What is Low Energy Availability?
Low Energy Availability (LEA) can impact male and female athletes and occurs when you don’t have enough energy to sustain normal body functioning.
It’s calculated by subtracting the calories used for exercise from your daily energy intake. The number of calories remaining should be able to support your body’s functions; if it isn’t enough, it’s termed low energy availability (LEA).
While eating disorders can cause LEA, most athletes develop it unintentionally and without being aware of it. For example, LEA may happen if:
- Training volume/intensity progressively increases, but the amount of energy consumed remains the same
- You attempt to lose weight when the training volume is high
- No time to plan and prepare meals and snacks around their training
- Entire food groups are eliminated due to gut issues (ie remove dairy or gluten from their diet) without adding a dietary replacement
Low Energy Availability (LEA) can impact male and female athletes, and because symptoms may resemble those of fatigue and overtraining, LEA can be overlooked. Symptoms may include:
- Not adapting to training and unable to maintain quality of training
- Frequent injury and/or illness
- Failure to lose weight
- Gut disturbances
- Sleep disturbances
- Low mood and feeling unmotivated
The consequences of LEA can occur in as little as five days and be acute, intermittent or chronic. LEA will negatively impact your body’s skeletal, psychological, reproductive, gastrointestinal and/or endocrine systems. For athletes, this can manifest in:
- Decreased muscle strength,
- Delayed or prolonged recovery times
- Decrease in performance
- Increased occurrence of injuries
- Decrease in coordination and concentration
- Excessive fatigue
- Cessation/disruption in the menstrual cycle for women (Red-S)
- Reduced testosterone levels for men
If you suspect you might have LEA, please stop training immediately and consult a sports dietitian, sports psychologist and/or sports medical practitioner for assessment and treatment.