Female Athletes Aren’t Eating Enough, and Gendered Diet Myths are Partially to Blame

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For any practicing athlete, proper nutrition is essential for peak athletic performance and proper recovery. In order to get adequate nutrition, athletes must consume a decent amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat to stay healthy and at the top of their performance.

For adequate protein, for example, athletes can consume legumes; and only two spoonfuls of hummus per day is enough to fulfill this nutritional requirement.

For many women, however, getting adequate nutrients is proving to be more difficult.

In a recent article published by NPR, titled, “To Thrive, Many Young Female Athletes Need A Lot More Food”, Patti Neighmod explores the correlation between poor nutrition and “female triad syndrome,” a condition that is increasing in incidence among the female athlete population.

By definition, female triad syndrome includes three major symptoms: irregular menstrual cycles, lower bone density, and fatigue.

While the disorder was originally only sought out in clinically anorexic women, medical professionals are now finding incidence of the disorder across a broad spectrum of body types, shapes, and athleticism.

Despite its increase in incidence, many primary practitioners are still unaware of the disorder, and because of this, are misdiagnosing it entirely.

In her article, Neighmod writes about Regan Detweiler, a track team member and sophomore at the University of Michigan. In high school, Detweiler also ran track, and ran up to 40 miles each week.

Like many women her age, Detweiler was wary of carbohydratess, and stuck to a relatively low-calorie food regimen.
For breakfast, Neighmod reports that the teen would have a cup of coffee and a yogurt. For lunch, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the crusts.

“I was eating as little of that peanut butter sandwich as I could possibly eat,” Detweiler told NPR, “while still saying I had a sandwich for lunch”.

Detweiller reports being constantly hungry and fatigue. Additionally, her menstrual cycle was inconsistent.

Soon enough, Regan began experiencing chronic fractures in her shins. After her second fracture, her doctor surmised that it was a bone density issue and sent her to get further testing.

That’s when Regan was finally diagnosed with female triad syndrome.

To remedy this, the teen began meeting with a nutritionist and began consuming more foods that left her feeling energized and healthful.

Since her diagnosis, Regan is eating far more calories to meet her body’s needs. To date, she is at her peak athletic performance and menstruates regularly.
While this problem seems to be largely physiological, its occurrence in general is symptomatic of a culture telling women that they should be eating less, regardless of their level of physical activity.

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