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Are you at risk for Female Athlete Triad?

Learn how the Female Athlete Triad affects health and performance and how you can prevent it.

The Female Athlete Triad is a health condition that commonly affects physically active girls, teens, and women, especially those involved in activities that have a heavy emphasis on weight and physical appearance. It’s characterized by energy deficiency, amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances), and osteoporosis (bone loss), which can leave you tired, anxious, and unmotivated—an equation for poor performance. It can also put you at risk for serious health problems such as muscle loss, dehydration, and stress fractures.

Female service members can be at risk for developing the Triad if they don’t get enough calories (underfueling) and if training is too intense. But you can prevent it easily by focusing on your overall health and nutrition rather than your weight and by following these tips:

  • Eat when you’re hungry and include a variety of nutrient-rich foods such as lean sources of protein—lean fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy products—along with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Skipping meals and snacks or severely restricting your food intake will keep you from getting enough calories and other important nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Eat a recovery snack that consists of carbs and protein after your workout. Carbs are your body’s primary fuel source to keep you energized, and you need protein to build and repair your muscles.
  • Talk to a registered dietitian (RD) for an individual nutrition plan. An RD who specializes in sports nutrition can help you choose the best foods and the right amounts to optimize your performance.

Remember, food is the fuel that helps you to perform at your best. For more, read this handout from the Female Athlete Triad Coalition.

Moms-to-be: exercise for a healthier birth

There are many benefits of continuing to exercise while pregnant. Now you can add healthier birth weights and a reduced chance of C-section to the list!

Exercise leading up to and during pregnancy has many health benefits. Recently, the effects of exercising during pregnancy have been found to benefit the birth process as well. Regular exercise with pregnancy can contribute to a healthy birth weight for your baby without increasing the risk of premature birth. It may even decrease the risk of needing an unscheduled cesarean birth. For these reasons, continuing your exercise routine could help you have a healthier and safer birth. Staying active contributes to a healthier pregnancy. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight and establishes exercise habits that, if continued after your baby is born, help you get rid of the weight gained during pregnancy. There are many ways to keep up with your physical fitness during pregnancy while still keeping you and your baby safe.

Postpartum exercise

How soon can you start to exercise after giving birth?

The benefits of exercise in the postpartum period (six to eight weeks after delivery) include decreased physical, mental, and general fatigue, in addition to improved fitness and motivation. It may even reduce depression, as long as the exercise relieves stress rather than provokes it.

Some women who exercise during their pregnancy and immediately resume exercise after giving (vaginal) birth aren’t at risk for post-partum complications (such as excessive or prolonged bleeding, uterine inversion, or infection). However, most women don’t meet the recommendations for exercise during pregnancy, so when you do resume exercise, you should do so gradually.

You may be concerned that exercise could decrease your milk supply; however, exercising women who drink enough fluid (stay hydrated) and eat enough to meet their caloric needs continue to produce enough breast milk. Composition of breast milk remains the same with moderate exercise intensity, but vigorous exercise can cause lactic acid to appear in the milk, which could affect how well your baby accepts your milk. Consider nursing before participating in vigorous exercise.

Returning to physical activity after giving birth depends on the individual. Be sure to discuss your exercise habits and plans with your doctor before resuming your regular workout routine. Visit this web page from The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to learn more about exercise in the postpartum period. Stay healthy for you and your baby!

Moms-to-be: Keep the “active” in active duty

Pregnancy is a special time for most women, but it can be especially challenging for women in the military. Exercise before, during, and after pregnancy to help keep you and your baby healthy.

There are more than 200,000 women in the military today—almost 15% of active duty members. Not surprisingly then, pregnancy in the military has become a hot health topic as more and more women choose to serve. Even though most women should exercise during pregnancy, pregnant women still engage in less physical activity than their non-pregnant counterparts. Being active during pregnancy has a lot of health benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight and reducing risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, stress, operative or assisted deliveries, and labor time. Remember this very important message – Don’t ignore pain or fatigue; listen to your body and consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns!

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that healthy pregnant women engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 150 minutes a week, which comes out to around 20-30 minutes a day. Women who already engage in vigorous-intensity exercise can continue physical activity at this level as long as they remain healthy and check with their healthcare provider about when to adjust activity levels (and what limits they should keep in mind). A healthy fetus is not adversely affected even by vigorous exercise, but be careful that you don’t overdo it. Remember that your body is changing with pregnancy—it may take more effort to do the same exercises you did before you were pregnant, and you may not realize when you’re pushing yourself too hard. Monitor your heart rate and use tools such as the talk test to gauge intensity. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has adopted the age-based heart rate ranges for pregnant women from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.

After giving birth, you may find that the “baby weight” gained during pregnancy is stubbornly hanging around.  Excess weight carries a whole host of adverse health risks, so keep moving—even walking for 45 minutes three to four times per week at low to moderate intensity can reduce risk of chronic disease. As with any exercise program, resuming activity after giving birth should be a gradual process (after consulting with your Doctor).

Certain general precautions should be taken with exercise during pregnancy. Avoid contact sports and exercises that increase the risk of falling. Avoid exercises that require stomach-down (supine) positions, with the exception of swimming during pregnancy, which doesn’t place stress on your joints like other forms of exercise do. Regular exercise before you get pregnant can help you prepare for the physical changes that occur during pregnancy and keep you ready and resilient for your family and your military service.

If you’re pregnant, keep in mind there isn’t any consensus about exercising at altitude, so it’s even more important to know the symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Take time to acclimatize if you travel to altitudes above 2500 meters and allow two or three days before exercising moderately. Wait for complete acclimatization before engaging in heavy exercise.

First and foremost, however, if you become pregnant, consult with your healthcare provider before starting or continuing any exercise routine. Also, each service branch has its own policies regarding pre- and post-natal exercise (available via HPRC’s pregnancy resources page).

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