Under-eating harmful for women athletes

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 3rd, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Serious athletes train long and hard at the skills and fitness their sport requires. Most also watch how much they eat, but some athletes go too far. Excessive undereating may be particularly harmful for women athletes.

New research published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine shows that female college athletes on low-calorie diets may be at greater risk for a common sports injury— leg pain from over-exercising. Leg pain, including shin splints and stress fractures, are common problems afflicting athletes.

St. Louis University scientists studied risk factors for exercise-related pain, including stress fractures, in seventy-six female college athletes playing four popular sports— soccer, field hockey, cross-country and volleyball.

Athletes with eating disorders and general insufficient calorie intake proved more prone to stress fractures. The cause? Reduced estrogen production.

By burning more calories than they consume, women release fewer hormones, which alters their menstrual cycles. That decreases estrogen in the body, which impairs bone maintenance.

In the study, insufficient calorie intake surfaced as a primary risk factor for stress fractures.

Three-fourths of the female athletes reported a previous history of leg pain. More than one-fourth experienced leg pain during the season.

Athletes who developed stress fractures had more abnormal scores on the eating behavior questionnaire and also showed reduced bone-mineral density, suggesting nutritional deficiency.

Experts say maintaining calorie and calcium intake and, in some cases, hormone supplementation can help prevent some of these risks… and keep athletes in the game.