like milk and cheese, while vitamin K sources can be found in leafy green vegetables.