Filed under: Women
The Female Athlete Triad is a condition that commonly affects physically active girls and women, especially those involved in activities such as dance or gymnastics that have a heavy emphasis on weight and physical appearance. The Triad is characterized by energy deficiency, amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances), and osteoporosis (bone loss). Poor eating habits combined with high-intensity exercise can cause energy deficiency, although energy deficiency can occur even without disordered eating. Over time, estrogen decreases and causes menstrual cycles to become irregular or stop completely. However, estrogen is also important for building strong bones, so when estrogen levels drop, bones become weaker and osteoporosis can develop.
Female Warfighters can be at risk for developing the Triad if they don’t get enough calories and if training is too intense. In the short term, lack of energy will lead to fatigue and difficulty concentrating—an equation for poor performance. Continued energy deficiency, though, can lead to muscle loss and decreased strength, putting you at higher risk for injury. Then, even when you’re training hard, your performance may fail to improve or actually worsen.
You can prevent the Female Athlete Triad easily by focusing on your overall health and nutrition rather than your weight. Food is the fuel that helps you to perform at your best.
The month of October is Military Health System’s Women’s Health Month. There are more than 350,000 female members of the military (16% of the total military force). While it’s important for all military members to consume nutritious diets, women have special nutrient needs: iron, folic acid, and calcium.
Iron. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency among women. Poor dietary intake of iron combined with intense physical activity can lead to fatigue, weakness, and pale skin—all signs of iron-deficiency anemia (IDA). Iron-rich foods include meat, poultry, fish, spinach, beans, and fortified cereals. Consume these foods with vitamin C–rich foods such as strawberries and oranges for better iron absorption. HPRC discusses other reasons for IDA in this article on “Iron deficiency.”
Folic acid. Women of childbearing age need enough folic acid to reduce the risk of birth defects. But even if you’re not pregnant, folic acid helps make blood cells that boost your immune system. Folic acid can be found in leafy green vegetables, beans, peas, and fortified cereals and bread.
Calcium. Compared to men, women are at greater risk for osteoporosis, in which bones become weak and are more likely to break. Women need to start getting more calcium at an early age to keep bones strong. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products, tofu, kale, and fortified cereals and juices. Vitamin D is also important to help the absorption of calcium. Read more about vitamin D in HPRC’s Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.”
All of these nutrients can be found in supplement form, but as with any dietary supplement, consult your doctor first to determine if they are necessary and safe. For more information on supplements, read HPRC’s “Women's health and dietary supplements.” Remember, most people can achieve adequate intake of these nutrients with a balanced diet. Poor nutrition puts you at risk for injuries and makes it harder for you to perform at your best.
If you’d like to know more about women’s health, visit the Military Health System's web page.
HPRC salutes Mother’s Day with special recognition of the mothers of Warfighters, mothers who are Warfighters, and Warfighters’ spouses who are mothers. HPRC works to help keep you and your Warfighter healthy, happy, and fit so that every day is Mother’s Day!
The Defense Health Agency and Uniformed Services University are co-hosting a “Women in Combat Symposium” at the Defense Health Headquarters (DHHQ) in Falls Church, Virginia, April 29–May 1. Experts from various Department of Defense organizations and branches will present research and hold panel discussions on the physical, psychological, and social aspects of performance, leadership, health, and well-being.
The event is only open to federal employees, federal contractors, and active-duty military supporting this work. Participants also have the option to attend the event online in a virtual environment.
Max.gov is the online platform for the symposium. Whether attending in person or virtually, all participants must first register with max.gov and then join the WIC group to be able to register for the event. Select the “registration” tab on the “Women in Combat Symposium” page on max.gov.
The Air Force recently launched a new website to support pregnant Airmen: Pregnancy A to Z. It provides information from real parents and physicians through videos that provide tips for the first trimester all the way through to delivery and post-partum. Check out the exercise library too—keeping fit while you’re pregnant is essential for a healthy pregnancy and an easy recovery. And the site isn’t just for moms. Dads-to-be will find helpful information as well.
Although a limited amount of new-generation body armor specifically designed for women is already in theater, field tests will take place in July and August on 600 sets of this armor for female soldiers. These tests are part of the Army’s Rapid Fielding Initiative in which they roll out cutting-edge equipment for soldiers. This important development is just one change that is needed if women are to enter additional military occupational specialties, including front-line roles in ground combat. (The ban on women in combat was lifted in January of 2013.)
A noted feature of the new body armor is the decrease in weight from 31 to 25 pounds, which can reduce pressure on muscles and bones, possibly reducing musculoskeletal injuries. In addition, because there’s less friction and chaffing, the body armor is more comfortable. Even more important, though, the new armor addresses complaints from women that poor-fitting body armor restricts movement needed to carry out operations such as raising and firing a rifle.
Check out this PowerPoint for additional information on the Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV), including improvements and capabilities.