When Dr. Kate Ackerman was in medical school 20 years ago, she’d heard of the term “female athlete triad.” Coined in 1997 by the American College of Sports Medicine, it described the constellation of three disorders — amenorrhea (a lack of menstrual periods), bone-thinning osteoporosis and disordered eating — that is sometimes seen among women athletes. It’s triggered by extreme exercise and low body weight. But other than that descriptive term, Ackerman says, not much sports science research had been published about female athletes.
Thanks to Ackerman’s research… the female athlete triad is now often more broadly known as relative energy deficiency in sport, or RED-S — essentially, a problem of athletes underfueling…. RED-S can also include depression, impaired cardiovascular and immune function. The physical strain can negatively affect athletic performance.
“We are applying so much information to women that is based on men,” Ackerman says, “that once we start doing these studies in women that are specifically for women and having results that we can then apply to women’s training, I’m anticipating that we will see huge improvements in performance. We have not even begun to tap the potential of female athletes.”