Study Notes

FEMALE ATHLETES

– Eating Disorders

Not only does the sport put pressure on athletes to look a certain way (dancing, gymnastics), it is unfortunate that there are elements within our society that also pressure female athletes to have a certain body shape.

Female athletes are more likely to develop eating disorders than their male counterparts especially those in gymnastics, body-building and ice skating or dancing. An eating disorder is described as behaviour that includes vomiting, starving themselves or eating copious amounts of food in one sitting.

– Anorexia nervosa (which is known as a person starving themselves)

– Bulimia nervosa (which is when a person eats a large amount of food and makes themselves vomit).

These eating disorders lead to a lack of nutrients and dehydration for the female athlete, which can have a huge impact on their performance.

Parents and coaches should observe training routines of their athletes and monitor their eating habits. They also need to be aware of warning signs such as changes in mood, increased training or exercise and a rapid change in their body shape.

– Iron Deficiency

Iron is the active component in haemoglobin within the red blood cells, which is very important for the body to deliver oxygen to the working muscles in the body.

Anaemia is a condition with which there are abnormally low levels of haemoglobin

A lack of iron in our blood means there is a reduction in the quantity of red blood cells in the body, which limits the oxygen carrying capability of the blood. This means less oxygen to areas that need it, which means fatigue and energy loss is bought on.

This is an issue in female athletes due to the fact that they generally consume less red meat (high in iron) and the loss of blood during menstruation.

Female athletes who suffer from iron deficiency will experience feelings of fatigue during exercise and generally low levels of energy.

– Bone Density

Bone density relates to the amount of calcium in the bones.

Athletes who have poor bone density, they are more at risk of fractures and disease such as osteoporosis as well as decreased mobility and pain.

It is important from a young age, that female athletes have adequate levels of calcium in their diet (found in dairy and salmon) as well as undertaking weight bearing exercise activities to help strengthen their bones.

This is because they are at a greater risk of osteoporosis after menopause due to the fact that they are more likely to lose calcium at a quicker rate than men post-menopause.

– Pregnancy

It is important that this exercise remains at a moderate level to maintain their cardiovascular fitness. The intensity of the exercise needs to decrease in the 3rd trimester to gentle exercise.

pregnant women need to exercise in cooler periods of the day and drink plenty of fluid as they find it hard to regulate their temperature and there is a need to avoid stress on the developing foetus.

If the female athlete is undertaking competitive sport, they should steer clear of contact sports (like basketball, netball) after the first trimester. Activities such as walking, swimming and yoga are better suited.

Full Written Notes

Critical question 2: How does sports medicine address the demands of specific athletes?
Female Athletes               

There are a variety of medical issues that may impact the performance levels and health of female athletes.

Eating Disorders

There are a number of sports, including gymnastics, dancing and synchronised swimming, which place additional pressure on women. Athletes who compete in these sports face additional expectation relating to their weight, shape and general appearance. Female athletes who participate in these sports are not only expected to perform at an elite level, they are told they must look a certain way as well.

Due to this focus on physical appearance, female athletes are more likely to develop eating disorders than their male counterparts, especially if they compete in gymnastics, body-building, ice skating or dancing.

An eating disorder is a psychologically driven disorder, which manifests in the adoption of certain behaviours including vomiting, starvation or binge eating. Anorexia nervosa (insufficient eating or starvation) and bulimia nervosa (binge eating, followed by vomiting) are the two most common types of eating disorder.

Eating disorders are a serious health concern and can have severe consequences. Athletes who suffer from these conditions often lack essential nutrients in their diet and are frequently dehydrated; factors which have a significant impact on their performance.

To stop these kinds of disorders from occurring, it is important that parents, friends and coaches encourage female athletes to develop positive, realistic and healthy habits and attitudes towards their self-worth and image.

Awareness of warning signs, such as changes in mood, increased training or exercise and a rapid change in their body shape, can also help prevent the development of disorders. Parents and coaches who are concerned about the health of their athletes should carefully observe training routines and monitor eating habits.

Iron Deficiency

Iron is the active component of haemoglobin, which is found red blood cells, and is very important for the body as it aids in the delivery of oxygen to working muscles. A lack of iron in the system causes anaemia, a condition which develops when there are abnormally low levels of haemoglobin in the body.

A lack of iron indicates that there is a reduction in the quantity of red blood cells in the body, limiting the oxygen carrying capability of the blood. This means less oxygen is delivered to parts of the body that need it, leading to fatigue and energy loss.

Female athletes are more likely to suffer from iron deficiency as they generally consume less red meat (which is high in iron) and lose red blood cells during menstruation. Low levels of iron can also affect athletes who undergo higher levels of endurance training because their body requires the delivery of more oxygen to working muscles, for longer periods of time.

Female athletes who suffer from iron deficiency will experience feelings of fatigue and low levels of energy during and after exercise. As a result, they may find it difficult to train at a high intensity.

Working with a nutritionist or dietician can help athletes monitor their iron levels and ensure their diet is high in lean red meat, leafy green salads, vegetables and other foods which are rich in nutrients like iron. Athletes may also take supplements to treat iron deficiency, although these should only be taken under the guidance and supervision of a doctor or dietician.

Bone Density

Bone density is impacted by the amount of calcium in the bones. If athletes have poor bone density, they are more likely to suffer from fractures and diseases like osteoporosis. They may also experience decreased mobility and pain.

It is important that, from a young age, female athletes consume adequate levels of calcium by incorporating foods like milk, cheese and salmon in their diet. Undertaking weight bearing exercise activities can also help athletes to strengthen their bones. This is particularly important for female athletes because after menopause they lose calcium at a quicker rate, increasing the risk of developing bone diseases like osteoporosis.

Pregnancy

Pregnant women are encouraged to exercise and participate in regular physical activity to maintain their health. It is important that this exercise remains at a moderate level to ensure cardiovascular fitness. The intensity of the exercise must decrease in the 3rd trimester, as only gentle activities are recommended.

Pregnant women should exercise during cooler periods of the day and stay hydrated. Women find it hard to regulate their temperature when they are pregnant and it is important to avoid placing stress on the developing foetus.

Although female athlete can continue to participate in competitive sport, they should avoid contact sports, like basketball and rugby, after the first trimester. Activities such as walking, swimming, yoga are all safe exercises for pregnant women.