Eating less to lose weight or play better can lead to big problems for girls who play sports.

If young female athletes don’t get enough calories to make up for what they burn during practices and games, they might miss their periods and have weak bones. The combination of a poor diet, periods that aren’t regular and weak bones is called the female athlete triad.

“Some girls may feel pressure to play sports at a high level. They focus on losing weight because they think it will improve their performance,” says Terra Blatnik, MD, FAAP, orthopedic specialist at the Washington University and St. Louis Children’s Young Athlete Center. “But athletes who don’t meet their energy needs don’t play very well. Not getting enough calcium, carbohydrates, fat and protein can cause fatigue and increase a girl’s risk for injury.”

Dr. Blatnik adds that the female athlete triad can cause problems later in life. It may cause a girl to break more bones or have heart and blood vessel problems when she’s older.

Food = Fuel

Your daughter can avoid the female athlete triad if she eats the right amount of calories and a good variety of healthy foods. Young female athletes need at least 2,000 to 2,400 calories each day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Set a good example for your daughter and eat a healthy diet yourself. Also, let her know successful athletes come in all shapes and sizes.

“If your daughter is eating less than normal, missing her period, feeling tired a lot or losing weight unexpectedly, she should see her pediatrician,” Dr. Blatnik says. “Working with a nutritionist and a psychologist may help.”

Need a pediatric orthopedic specialist to help your child get back in the game? Call 314.454.KIDS (5437) or toll-free at 800.678.KIDS to schedule an appointment.