Energy Availability for Sport

Expert Opinion

Are you tired all the time? Are you unable to recover from workouts within reason? Do you struggle with low mood? Do you have reoccurring injuries that are not healing? Are you often ill/sick and take longer than usual to bounce back? For female athletes, has your menstrual cycle become irregular from your normal or has it stopped? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you will want to read on because you may in fact be in low energy availability (LEA).

Let’s begin with defining energy availability (EA).  In simple terms, EA is the amount of energy that remains from food after energy expended during activity or exercise and your activities of daily living. EA = Energy Intake – Energy Expenditure.

This is important to understand; when your EA is low, the amount of food you are eating is NOT meeting the energy your body is using for training, daily activities, and physiological functions. What then happens? Your body is forced to compensate by shutting down some functions to conserve energy for other functions (hormone production, immune system function, etc.). You may be eating nutritious foods. But if it is not enough, you are putting yourself at risk for low energy availability. 

Although greater risks for LEA are seen in aesthetic, judged, and weight class sports or athletes with a history of disordered eating, All athletes are at risk for LEA, especially when training volumes are high. Other reasons for LEA could be due to discomfort with eating certain foods and not knowing how to replace those foods in your diet. In any case, LEA can lead to poor health: greater risk for injury, illness, low mood or depression, poor reproductive health, reduced bone quality, and gastrointestinal disturbances. If that isn’t enough, LEA also impacts performance including decreased muscle strength, glycogen storage, endurance capacity, focus and coordination, energy levels, and training adaptations. This can interfere with showing up as the best version of you. 

You work hard to be where you are.  But the what, how much, when, where, and why of eating can be a lot to think about. Diet culture can also add to the confusion. The good news is that you can follow a few key guidelines that can help keep you both healthy and performing:

  • Develop and implement a planned schedule so you have and or have access to food and beverage when you need it – don’t go more than 3-4 hours without fuel!
  • Understand that as training volume and intensity increases, so must your training nutrition plan – it takes fuel to burn fuel, quality and quantity!
  • Work with a qualified sports dietitian to make sure what you eat is not only healthy, but also adequate in energy and consumed when your body needs it.