A reader asked me yesterday about missing her period after starting a new running program. This is a fairly common question for both runners and triathletes – perhaps even more common among triathletes than runners.
Missing periods is not uncommon with athletes, but it is something that should be taken seriously and attended to. Typically we see this in one of two types of situations: 1) women that are working out really, really, really hard or 2) women that have a nutritional issue or eating disorder. Both groups of women actually have the same problem – those women that are working out particularly hard are creating a nutritional issue by not getting enough calories to support their exercise load.
The technical term for loss of menstruation is Amenorhea. What’s going on here is that the body doesn’t ovulate because it’s not getting enough calories to support a pregnancy. If you think like a stone-age cave woman for a minute, this is a defense mechanism that if you don’t have any food around then it isn’t the best time to have a baby.
If you’re missing your period, then it is very important to look at your diet and make sure that you’re getting enough to eat, as well as enough protein and iron in your diet.
If you are consistently missing your period, you definitely need to take care of the problem, because you may be nutritionally lacking to the extent that other health related problems might emerge. There is evidence that suggests that women that miss their periods due to Amernorhea having a higher incidence of stress fractures, osteoporosis and other diseases later in life.
It is always a good idea to see your doctor when your cycle changes to make sure that something else medically isn’t causing the change. But the first step is to seek the help of a nutritionist to look at your diet and see if you’re getting enough calories, protein and iron. There are also many great books on nutrition for athletes that will talk about the problems and offer suggestions. Nancy Clark’s Food Guide for Marathoners is one such book that has a section on Amenorhea in it.
If you are a vegetarian, you may be even more susceptible to Amenorhea, as you may be having difficulty getting enough protein, Iron and calories in your diet.
Make sure to see your doctor or talk to a nutritionist about this or other changes in your health.
Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon, triathlon and ultra-endurance racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at http://coachjoeenglish.wordpress.com or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also available on Yahoo! 360 and My Space.