The Female Triad is an important aspect that needs to be understood by coaches, athletes and parents. Coaches should have heard of it, some may try to ignore it, some may not understand how to deal with it. If you work with youth, and that youth includes females, it is imperative that you know, understand and have the ability to deal with what could be thrown at you. Parents may not have heard of this, but again, it’s something that anyone with active children, need to make sure that they are aware of.

There are 3 factors with the female triad. Energy deficiency, low bone mass and menstrual disturbance.

Energy deficiency refers to any eating disorder that the female may have. Females are predisposed to having eating disorders, especially within the dance industry. There is pressure from a young age to look a certain way, and sometimes this can be taken upon the athlete to not eat enough food. It is important as their coaches, or parents, to be aware of these things. Stepping in to control this is so imperative to not just their physical health but also their mental health. Energy deficiency can then also lead to the other two parts of the triad.

Low bone mass refers to the healthiness of the bones. This comes from low estrogen levels and poor nutrition. Particularly low calcium intake. This leads to osteoporosis which is basically the weakening of the bones due to loss of bone density. This can actually ruin a career as an athlete as it can lead to stress fractures and other injuries.

With high levels of exercise, and not consuming enough of the correct nutrients, menstrual disturbance can occur. This means that the athlete does not have regular menstrual cycle.

Each section of the female triad leads on to the next one, and it is imperative that as coaches, teachers and parents, we are aware of what this looks like and the impact that it could have on a young female athlete. Therefore, what signs and symptoms do we need to be aware of?

  • Weight loss

  • Stress fractures

  • Dieting in spite of weight loss

  • No periods or irregular periods

  • Fatigue

  • Concentration loss

  • Preoccupation with food and weight

  • Frequent trips to the bathroom, especially after meals

  • Low heart rate and blood pressure

How can we advise our young athletes on what to do?

  • Don’t skip meals

    • Make sure that you plan what you are eating throughout the day and ensure that you are getting enough nutrients.

  • Keep track of your menstrual cycle

    • This way if you start having irregular periods, you are able to go to the doctor for some guidance

Just be aware, that it isn’t just about how much practice, training or effort you put in, if you aren’t looking after your body, then you will still struggle to achieve more in your career. As coaches we just need to make sure that we are aware of these things because we can end up putting pressure on young athletes without realizing. Sometimes, a coach is the person that the athlete trusts, so we need to be that person for them.