What Is It?
Every sport makes both physical and mental demands on the athletes who practice it. Sometimes, however, the pursuit of excellence causes athletes to push themselves to extremes that pose long-term health detriments not worth the short-term performance-gains. One of those detriments, affecting women athletes, is known as the triad and is discussed in a great article published by outsideonline.com. It’s a condition that is made up of what are in fact three different conditions; disordered eating (e.g., chronic restrained eating, self-induced vomiting, use of diet pills, etc.), amenorrhea (absence of period), and osteoporosis (bones become weak from loss of bone density). It is important to note that the athlete doesn’t need to suffer symptoms from all three components to in fact be suffering from the triad condition.
The condition is difficult to diagnose as, Christine Yu, the article’s author explains, when female athletes discover they have nutrition issues, they might go see a nutritionist; if they stop menstruating, they tend to go see a gynecologist; if they have a stress fracture, an orthopedic surgeon will help them mend. But, those three specialists may never know about each other being visited by the same patient and may never be able to put the clues together. So, many athletes will continue on, undiagnosed and causing themselves even further damage.
Should Wrestler-Girls Worry?
It seems the athletes with the greatest risk of developing the condition are those attempting greater success through increasing amounts of training in sports that also demand some form of weight management. One of the studies, used for the article, involved sports like gymnastics, lacrosse, cross-country, swimming/diving, but not wrestling. This may be the result of women’s wrestling’s “newness” but I don’t believe anyone involved in the sport could argue against the statement that wrestlers wishing to improve will consistently increase the amount of training they put themselves through and that weight management is a significant part of the sport.
It’s those factors that make the triad condition something of which female wrestlers, and their support team, should be mindful throughout their career. It is not something that should prevent athletes from participating and attempting to improve in, but when the warning signs appear they should not be ignored.
What To Look For
If you are concerned that you or a female athlete, may be suffering from the effects of the triad condition, a 2014 study abstract states, that the components that need to be looked for (keeping in mind that displaying just one of the symptoms should be reason enough to take a closer look at the triad as a cause) are:
- low energy availability with or without disordered eating
- menstrual dysfunction
- low bone mineral density
I will admit the third symptom is not as easy to identify as the first two, until an actual stress fracture occurs. But the first two are symptoms that should be known by all who form part of the athlete’s support team; parents, coaches, and female teammates.
If an athlete that was once energetic is suddenly and consistently displaying low levels of energy, it is important to find out what has brought about the drastic change.
Both fathers and mothers should be aware of a young wrestler-girl’s menstrual health as should coaches (remember the menstrual cycle plays a huge part in an athlete’s ability to train effectively) no matter how uncomfortable it may be at first (if the coach is male). Fortunately, in California, the CIF, has stipulated that no female wrestler’s body fat is allowed to be below 12% at the time of the season’s weight assessment. Why is this important? Because, even though there is no true magic number, the concession is that 12% body fat in women is the lowest percentage without the danger of amenorrhea setting in. If an athlete mentions having lost their period it should not be taken lightly.
Performance Is Important But Not More So Than Health
I think the heading above speaks for itself. Yes, wrestler-girls want to be successful and everyone around them wants that too. But, we also want these athletes to live a full life where they can reminisce about their glory days on the mat and not be tormented by a body they pushed too far and ignored for too long.