Calorie-restricting female runners at risk of lifelong bone issues, study finds

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The study, published in the January edition of the journal Eating Behaviors​, was set up as a cross sectional study of competitive female cross country runners of 14 to 17 years of age.  The study was conducted by researchers associated with several California universities.

The goal of the study was to see if runners falling into the high Cognitive dietary restraint (CDR) group were also at risk for problems associated with the so-called female athlete triad.

Female athlete triad

The female athlete triad is a combination of disordered eating, amenorrhea and osteoporosis. The issue is exacerbated in sports with high overall energy expenditure, like cross country running, coupled with a perceived advantage for being as lean as possible to achieve the best strength to weigh ratio.  The issues can be further heightened if coaches are not well versed in the best nutrition strategies for female athletes.

In the present study the researchers recruited 40 competitive high school cross country runners who were running at least 25 miles a week and were competing in events of at least a mile in duration.  They used a validated method of assessing energy intake by taking each runner through a detailed food intake questionnaire with the help of a researcher every day for the duration of the 7-day study.

The participants also reported on menstrual function and detailed their training load.  On the eighth day of the study the athletes performed a treadmill test to assess energy expenditure and were assessed for osteoporosis via an X-ray scan.  To assess CDR, the researchers used a Three Factor Eating Questionnaire (TFEQ). Of the 40 participants, 13, or 40%, met the criteria for CDR.

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