Low Energy Availability- Are You or Someone You Know at Risk?

June 2, 2019

Casey Young, MS, RD, CDE – Registered Dietitian/Performance Nutrition Specialist- Bellin Health

If you have recently increased your running mileage in preparation for the Bellin Run, you may want to pay attention to your Energy Availability (EA). EA is the amount of dietary energy for all physiological functions after accounting for energy expenditure from exercise. Increases in training, either from more intense workouts or increased frequency, especially if you are one who skips meals, could put you at risk for low EA.

Generally, this isn’t a problem for most amateur runners, but for some, more commonly women, it may be a cause for concern. Women who are weight focused, those with a negative body image, or those who have disordered eating tendencies are at the highest risk.

Low EA can happen deliberately when a weight-focused athlete purposely restricts their intake with the goal of reducing their weight prior to competition. It can also happen as a result of not paying attention to content, timing, and/or frequency of meals and snacks which makes it difficult for some to keep up with high energy demands.

During low EA, some of the body’s important physiological functions can be disrupted, including metabolic rate, bone health, immunity protein synthesis, psychological health, and menstrual function. Performance can be impacted, and it could leave the athlete feeling overall run down.

Symptoms of low EA can include: chronic fatigue, anemia, frequent illness & infections, poor performance, absent or irregular menstrual cycles, stress fractures, irritability, GI problems, or weight loss.

A more serious concern, the female athlete triad, is a combination of menstrual dysfunction, low energy availability, and decreased bone mineral density. It is most common in adolescent and young adult female athletes. Complications can include infertility, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, increased risk of stress fractures and injury, as well as suboptimal peak bone mass acquisition, which can lead to increased risk of osteoporosis down the road.

If you suspect a friend or family member is at risk, talk to them and let them know your concern. They should be medically evaluated and receive a multidisciplinary approach for treatment. Treatment for the female athlete triad and low EA include modifications to diet and training regiments. The goal is to increase EA to a point where there is no longer an energy deficit. With consistently consuming adequate energy, symptoms should resolve.

It can be challenging to know what and how much to eat when training or active in sports. Bellin Health offers one-on-one consultations with a Registered Dietitian/Performance Nutrition Specialist to help individuals learn about their nutritional needs and suggestions to meet them. Consults are individualized and geared toward improving nutrition to promote optimal athletic performance and overall health. For more information, please call: 
Lee Hyrkas - 920.430.4728 or email [email protected] (Green Bay locations) or
Casey L. Young- 906.786.6488 or email [email protected] (Upper Peninsula locations)

The Female Athlete Triad -https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435916/
Sports Nutrition Facts Sheets- CPSDA-Energy Availability - http://www.sportsrd.org/?page_id=1747

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