Tips for How Female Athletes Can Effectively Manage PCOS

STACK Expert Kait Fortunato explains the causes, symptoms and strategies for dealing with polycistic ovary syndrome.

Polycistic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that affects nearly 10 percent of reproductive age women. According to a recent study, it may be more common among athletes. It also may help explain why more female athletes than women in the general population don't menstruate.

Athletes with PCOS may be tempted to take extreme measures to manage its side effects, because they can affect performance.

What Causes PCOS?

Typically, after you eat a meal, your blood sugar rises and your body secretes insulin to help get your blood sugars (glucose) into your cells to be used as fuel. With PCOS, the body doesn't process insulin into energy properly, and the pancreas has to produce extra insulin to help convert glucose into energy.

Symptoms of PCOS

PCOS can cause weight gain in the abdominal area, difficulty losing weight and cravings for carbohydrates. It is also associated with overproduction of the male hormone androgen, which can have side effects such as hair growth on the face, acne and irregular periods. If you are not menstruating, make sure to visit your doctor to see if it is a side effect of PCOS or a side effect of disordered eating and lack of proper fueling.

Managing PCOS

Polycistic Ovary Syndrome is definitely a challenging disorder—it's hard to diagnose, and its side effects are tough to manage. The key is to regulate the type and amount of carbohydrates you eat at each meal.

  • Balance carbohydrates with protein and vegetables to help with portion control.
  • Choose carbs like fruits, whole grain breads and pastas, dairy, potatoes with skin, corn, peas and beans that are high in fiber and help slow down digestion of carbohydrates to help regulate blood sugars.
  • Keep processed sugar to a minimum but do not cut them out entirely.
  • There is evidence that women with PCOS have higher rates of oxidative stress and inflammation. Foods high in anxtiodants, such as nuts and fish and colorful fruits and vegetables, can help reduce inflammation and muscle soreness.
  • If one of your side effects is heavy bleeding due to irregular menstruation, make sure you are tested for iron deficiency.
  • Research also suggests that abnormalities in calcium balance may be responsible for irregular menstruation and are linked to vitamin D deficiency. Make sure you talk to your doctor about checking vitamin D levels, and vitamin supplementation if neccesary.

For more information about polycistic ovary syndrome nutrition, visit the PCOS Nutrition Center.

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