Exercise may be the best medicine. But too much, without replacing dietary calories, could be the root of problems in female athletes. Lack of energy, poor bone health and menstrual changes make up the athletic triad — symptoms usually at the core of stress-related injuries in girls. Yet, primary-care physicians without specialized sports medicine training often miss these signs as symptoms of a larger bone-related issue. Dr. Amanda Weiss Kelly, chief of pediatric sports at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, offers advice to parents of female athletes.
If your daughter isn’t eating enough, her energy levels can lead to frequent injuries. “When you’re not getting enough calories in to support the exercise you’re doing, then you get the changes in your menstrual function and hormone changes,” says Weiss Kelly. That combination can lead to lower bone density. So make sure your athlete gets 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day — and that runners take in an extra 100 calories per mile.
Sleep also plays a key role in preventing stress-related injuries. “I really push to make sure kids get adequate sleep at night,” she says. A lack of sleep can lead to an increase in hormone and stress levels in teens, so she recommends nine to 10 hours each night to help adolescents perform well in every portion of their life. Parents should take away electronics at night and plan their child’s day to accommodate an adequate sleep schedule.
Watch Their Habits
After a slower summer training schedule, don’t expect your daughter to get right back into her regular routine once school begins, says Weiss Kelly. “That training error, whether you’re getting enough calories or not, is going to increase your risk of injury,” she says. She recommends female athletes increase activity by 10 to 15 percent per week to prevent overuse injuries. Monitor your child’s training routine and talk to a coach if concerns arise.