Taking care of an active female population

When considering health, exercise and athletic performance in the female population there are some important considerations to be aware of. The term 'Female Triad Syndrome'  has been around for some time but have you heard of RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport)? It might sound like something out of a Sci-fi movie, or only for the Pros, but actually it's something that could affect us all.

Sports and exercise medicine is ever evolving and society and social media is having an effect on what we talk about, what makes it into the media and what crosses over from professional sport into the general population.
A growing interest (obession)? Into 'healthy living', exercise, dietary changes and body awareness means that women are under ever-increasing pressure to look a certain way, train a certain way, eat a certain way - and yet many don't know how this can affect their long-term health, reproductive health, bone health, sports performance, injury risk etc...

Essentially it's about understanding how your body uses energy, and if it has enough energy available to keep all your systems working well. What happens if there is a significant imbalance? RED-S is a subject that is fairly widely discussed in the world of professional sport, but it's a condition which can be seen in the general population too, as particularly young females, are making changes to their diet, over-training and constantly striving to lose weight or change their body shape.

Women have to consider their menstrual cycle when they are building training programmes or changing diet or nutritional intake. If you're not in the habit of tracking your periods it's a good idea to start. We might all be aware of the usual symptoms of pain, tiredness, increased or decreased appetite, decreased motivation to exercise while you're on your period, but you might be less aware that training, nutrition and stress can actually affect the regularity of your cycle, and in some cases even cause your periods to stop all together.

This condition is called 'amenorrhea' and should not be taken lightly. Often, particularly in the younger population, women don't see this as a cause for concern or are of the belief they can sort out their cycle at a later date once they have achieved their 'goal' or 'performance in sport' or 'desired weight'. However amenorrhea is usually just one symptom of a number of other underlying physiological changes that can put your body at risk of other problems. These include, low iron levels, low hormonal levels associated with reproductive health, low bone density (leading to injuries), low mood, Gastrointestinal problems, poorly functioning immune system, fatigue and poor performance in chosen your sport or exercise. Eventually any one of these symptoms could prevent you from taking part in exercise or sport all together while you recover, and these changes aren't always reversible. It's really important that we all understand that there can be serious long-term effects on a woman's health caused by RED-S.

The simple advice to avoid such problems are to:

- monitor your routine
- rest from training when you feel tired (this may or may not coincide with your period)
- ensure you eat enough of the right nutrients to support your energy output (carbs are not the evil they have been portrayed as)!
- be careful not to overload your training programme if you already have a very busy lifestyle, and always prioritise getting enough sleep.

If you do have concerns about how your training or nutrition might be affecting your health it's always best to seek the advice of a professional, be it your GP, physiotherapist, nutritionist or trainer. While there are many positives to be taken from this new era of 'fitness and wellbeing' it's also important to ensure we are well-informed about the right way to truly lead a healthy lifestyle.

Emma Bradley