Young female athletes may be at risk for what is called the female athlete triad.
If your daughter is a ballet dancer, gymnast, or if she plays other competitive sports she might be at risk.
Other risk factors for the female athlete triad include girls that are required to check their weight often or maintain a certain weight for their sport, those that exercise more than they need to for their sport, or that are being pushed by a coach or their parents to win no matter what.
The female triad refers to a combination of symptoms that include menstrual irregularities, not eating enough calories, and decreased bone mineral density.
Girls with this condition may reach puberty later, or may not even get their period.
Preventing this from happening in the first place is important, however if the problem already exists, recognizing it early can help keep it from getting worse, and can help resolve the issue so that it doesn’t lead to more serious health problems.
Partnering with a team of health care providers like a doctor, nutritionist, and a psychiatrist or psychologist is often helpful, especially when eating disorders are involved. A nutritionist can advise on maintaining good nutrition and a healthy weight to match her lifestyle. The goal is to help your young athlete focus on health and performance instead of weight. Exercise doesn’t need to stop, but decreasing it is recommended while her weight is being brought back to normal levels, and while dealing with deeper, emotional issues.
At this age your daughter is growing, developing, and already needs extra energy for this. When athletic activity increases those energy needs are even higher. Additional protein, and vitamins and minerals are needed too.
Competitive athletes need about 500 to 1,500 extra calories per day during their playing season to meet their energy requirements. The table below outlines energy needs assuming there is light to moderate levels of activity, so your athlete may need an extra 500 to 1,500 calories per day beyond this. She may also need increased amounts of calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, B vitamins, and vitamins C and E (among other nutrients). This can be assessed via nutrient testing.
Other guidelines for athletes include:
Eating a pre-event meal about 2 to 3 hours before the event, and avoiding foods high in fat, protein and fiber since these kinds of foods take longer to digest
Meals after the event are recommended and should contain about 400 to 600 calories, mostly from carbohydrates (complex ones like whole grains or sweet potatoes), as well as caffeine free fluids (and ones that are not sugary).
Adequate hydration is important. Fluid intake is so important because young athletes can be more easily affected by heat, or they may be so into the activity that they are not paying attention to whether or not they are thirsty. Your daughter should drink about 6 to 8 oz before her activity, and 4 to 6 oz every 15 to 20 minutes during her activity. After the event, she should have about 8 oz of fluid. Also, each pound of weight lost during the activity requires 16 oz of fluid to maintain hydration. This is because weight lost during the activity is due to fluid loss.
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Nazem TG, Ackerman KE. The female athlete triad. Sports Health. 2012;4(4):302-311. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435916/. Accessed March 13, 2019.
Hobart JA, Smucker DR. The female athlete triad. American Family Physician. 2000;61(11):3357-3364. Available from: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0601/p3357.html. Accessed March 13, 2019.