There are many causes of exercise-associated amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation), but in athletes missing a period for a couple of months is a warning sign that your body is under too much stress and does not have enough energy stores to support the healthy functioning of your body.
Scientifically speaking, amenorrhea occurs when you do not have enough of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone in your body. This hormonal balance is essential and is influenced by, amongst other things, the amount of energy available to your body. This energy availability is, in turn, determined by the amount of exercise you do (energy consumed) and your calorie intake (energy available).
WHO IS AT RISK?
The problem is more prevalent in women with a low body weight and subsequent low body fat percentage. As an active woman, your body fat percentage should ideally be 18% or more. Once it drops too low you will stop producing oestrogen and progesterone, essentially causing temporary infertility. This happens because your body realises you barely have enough energy available to sustain your own body and training schedule, and takes precautionary measures to avoid pregnancy.
Athletes who participate in sports that place more focus on a lean body, such as running, gymnastics or ballet, often suffer from amenorrhea. It is especially common amongst young girls who practise these sports at a high level, but it is definitely not limited to a certain age group. Anyone who trains too hard and does not pay enough attention to their nutrition can suffer from it, and it can have long-term effects on your health.
In elite athletes the presence of amenorrhea is often associated with the female athlete triad which combines the absence of periods with eating disorders and weak bones. Even though this condition involves physical symptoms, it is mostly a psychological condition that should be treated immediately.
SIDE EFFECTS AND TREATMENT
When suffering from amenorrhea, the most serious risk factor is the possibility of developing osteoporosis due to a lack of calcium in your bones. Oestrogen plays an important role in regulating the amount of calcium in your bones and a lack of this hormone could lead to a decrease in bone density and injuries such as stress fractures, and eventually osteoporosis.
The most important thing to remember when dealing with amenorrhea is that the absence of your period is a serious condition and not a normal part of training! It is dangerous and unhealthy, and you should pay attention to it timeously. The first steps to take are decreasing your training volume, increasing your calorie intake, increasing your calcium intake by taking calcium supplements, and seeing a doctor. By addressing and treating amenorrhea early, you may prevent bone loss and avoid long-term side effects such as osteoporosis.
(Sources: The eMedicine Journal, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism)
THIS MONTH WE TRIED: SPEED PLAY
By Michelle Pieters
This month I decided to go back to pure running roots and try some good old-fashioned speed play. We all get so caught up in logging distance and running times that we often neglect having some fun with faster runs. And while having fun we are actually also improving our running.
So I decided to keep it simple: no heart rate monitors, no exact running splits and no intricate calculations of lactate turnover point. No way! I donned my shoes, got out and did this: warmed up for 15 minutes and then started running at varying speeds for varying periods of time. Sometimes I sprinted for a couple of hundred metres, sometimes I kept race pace for 2km and sometimes I just jogged very slowly for a couple of minutes. Before I knew it, 45 minutes was done! I finished up with an easy-paced cooling down and by the time I got home I felt revived. Most of all I had fun!
Try it next time you feel like fun and games! Leave your watch at home and make up your training session as you go along! I bet you won’t only have fun, but without even realising it you will most certainly be improving your running.
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