Recently, this topic has hit me hard as I witness many women in the CrossFit community suffering from variations of Female Athlete Syndrome. For those that don’t know, the Female Athlete Triad consist of the following:
- Low Energy Availability: This is often cause from changes in diet. In the CrossFit community, we prescribe “real food” or the paleo diet to our athletes. While this is a wonderful move, many people fail to implement this diet appropriately and fail to get enough carbohydrates throughout the day. Let’s be honest, it is REALLY hard to get enough carbs just from vegetables. To make matters worse, the paleo community is so divided on the “starches” issue that women in particular FEAR the sweet potato… I have been guilty of this in the past. Julie of PaleOMG would be sad.
- Amenorrhea: This is the loss of the menstrual cycle for three or more months. It is often caused by weight loss from dietary restrictions and increased exercise. Paleo + CrossFit. Sound familiar? What’s worse? The hypothalamus doesn’t secret sex hormones which reduces sexual desire. Ughh!
- Osteoporosis: This is the predisposition of fractures due to bone loss. Often, female athletes will experience increased bone injuries such as stress fractures which they THINK is caused by their sport but in actuality is a result of the lack of estrogen in the system. What does estrogen have to do with bone loss? It helps the body absorb calcium which bones need to be strong.
To summarize, decrease in caloric intake or simply not getting enough calories to support fitness leads to decreases in estrogen which can result in amenorrhea and osteoporosis.
The question becomes when does healthy become unhealthy? When training turns to overtraining. When we forget what it means to incorporate recovery into our programming. When we see real food and freak out (maybe not out loud but we refuse to eat it politely). Do you know anyone like this?
Treatment: Seek professional help from a holistic doctor. If you are paleo, make sure you are getting enough carbs, fats, and protein. Don’t be afraid to add in more fat if you need more calories. Make sure you are eating enough carbs to sustain your activity levels. Your brain literally needs sugar to work so don’t be afraid of carbs. There isn’t a magic ONE SIZE FITS ALL model for nutrition. Sorry to disappoint you. If you are training hard and eating paleo and experiencing these symptoms, you are not healthy Nourish your body both physically and mentally. Take your training down a notch. Up your calories. Here is my take on Paleo Nutrition.
Resources for Women Athletes: