Do female athletes compromise on fertility?

Elite sportswomen have more fertility problems than other women, writes Dr Manjula BC
Last Updated : 25 March 2019, 20:59 IST

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Female athletes often like challenging workouts but their intense training makes them lean, reducing their capacity to conceive. According to fertility experts, around 18% of women dealing with infertility are athletes. It’s a common issue in long-distance runners and professional dancers too.

But any fitness freak who exercises excessively could experience reduced fertility for the same reasons. Females involved in competitive sport dent their chances of getting pregnant or lower their fertility rate as they are more likely to have menstrual disorders which result in slowing down the pregnancy rate. Missing or irregular menses means the body can’t produce eggs due to the lack of estrogen supply.

Runners, ballet dancers, gymnasts, and swimmers usually starve themselves and end up with low body fat. Our body needs 22% body fat to ovulate and become pregnant. Around 50% of ballet dancers don’t get their periods as per international studies. Women athletes or any female sportsperson’s body is under heavy physical stress, especially when they don’t eat to compensate for the energy they are expending. The body goes into starvation mode and the brain figures out that it is not a good time to get pregnant, hence the body and the reproductive hormones go into shut-down mode. A lack of estrogen in the body can have long-term health consequences such as osteoporosis and sometimes heart attack as well. Here’s how to do the balancing act:

Keep a track on your menses: Start noticing the change in the time between your periods and whether it coincides with your training schedule. Periods should come in an average of 28-30 days and can also range between 21 to 35 days. If the days are shorter or longer, then you might not be ovulating properly.

Irregular menses may be an indication of infertility: Monitoring ovulation makes sure that the body’s biological clock is working fine as it should be. If not, get your levels of Luteinising Hormones (LH) checked.

Maintain daily calorie intake: Your diet should have adequate levels of fat and protein. Fibre intake should be within recommended limits as large amounts can interfere with ovulation. As per recommendation, a woman athlete weighing between 50-60 kg should at least have 20-25% body fat and her daily calorie intake should be 1,900-2,000 calories.

Published 25 March 2019, 19:30 IST

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