Ensuring that you’re eating adequate calories is not as simple as tracking body weight. Even if your weight is remaining stable, you could still be under-eating. This is because the body is able to reduce its calorie needs so that weight remains the same despite inadequate calorie intake. This has detrimental effects on health and performance. Read on for 5 signs that you could be under-fuelling.
1.Missing menstrual cycles
Inadequate calorie intake can cause hormonal changes that result in missing periods. This is known as functional hypothalamic amenorrhea. While many females may be happy to not have to deal with the hassle of a monthly period, the hormonal changes that occur with this are detrimental to health, resulting in harm such as reduced bone mineral density. While males don’t have the visible sign of a monthly period, these hormonal changes from inadequate calorie intake do still occur in males, resulting in reduced testosterone levels and are also detrimental to their health and performance.
2. Decreased performance and increased injury
With insufficient calorie intake, nutrient needs are likely not being met. Low ferritin levels caused by iron deficiency are common for athletes with inadequate calorie intake and can cause worse athletic performance. Often athletes with insufficient calorie intake fail to consume enough carbohydrates, which results in decreased glycogen stores, muscular strength, endurance performance, concentration and coordination. Those with inadequate calorie intake are also more likely to sustain injuries, especially bone injuries, such as fractures, due to the negative impact of inadequate calorie intake on bone density.
3. Changes in mood
Inadequate calorie intake is also associated with major mood disturbances, such as increased irritability and depression. Food should only take up a small part of your thoughts and time. If you find yourself thinking about food all the time, missing out on social engagements because it will impact your food choices or withdrawing from others, it could be a sign that you’re not eating enough or that your eating is becoming disordered.
4. Gastrointestinal issues
Inadequate calorie intake can also cause gastrointestinal dysfunction. When not enough calories are consumed, the body can slow digestion, leading to constipation, another potential sign of under-fuelling. Other gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramps, gas or bloating point towards poor calorie intake. Unfortunately, due to these symptoms, many athletes get inappropriately diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, leading to further food restriction, which can further perpetuate the under-fuelling.
5. You feel hungry
If you listen to your body, it will tell you when you need food. However, too many people have lost the ability to tell if they’re hungry, as a result of ignoring hunger signals and relying on external factors to determine what and when to eat. Often these external rules are enforced by diet culture such as eating at certain times or specific quantities of food. If you feel hungry, then you need more calories, regardless of how long ago you last ate or how much you have worked out that day.
Culture is way too obsessed with making sure we don’t eat too much, causing a fear of over-fuelling. As a result, far too many athletes are under fuelling, and health and performance are compromised. I challenge you to change this mindset. As an athlete, you should be more concerned about under-fuelling than over-fuelling.
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