The female athlete triad in student track and field athletes

  • Justine G Robbeson North-West University
  • Lize Havemann-Nel North-West University
  • Hattie H Wright North West University
Keywords: Disordered eating, bone mineral density, energy availability, menstrual cycle


Objectives: To explore the female athlete triad components in university track and field athletes, as well as calculate estimated energy availability. Design: Cross-sectional descriptive study design. Setting and subjects: Sixteen volunteer, white, female track and field athletes were recruited from North-West University. Outcome measures: Athletes completed a demographic, health and sport questionnaire; pathogenic body weight control questionnaire; menstrual history questionnaire; four 24-hour dietary recalls and one three-day diet and exercise record form. Body composition and bone mineral density (BMD) were assessed with dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. The bulimia, drive for thinness and body dissatisfaction subscales of the Eating Disorder Inventory, and the cognitive dietary restraint subscale of the Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire, was used to measure disordered eating behaviour. Estimated energy availability was calculated using a three-day dietary and exercise record form completed by the athlete on three heavy training days. Results: In the total group, 25% had menstrual pattern changes, 62.5% disordered eating behaviour, 73.3% (11/15) low estimated energy availability, and 12.5% reported stress fractures during the past two years. The average estimated energy availability was 18.5 (14.1-40.9) kcal/kg fat-free mass/day. Diet or fat-burning pills were the most popular pathogenic weight-control measures used by 37.5% athletes. Athletes with menstrual pattern changes had lower spine [1.043 (0.975-1.059) vs. 1.166 (1.090-1.234) g/cm2, p-value = 0.043] and femoral neck [0.905 ± 0.045 vs. 1.025 ± 0.027 g/cm2, p-value = 0.042) BMD. Altogether, 87.5% athletes presented with various components of. Conclusion: More than two thirds of this group of student track and field athletes had low estimated energy availability and more than three quarters were classified with various combinations of the components of the female athlete triad.

Author Biographies

Justine G Robbeson, North-West University
BScHon Student Centre of Excellence for Nutrition North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
Lize Havemann-Nel, North-West University
PhD Senior Lecturer Center of Excellence for Nutrition North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
Hattie H Wright, North West University
PhD Senior Lecturer Center of Excellence for Nutrition North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
How to Cite
Robbeson, J., Havemann-Nel, L., & Wright, H. (2013). The female athlete triad in student track and field athletes. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 26(2), 69-74. Retrieved from
Original Research