This following excerpt is mostly for our lady population -- but is also relevant for our gents. Ladies, if you or someone you know have irregular periods, please take time to read. Access the complete article from Precision Nutrition here.
Fit women often lose their menstrual period when training hard or dieting to lose fat. While some think it’s no problem, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In today’s article we explore why losing your period can be a negative thing. We also share some tips on staying lean and fit while maintaining your hormonal health.
[Note: we’ve also prepared an audio recording of this article for you to listen to. So, if you’d rather listen to the piece, click here.]
Why is hormonal health important?
Unless you’re planning on starting a family, infertility and losing your period might seem like no big deal. In fact, it might seem a nice break from the hassle of having periods.
Not so fast.
Remember that your period isn’t just about pregnancy. Rather, it’s a side effect of normal hormonal health.
In other words, losing your period (or having significant irregular periods) means that something is “off” hormonally.
Think of your period as a dashboard indicator light. When you lose it, the light starts blinking: Hormonal health alert! And you ought to pay attention.
In the case of hypothalamic amenorrhea, those messages we talked about earlier — from the hypothalamus to the pituitary to the ovaries — significantly diminish. And that means the production of hormones like estrogen and progesterone is dangerously reduced.
Why is that a problem? Your body needs these hormones for bone strength.
(They’re also required to keep you feeling healthy, energetic, and even-keeled psychologically.)
In fact, because of the link between estrogen, progesterone, and bone health, many fit young women who lose their periods end up with weaker bones than their eighty year old grandmothers.
And yes, that includes the ones like Maryann, who regularly perform weight-bearing exercise, and whose diets are rich in calcium and vitamins D and K.
Neither strength exercise or proper nutrition is enough to make up for hypothalamic amenorrhea.
But wait…men are at risk too
Although the syndrome may be called the “female athletic triad,” males are not immune to a similar phenomenon.
Just like in women, when a man’s energy availability is chronically low, his hormonal health is at risk.
We often see testosterone plummeting too. The same hypothalamus – pituitary – ovary/testis link is the culprit. It’s the same disruption pattern.
So if you’re a guy, please don’t think this article is irrelevant for you.
In fact, you should be especially cautious. After all, you don’t have that obvious signal — a missed period — to warn you that you’re at risk.
What you can do
If you’re a health conscious woman who works out and eats well take note: Losing your period isn’t something to take lightly.
If your menstrual cycle becomes irregular or stops altogether:
- Make sure you’re meeting your body’s energy needs.
- Increase calories or reduce exercise by a little bit.
- Ensure you’re getting enough rest.
- Consider taking a high quality vitamin/mineral supplement.
- Consider adjusting your carbohydrate intake to consume a handful of slow-digesting carbs at most meals. (And depending on your athletic needs, maybe even more.)
- Check your head. Mindset matters. Hormones respond to thoughts and feelings along with nutrients or activity.
And see your doctor to rule out underlying problems.
It’s never too late to start making healthier choices. Because, while you may not want to start a family today, you’ll want to be walking on those bones. For life.