By Steve Shadle
Most high school coaches would probably agree that the following principles – in this order – should guide any training program: nutrition, strength training and mileage/specific sport demand. Coaches also probably know less about nutrition than strength training and mileage/specific sport demand, and nutrition may be the most important consideration in training.
We have one belief about nutrition: you can’t get enough good food. The typical teenage diet contains too little of it. Our coaches have been fortunate to converse with Dr. Anne Loucks of Ohio University, who has studied the influence of food (energy in) and mileage (energy out) on the reproductive and skeletal health of young men and women.
Dr. Loucks’ work has made it clear: young athletes often do not get enough good food, and the harmful effects on performance and health are significant. “Energy in” must be increased to compensate for “energy out” in order for athletes to enjoy healthy physical, emotional and psychological development. Improved performance will be the bonus.
Dr. Loucks’ suggests that most high school athletes don’t get enough good nutrition to sustain even low or moderate levels of training. During puberty, boys gain muscle mass and are encouraged to gain weight to improve physical performance. In contrast, girls gain body fat during puberty and are encouraged to lose weight to improve performance and/or appearance. As a result, research shows that, pound for pound, female athletes consume 30 percent less food than male athletes. The consequences of this difference in eating behavior are extremely harmful.
Nutrition issues relating to female athletes are identified in ‘The Female Athlete Triad:”
- Disordered eating. Disordered eating refers to a wide spectrum of harmful eating behaviors used in attempts to lose weight or body fat. Under-eating reduces the levels in the blood of growth factors that are essential for increasing the rate of bone formation.
- Amenorrhea. Primary amenorrhea (delayed menarche) is the absence of menstruation by age 16. Secondary amenorrhea is the absence of three or more consecutive menstrual cycles after menarche. Caused in athletes by under-eating, amenorrhea reduces the level in the blood of estrogen, which is essential for reducing the rate of bone resorption.
- Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue leading to an increased risk of fracture. When bone resorbtion is faster than bone formation in adolescent athletes, an irreversible reduction in bone density occurs at the time of life when bone mass should be increasing most rapidly. As a result, some amenorrhea-affected athletes have the bone densities of 60-year-old women, and suffer repeated stress fractures and other injuries.
The Triad is often denied, not recognized, under-reported and treated late.
Coaching requires unique knowledge of the physical, emotional and psychological development of athletes. Coaches should be able to recognize and refer athletes with any component of the Triad. Parents should be educated about the warning signs of the Triad and should initiate medical care when signs are present. As the primary educator of athletes and parents about athletics, the local high school coach may be the person in the best position to establish prevention and treatment programs for the Triad or nutritional issues.
Boys on the other hand are bombarded with the idea of the perfect body. The use of supplements is quite common and has been encouraged by coaches. The long-term research on adolescent supplement use is still not very clear. It would be wise to suggest proper nutrition/hydration as the best choice.
One thing that is becoming increasingly clear is the drop in scores on self-esteem rating scales for boys and girls. Michael Neerney in his work with adolescents shows such drops. The “Cover Girl” image requires the elimination of 3,000 to 7,000 photos to produce the image of “what every girl should look like.” The popular action figure GI Joe scale of 5-10, 180 pounds, with a 32-inch waist and 13-inch biceps has been replaced by a WWF superstars scale of 7-0, 380 pounds, 30-inch waist, 54-inch chest and 27-inch biceps. What impact does this have on our students?
The NFHS and its Coaching Education Program has provided state associations and coaches organizations with all the necessary tools to assist coaches. Coaches have the professional obligation to educate themselves and make every effort to communicate the current research to their athletes and parents.
Sports Science Exchange Roundtable Number 27: The Female-Athlete Triad. Eichner, E.R., Loucks, A.B., Johnson, M. and S. N. Steen. Gatorade Sports Science Institute Volume 8 (1), pages 1-4, 1997. (http://www.strongerbones.org/pdf/GSSI%20-%20Female%20Athlete%20Triad.pdf)
Menstrual-cycle dysfunction. NCAA Guideline 2g. January 1986, Revised June 2002. (http://www.ncaa.org/library/sports_sciences/sports_med_handbook/2003-04/2g.pdf )
American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand: The Female Athlete Triad. C.L. Otis, B.L. Drinkwater, M. Johnson, A Loucks, and J Wilmore. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Volume 29, pages i-ix, 1997. (http://ipsapp006.lwwonline.com/content/getfile/2320/21/1/fulltext.pdf), then click links for “Position Stands” and “The Female Athlete Triad”
Medical Concerns in the Female Athlete. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Pediatrics Volume 106, pages 610-613, 2000. (http://www.aap.org/policy/re0003.html)
Energy Availability, Not Body Fatness, Regulates Reproductive Function in Women. A.B. Loucks. Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews Volume 31, pages 144-148, 2003.
About the Author:
Steve Shadle is the varsity cross country and track coach at South Sioux City (Nebraska) High School. He has coached at South Sioux City since 1977 and has a state cross country championship to his credit. He has also served as a middle school guidance counselor. Shadle recently completed a term on the NFHS Coaches Publications Committee. Also contributing to the article was Dr. Anne Loucks of Ohio University.