Want to run the Boston Marathon one day? Play it safe with your health, ladies

If running a marathon were easy, we’d all be doing it. In reality, it takes incredible mental endurance and physical dedication paired with a strong desire to succeed. But if you really want to go the distance, don’t put your body at risk by overtraining.

Female athletes, especially those who participate in sports that emphasize being lean—like running—can be susceptible to the female athlete triad, an interrelationship of bone health, menstrual cycle and energy availability (caloric balance and nourishment).

Most of the time, female athletes get enough quality calories to maintain healthy energy availability, normal monthly menstrual cycles and healthy bone density. However, some runners, who might feel pressure to be as lean as possible, take in fewer calories than their body requires. This can result in irregular (or loss of) periods and changes in hormones, which can lead to low bone density and an increase in fractures and osteoporosis.

Some runners believe that losing weight and pausing their periods is a good way to go from average to excellent, but in fact the opposite is true: According to our globally ranked experts at Boston Children’s Female Athlete Program, those who keep all three parts of the female athlete triad in check are more likely to have healthier bones and reproductive systems throughout their lives, paving the way for years of successful running.

Complications of the female athlete triad:

  • menstrual dysfunction and infertility
  • increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • decreased immune function
  • increased risk of stress fractures
  • difficulty building bone, maintaining muscle mass and recovering from injuries
  • increased risk of depression, low self-esteem and anxiety disorders

Though female athletes might struggle with changing their mentality about weight, they can rest assured that treating the female athlete triad makes athletes more competitive, not less, by decreasing their risk of injury and improving exercise recovery.

How can female athletes go the extra mile?

  • Be aware of your risk. If you compete in weight-class sports and aim to reduce your weight before a competition, or if your sport emphasizes leanness or aesthetics, like gymnastics, ballet, figure skating, lightweight rowing or running, you may be at a higher risk. But keep in mind that any female athlete may suffer from components of the triad.
  • Recognize pressures and reach out for support. If you feel pressured to reduce your weight for a sport or to use harmful dieting methods before a competition, ask your doctor for help communicating with your coach and/or other athletic community members to prioritize your health.
  • Talk to your doctor (see below) about your weight, competitive pressures, menstrual cycle, stress fractures, exercise, eating habits and overall health.

To make an appointment with a sports medicine expert at Boston Children’s Female Athlete Program, call 617-355-3501. Visit bchil.org/femaleathlete to download our helpful guides on issues like the Female Athletes and ACL Injuries, Optimal Nutrition for Female Athletes and the Female Athlete Triad.

Want to interact with more world-renowned sports medicine experts and learn how to stay as healthy as possible while competing? Register for the Female Athlete Conference: Strategies for Optimal Health and Performance today.