Young, Female, Running & Dieting? Read This

Posted by Filed Under: Science and Research

xray-shoe-runner.jpgWhen we think of running nutrition, our minds turn to what foods will help us run faster, better, easier. What foods give our bodies the pep they need to sustain our high-energy pursuits. But, there’s also that other consideration: how can not eating enough, especially during critical growth periods in our lives, affect our body structure and health when we take out more than we put in?

Researchers at San Diego State University in California and Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in Utah looked at the eating and exercise habits of a group of adolescent female cross-country runners. Their report in this month’s American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discusses the possible relationships between disordered eating and menstrual irregularity and low bone mineral density in young female runners, ages 13-18 years old.

To start, the researchers wanted to begin to understand which components of disordered eating (shape, weight or eating concerns and dietary restraint) may be associated with menstrual irregularity and low bone mineral density. They used answers supplied by 93 young runners in an Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire (EDE-Q) to divide them into groups for analysis on menstrual status and bone measures.

In the end, the researchers found that dietary restraint- “the intent to limit calorie intake, whether or not the effort was successful”- was the component of disordered eating most associated with low bone mineral density. High weight or shape concerns or reported pathological behaviors such as binge eating, vomiting and excessive exercise were not associated with low bone mineral density, unless they occurred alongside dietary restraint. Though they did not observe any significant differences in menstrual function among the groups, the results did reveal a trend toward more menstrual irregularities in runners with high dietary restraint than in runners with high weight or shape concern scores on the EDE-Q.

Though the results of this study are only a start to understanding the causes of menstrual dysfunction and low bone mineral density in adolescent female runners, according to study author Michelle Barrack, the hope is to “determine the eating and exercise behaviors that promote bone deposition in young runners so to provide practical recommendations that allow for optimal performance, injury prevention and accumulation of an adequate peak bone mass.” Future studies will further investigate how factors such as diet and exercise relate to the hormones that regulate menstruation and bone metabolism in young female runners. The results may offer clues on how to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis and osteoporosis-related fractures.

About Nora

I am a native Californian currently settled and running my way bit by bit around the South East of England. Besides running, my training activities include biking, hiking, swimming, yoga, and tap dancing in place while in line at the grocery store. I am addicted to photography and run most races with my camera in hand, just in case.

  1. Jimmy Clark on January 23rd at 6:12 am

    This is my first time on this blog and I really like the content ; ) Have you guys checked out yet? It’s mainly for healthy weight loss, but they also get into some great nutrition and exercise advice.

  2. Katharine on January 24th at 3:19 am

    A great article covering a problem which is very prevalent amongst young female runners and one which we should all approach with care and sensitivity. The more knowledge we have the better equipped we will be to be able to identify and help these young athletes.

  3. Andrea on January 29th at 12:24 pm

    Congratulations to accomplished study author, Barrack, without whom there would be no above article.

  4. Cathy on January 29th at 1:58 pm

    This is very important research, and this information needs to get out to coaches, and athletic departments, as well as to parents of high school (and NCAA) athletes. This is the first generation of young female athletes in high school and college who have been able to benefit from participation in a wide variety of sports because of Title 9. Unfortunately, dietary restraint in females seems to go hand in hand with intense participation in some sports. Documented research such as this study by Ms. Barrack on the athletes’ bone health while they are heavily involved in athleteics is very important. Kudos to Ms. Barrack and fellow investigators for timely and practical research.