Can Diet Help Manage Amenorrhea?

A woman has missed three or more consecutive periods and she isn't pregnant, she may have secondary amenorrhea. Some female athletes suffer from amenorrhea not because of their exercise intensity, but because their energy intake is too low to support their activity levels.

Amenorrhea can be linked to serious health problems, including the loss of calcium from bones, endometrial hyperplasia and heart disease. Women suffering from secondary amenorrhea have a higher incidence of stress fractures and long-term problems with osteoporosis.

Any woman experiencing amenorrhea should see her doctor, but these sports nutrition strategies can help female athletes match their energy intakes to their energy outputs.

  • Take a Break from Dieting
    Rather than fixating on a number on the scale, the athlete should achieve a natural, healthy weight given her age, body composition and genetics. Small calorie deficits can help the athlete lose excess body fat without compromising energy levels.
  • Eat Adequate Protein
    When an athlete under eats, her body burns protein for energy, and some of that protein may come from muscles. This causes muscle wasting, which leads to weaker bones and stress fractures.
  • Eat Calcium-Rich Food at Each Meal
    Exercise alone is not enough to keep bones strong. Inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake increases the risk of low bone-mineral density and stress fractures, especially in female athletes with low energy intakes.
  • Get Adequate Vitamin D
    Sunlight on the skin helps produce vitamin D, but indoor athletes who get little sun should choose foods fortified with vitamin D in addition to eggs, mushrooms and fatty fish such as salmon.
  • Don't Fear Fat
    Healthful fat should constitute 20 percent to 35 percent of energy intake. Fat provides essential fatty acids and helps absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K, all of which help keep an athlete healthy and performing well.
Nancy Clark
Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, is the author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 5th Ed. (Human Kinetics 2013). She has a private practice in Newton, Mass.