This week, we review the impact of low energy availability (EA) in athletes and its consequences to the body, mind and sporting performance.
The issue arises when insufficient calories are consumed to meet the body’s demands. Therefore, the mismatch between calorie expenditure and calorie intake becomes too high.
Energy availability = the amount of energy available for the body to use once exercise energy expenditure has been accounted for.
For example, athlete ‘A’ eats 3,500kcal/day, and burns 1,000kcal during training; therefore has 2,500kcal available to support normal physiological functioning.
Athlete ‘B’ does the same training as athlete A and burns 1,000kcal, but only eats 2,500kcal/day. Meaning that athlete B has less energy available (1,500kcal) to support the body.
Athlete ‘C’ however overly restricts calories to aggressively drop body fat – Athlete C does the same training as athletes A+B and expends 1,000kal, but only eats 1,500kcal/day. Therefore athlete C only has 500kcal available as a result.
If athlete C continually eats like this, large compromises in physical and mental health will occur. Essentially, energy conservation kicks in and compromises are seen in menstrual/libido, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular dysfunction and bone health.
In addition, anabolic hormones and basal metabolic rate become supressed, neuromuscular performance and muscle mass decrease, alongside stress, anxiety and depression increasing.
Relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S) is becoming more common in athletes, specifically those competing in leanness-demanding sports: Weight making athletes, endurance sports, physique athletes etc.
Detecting RED-S is difficult, but early warning signs are common in athletes with compulsive exercise behaviours and disordered eating behaviours – therefore contributing to a large difference between energy intake and expenditure.
The aim of an elite athlete is to become the best version of themselves in sport and life. But chronically under-eating with the aim of achieving this outcome is paradoxically moving them further away.
Body composition refinements will help athletic performance until a certain point – but the mindset of ‘skinny = fast’ and putting yourself in a hole to achieve this is futile.
Your athletic development and eating habits should complement, not complicate your health, sport and life.
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