Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Brian L. Pritschet


The purpose of this study was to compare factors that may influence menstrual irregularities of female adolescent high school cross-country runners, ranging from 13-18 years of age. A survey was utilized to determine the subjects age, year in school, exercise history, menstrual history, and training regimens and where the subjects sought nutritional information. The groups were separated according to their current menstrual status. One group (normal) consisted of subjects who currently had a normal menstrual cycle for at least one year (n=17), while the other group (abnormal) (n=18) experienced an irregular menstrual cycle.

A twenty item questionnaire was administered to collect data that would reveal the nutrition knowledge of the subjects. The nutrition knowledge questions addressed topics such as fluids and hydration, nutritional supplementation, the pre-competition meal, special dietary concerns, and general nutrition. Body composition was assessed using an age and sex specific skinfold equation (Slaughter et al., 1988).

No significant differences were observed (p>.05) between the two groups of adolescents for training behaviors, height, weight, or body composition. Unpaired t-tests were performed to determine if there were any statistically significant differences in the overall nutrition knowledge scores between the two groups. Chi-square analyses were performed to compare the number of correct answers between groups for each individual question.

The investigation did show differences in two of the nutritional knowledge questions, one question from the pre-competition meal category, and one question from the fluids and hydration section. The major finding was that 77% of the normal subjects answered the question about carbohydrate loading enhancing performance in sprinting events such as the 400 meter run correctly, and only fifty-five percent of the abnormal group answered the question about carbohydrate loading correctly. Twenty-nine percent, (5 out of 17) of the normal and 83.3% (15 out of 18) of the abnormal subjects correctly answered the question regarding consuming 2, eight ounce glasses of water for every pound of weight lost is adequate for rehydration.

Questions for each subtopic were grouped together, the biggest difference occurred in the special dietary concerns section. Sixty-four percent of the normal versus forty-nine percent of the abnormal subjects answered the questions in this subtopic correctly. This could be contributed to the focus of these five questions. The section focused on weight loss, body weight, exercise, and eating disorders, all things that are thought to be contributing factors to abnormal menstrual cycles.

This investigation also revealed other important information about female adolescent cross-country runners. Many of the subjects reported that they neglected protein in their daily diets, and primarily excluded breads, sweets, and fast foods from their daily routine. Coaches were the subjects leading source of nutritional information.

Neither nutritional knowledge nor attitudes greatly influence the food practices of many athletes of this young age. This study supports the suggestion that food habits of female athletes may have been shaped by a motivational desire to be thin rather than by nutrition knowledge and attitudes.

In this study, additional factors, situational or motivational, may have a influenced the subjects' dietary choices. One may conclude, that the subjects in this study did not choose to eat foods with great nutritional value because low-nutrient, energy-dense foods may have been more accessible and appealing than the preferable, nutrient dense foods.

Overall, the factors that affect the menstrual irregularities of female high school cross country runners could not be found with the procedures of this study. It may be concluded that not one specific measure is responsible for an adolescent to experience menstrual disorders, rather a varying combination of traits such as age, exercise history, nutritional habits, and nutritional knowledge.