Female athletes and active women must prioritize proper nutrition to optimize their training and performance. Insufficient energy intake, though, poses significant risks. While excess calories can lead to weight gain and health risks, not consuming enough can harm exercise results, muscles, and overall health.
Low energy availability is a problem when food intake doesn’t match high physical activity levels. This can trigger a condition known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), affecting metabolism, bone health, and menstrual function. It’s estimated that 25-60% of athletic women might face low energy availability due to reasons like body image pressures and specific sports demands.
Low energy availability can disrupt hormones and metabolism in as few as five days, leading to health risks like irregular menstrual cycles, weakened bones, and higher injury risk. Recent research involved 30 female athletes on a reduced-energy diet, and it showed that just 10 days of limited energy intake led to muscle loss, reduced metabolic rate, and thyroid hormone changes, even when consuming enough protein.
Public weigh-ins and extreme weight cuts in certain sports contribute to a harmful culture of weight loss. Awareness is low among professionals, with fewer than 50% identifying the condition. To address this, the International Olympic Committee introduced a RED-S Clinical Assessment Tool. Moving forward, raising awareness, identifying those at risk, and offering support are vital to preventing the negative impacts of low energy availability on female athletes’ well-being and performance.
Re-reported from the article originally published in The Conversation