Running on an empty stomach: Female athletes’ health and performance are at risk from undereating

For athletes and very physically active people, a well-planned and executed event is important Nutrition And exercise training The training program is crucial to maximize training and achieve peak performance.

Many people are aware that habitually consuming more calories than expended can lead to this weight gain. It also increases the risk of developing obesity and other metabolic health problems Type 2 diabetes.

However, female athletes and highly active women are at increased risk of the exact opposite being the case; that is, not eating enough.

If energy intake is reduced or not increased too much for too long a period of time to meet the demands of exercise, the consequences for exercise performance, muscle and health can be potentially severe.

Low energy availability

Food provides our body with energy to carry out basic bodily processes such as B. Regulating metabolism and promoting cell repair and cell growth through physical exercise.

When the energy consumed through food is no longer sufficient to meet the demands of high physical activity in athletes, a so-called state of imbalance occurs low energy availability. The low energy availability is the cause of the so-called sport phenomenon relative lack of energy in sport (RED-S).

RED-S refers to a syndrome in which multiple physiological functions outside the context of exercise are impaired. These include metabolic rate, menstrual function, and bone health.

Although there are significant differences between sports, it is estimated that this is the case 25 to 60 percent of athletic womenconsciously or unconsciously, may be in a state of low energy availability.

There are a number of reasons why someone can be in a state of low energy availability. Mental health issues such as an eating disorder, a desire to achieve a certain body image due to social media pressure, or participating in weight-sensitive or aesthetic sporting events such as martial arts or gymnastics increase the risk of low energy availability.

However, determining the actual prevalence of low energy availability, or RED-S, can be extremely difficult multiple reasons: Symptoms can be subtle, we often rely on self-assessments, and athletes may want to hide its presence for sociocultural reasons. There is also no well-established biomarker to screen for RED-S.

health and performance concerns

In an energy crisis, the body prepares for a period of starvation and goes into “survival mode,” trying to conserve as much energy as possible by reducing the most energy-consuming processes.

Low energy availability can disturb hormones and metabolism already after five days. If this continues, a long-term lack of energy can lead to more serious health problems such as menstrual cycle irregularities, impaired bone health, and an increased risk of injury.

We are a team of muscle physiologists from Canada and Denmark who work in nutrition and female physiology. We recently conducted a study to understand how low energy availability affects the muscles and metabolism of female athletes.

We put 30 young, healthy female athletes through an intensive training program aimed at increasing muscle mass, strength and improving cardiovascular fitness. At the same time, and with their prior informed consent, we controlled their food intake and reduced their energy expenditure to about half of what was considered optimal.

In this study, we showed that reducing the energy available to the body for as little as 10 days impairs the muscle building response during intense exercise. It also resulted in rapid loss of muscle mass, decreased resting metabolic rate (the number of calories burned at rest), and altered thyroid hormones.

We know that protein intake is essential Maximize muscle mass gains with movement training. One would think that the women in the study would be protected from muscle wasting during this energy crisis if they exercised vigorously and consumed enough protein.

Unfortunately this was not the case. The negative consequences of low energy availability occurred despite a protein intake of about 2.2 grams per kilogram of lean body mass per day – about twice as much Recommended daily dose

Even 10 days of low energy availability can have serious consequences for the muscles.

Low energy availability in top-level sport

There are numerous examples of athletes fainting or suffering health problems on stage dangerous weight loss practices. This is because public weigh-ins and drastic weight reductions are prevalent in several sports disciplines such as weightlifting and martial arts. These practices help: a toxic culture where many women athletes are constantly striving to lose weight.

Our results show that low energy availability can have short-term and potentially long-term negative consequences for female athletes’ training outcomes and overall health. We hope this study will provide athletes and coaches with a more nuanced understanding of the potential side effects of weight loss and low energy availability.

Something has to change

Current estimates suggest so less than 50 percent of professionals – Doctors, trainers, physical therapists, athletic trainers and school nurses – can recognize the condition and emphasize the need to improve knowledge of low energy availability.

The International Olympic Committee recently developed one Clinical evaluation tool RED-S. The tool still needs further validation, but aims to identify and segment athletes into high-risk, intermediate-risk and low-risk categories, and to facilitate return-to-game decisions.

To prevent low energy availability from affecting the health and performance of female athletes in the future, we must strive to raise awareness of the condition, improve our ability to identify at-risk individuals and target individuals suffering from low energy availability appropriately Provide support and treatment options.

James McKendryPostdoc in the fields of exercise physiology, muscle protein metabolism and ageing, McMaster University And Mikel OxfeldtPhD student, Department of Public Health, Aarhus University

This article was republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.

Tom Vazquez

Tom Vazquez is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Tom Vazquez joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with Tom Vazquez by emailing

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