Consuming adequate energy to support your training load is essential for optimal performance and overall health. An inadequate energy intake can cause a decrease in performance, low energy levels, poor recovery, increased risk of injury and much more. It is important to get the balance right when it comes to supporting your training load, meeting performance targets and managing body composition.
Relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) is a condition which is the result of inadequate energy intake and/or excessive energy expenditure. RED-S is a concept that was developed from the female athlete triad, a condition which affects active women with low-energy availability, menstrual dysfunction and low bone mineral density. Research has suggested that a similar condition can occur in male athletes resulting in numerous consequences including impairment of bone health. Low energy availability is defined as an energy intake inadequate to meet the energy expenditure of an individual, as well as other physiological needs. This is very common within the active population. Under fuelling and having an inadequate energy to support the level of training being undertaken can lead to many serious consequences. Some short-term consequences of RED-S include reduced energy and underperformance, reduced concentration and decision making, amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle) and an increased risk of injury including stress fractures. Long term consequences include chronic fatigue, bone breaks and osteoporosis and possible fertility issues.
One of the most common effects of an inadequate energy intake is a slower metabolism. Eating less doesn’t always result in weight loss. Many people will reduce their energy intake so low that their body goes into survival mode. It sees food as being scarce and stops using energy as efficiently. Most people will see a plateau in their weight at this point in time, with weight loss being their desired goal. The balancing act between consuming enough energy to support training and achieve body composition goals is quite challenging. A sports dietitian can guide you and give you strategies on the best way to achieve this.
A common concept I get asked about a lot is train low, compete high. This is a concept that refers to training in a low glycogen or depleted state and competing in a glycogen loaded state. The theory behind this is your body gets used to using fat as a fuel source. When you introduce carbohydrates, it doesn’t need to use them straight away. Therefore, the body can store the carbohydrates and use them later during competition. This doesn’t suit all types of sports. There is minimal evidence to support this type of diet in endurance events or high intensity exercise. Some athletes have reported a lack of energy at training and an increase in perceived effort resulting in poorer performance outcomes. Therefore, this diet is not beneficial for all athletes. It is extremely important this diet is followed under the guidance of a sports dietitian to prevent fatigue, decreased performance and possible RED-S.
Fuelling adequately for training and matching your energy intake to your training load is essential for so many reasons. Not only to achieve training and performance outcomes, but for overall and long-term health. Working closely with a sports dietitian can help you to reach your desired goals but in a healthy and structured approach.