Those in the sports world have probably seen the New York Times opinion piece by a 23-year old runner, who at the age of 17 was the fastest girl in America. But then her body broke down as her coaches demanded she be thinner and thinner until she developed an eating disorder. Her athletic career was derailed as she developed amenorrhea (lack of normal menstrual cycles) and broken bones from low bone density. Many other female athletes have come forward saying that girls and young women are forced to meet an athletic standard for training, body composition, and weight based on how boys and men develop.
There is a new understanding of the causes of what in the past we called the Female Athlete Triad; the longstanding thought was that disordered eating led to menstrual dysfunction which led to poor bone health. Research now shows that the underpinning of that syndrome is dietary energy intake…. or in other words, having enough energy (calories) to support growth and development and the added energy cost of exercise, including training and competition. The old notion of a triad has been expanded to consider on a spectrum.
Many young swimmers are caught in a desire to eat healthy, eat “clean,” and adopt a plant-based diet, worthy goals to be sure. However, ensuring that enough calories are eaten throughout the day can be challenging when school, training, social activities, and family life get in the way of planning meals and snacks. Without enough calories from food, physiological functions can go awry including metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immune function, protein synthesis, and psychological health.
Parents are often the gatekeepers for young swimmers, so balancing healthy foods with enough calories can be a challenge. Here are some suggestions for energy-dense and healthy food choices for swimmers:
Eating healthy while getting enough energy is possible; it takes some planning with plenty of snacks. To determine individual energy needs for young swimmers, a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition is your best resource.
Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian, sports nutritionists, and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents, and coaches at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In an effort to more effectively tell the stories of our entire membership, we have created this news tip form.
When you hear of a story that is unique and interesting to you, it's probably interesting to someone else too. You're the ear to the ground of this organization - We heard you loud and clear and we need your help. Please fill in each of the fields in this form as completely as possible with the pertinent information so a writer could potentially follow up for a story. The more information you can provide, the better. Thank you for all you do for the swimming community.