At a Loss

By Nancy Clark, MS, RD

Freedom from monthly menstrual periods has historically been something of a source of pride for many female athletes. That is, until they experience infertility when they do want to get pregnant. Amenorrhea—the loss of menses—is never a reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, that message does not always make it to high school girls. Despite popular belief, amenorrhea does not happen because a woman is training hard or has low body fat. Many female athletes are very lean, train hard, and do have regular periods. Athletes with amenorrhea fail to eat enough to support both exercise and menses. Add stress and perhaps other contributing factors, and one’s ability to become pregnant is halted. So what to do? Simply advising them to eat more to correct the energy imbalance is easier said than done, with amenorrhea commonly wrapped up in disordered eating patterns. As far as what to eat, it’s recommended that a healthy female athlete consume at least 13.5 calories per pound of lean body weight that is not burned off with purposeful exercise. For a woman who weighs 120 pounds and has 18 percent body fat, that’s about 1,400 calories. A sports dietitian can help correct this imbalance, as well as help female athletes find peace with food.