A well circulated, long-told tale in the female endurance sport community is that when training increases toward peak workouts, menstruation will stop. You see, the tale continues, a female athlete knows they are in supreme fitness when they lose their period, and it’s totally normal for a competitive girl to experience this. It’s great, after all, not needing to worry about the monthly hassle.
Ladies, let’s look at this with some fresh eyes.
Amenorrhea, the abnormal loss of menstruation, is not a sign of improved fitness but is a sign of negative energy balance. What? Is that like... something that can be cured with yoga or reiki? No, not that kind of energy. Energy as in FOOD. But you’re not losing weight so you’re not under-fueling? No, even if you’re not losing weight, losing your period, in this case, is a result of inadequate food intake - your body is starting to shut down processes that it doesn’t feel are necessary to maintain life. Reproduction, being one of them. When we are in negative energy balance, our body doesn’t produce enough estrogen, leading to lost menstruation.
OK, so you weren’t planning on starting a family right now anyway, what’s the big deal? This is just one of the outward, easy to identify signs that you aren’t getting enough to eat to sustain yourself. At the same time that you’re losing your period, your body is not taking care of bones and muscles like it should be. Hear that? Bones and muscles! We need those to compete!
Why would bones deteriorate and weaken with loss of menstruation related to inadequate food intake? Estrogen is used to prevent bone demineralization (breakdown) so experts advise that inadequate estrogen production in women is linked to poor bone density. Young women should prioritize maxing out their bone density during their early years of life because women hit peak bone mass before the age of 25. Meanwhile, women in their 20’s and over should hold in mind that preservation of density in the bone can prevent fracture and prevent or delay osteoporosis.
Don’t get caught up in the myth that a lost period is the pinnacle of fitness. If you’re seeing signs that you’re in energy deficit, attempt to increase your portions a little bit at each meal with a mix of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. I also encourage 1-3 substantial snacks each day to improve energy balance. Training increases our energy requirements so a competitive athlete may need to increase her food-fuel while volume is increasing to meet the extra demand.
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About the Author
I’m Courtney Hager, one of the registered dietitians from One You Nutrition LLC. I am an endurance sports addict and love to learn about how the body and mind use nutrition to help us perform. I’d love to hear from you so leave a comment, subscribe to our newsletters, or better yet, set up a call with me to chat about your nutrition goals!