Sports engagement is higher than ever among high school and college age women, according to the Women's Sports Foundation. But with that growing corps of student-athletes comes a potential for an under-acknowledged syndrome: Many young female athletes are suffering from something called female athlete triad syndrome, according to NPR, which comes with low bone density, low energy and irregular menstrual cycles.
In other words, they aren't eating enough.
Although doctors used to be on the lookout for female athlete triad syndrome in extremely skinny women, they're now realizing how common such malnourishment is in a variety of body types -- especially when it comes to high school and college athletes.
"These athletes can come in any shape, form or weight. It's not just that typical ballerina physique that we're looking out for anymore," orthopedic surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin told NPR.
Though exercise fanatics might put a cap on calories in an effort at health -- or maybe they just don't know how much they should be eating to stay nourished -- research shows that most young female athletes need to consume about 3,500 calories per day.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, one-third of female athletes "reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa," and adolescent girls are the most at risk for facing long-term consequences because of the biological changes and growth spurts going on during their teen years.
Studies show that playing sports as a teen is associated with lifelong fitness and feeling healthier and happier, but it's just as important for young women to know just how crucial calories and nutrients are.
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