“Why do that to your body?”

If you’re an athlete struggling with weight, diet and menstrual issues, you shouldn’t be fighting it alone, a leading expert insists.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 5.41.55 pm“You wouldn’t fix a car by yourself, so why do that to your body?”

This is the message accredited sports dietitian Sarah Dacres-Mannings is urging female athletes to heed.

Everyone knows that being an athlete or simply an active, busy person means you need to eat right.

Sometimes, though, balancing exercise with a healthy, balanced diet can be difficult.

Dacres-Mannings (pictured, right) says it’s important to realise that having low energy and a loss of menstrual periods isn’t “normal” for active women, and can be signs of a much larger problem: the Female Athlete Triad.

The Triad is characterised by low energy, irregular periods and low bone-mineral density, and can have significant, long-term implications.

“Having regular periods is essential for bone health,” Dacres-Mannings says.

“Unfortunately, having prolonged periods of irregular periods can result in depleted bone health, leading to stress fractures, osteoporosis and osteopenia.”

Weight-category athletes as wide-ranging as judo players, divers, synchronised swimmers and lightweight rowers are most often at risk.

“The Triad affects women playing sports where body composition is more important,” Dacres-Mannings says.

“All sports where weight or body fat would make a difference, these are the athletes most at risk.”

Elite runners, swimmers and dancers are also in the high-risk category.

Dacres-Mannings stresses that despite the apparently common nature of some of the symptoms associated with the Triad, female athletes must not be complacent.

“I think a lot of female athletes think, ‘Terrific! That won’t be a nuisance!’ when they lose their period, or maybe they just can’t remember when they last had a period,” she says.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 5.48.57 pm

Sports Dieiticians Australia makes it easy for athletes to find the help they may require.

“I try to get women to keep a calendar to record how often they’re having their periods. If they’re having problems, I encourage them not just to go to their GP, but either to come see their sports dietitian or a sports physician who will be able to guide them in in the long term ramifications of their bone health.”

Often the most effective way to ensure athletes realise the importance of eating right is by reminding them of the implications of bone health on performance.

“You can’t perform or compete if you’ve got a stress fracture,” Dacres-Mannings says.

Dacres-Mannings says finding a sports dietitian is imperative for female athletes who are struggling with food and weight-related problems.

“There are some terrific sports dietitians around and they’re now graded, with different levels of qualifications,” she says.

“We have accredited sports dietitians, advanced sports dietitians and fellows. So you can get some very experienced people to help you if you’re struggling.”

– ELENA WEWER

Image credit: supplied, flickr.com/creativecommons

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