Thankfully, it is becoming more well known that inadequate calorie intake to meet the energy demands of training can have detrimental health and performance impacts on athletes. The knowledge of this seems to be more well known amongst female athletes due to the hallmark sign of the loss of a period. But what about male athletes? While they don’t have the obvious indicator of a monthly menstrual cycle, they too can have negative health and performance outcomes from under fuelling and over exercising.
As a reminder, low energy availability results from a reduction in calorie intake and/or increase energy expenditure. This causes changes to the body systems to reduce energy expenditure, leading to a disruption of an array of hormonal and metabolic characteristics. This is why someone can have low energy availability, but still have a stable body weight. Low energy availability is the underlying cause of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), which can affect both male and female athletes.
Low energy availability can be inadvertent as many athletes simply just don’t know how much food they need to eat. However, disordered eating can be an underlying cause as well. Fortunately, it is becoming better known that male athletes, just like female athletes, can experience disordered eating. While no sports are immune to disordered eating, sports emphasizing leanness, including endurance, aesthetic, weight class and anti-gravitational sports, tend to have a higher frequency.
While not as well studied as female athletes, hormonal alterations also occur in male athletes with low energy availability. One of these hormonal alterations is a marked reduction in testosterone levels. Other hormonal alterations include alterations to luteinizing hormone, cortisol, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and triiodothyronine (T3). Similar to female athletes, these hormonal changes can also negatively influence bone health, leading to low bone mineral density and increased risk of bone injuries. Other potential negative impacts of low energy availability include loss of muscle and strength, underperformance and mood disturbances.
Male athletes, you too can suffer negative consequences as a result of low energy availability. Unfortunately, you don’t have a clear visible sign of a monthly period to know if this is happening to you. Have an honest look at your diet. Are you intentionally restricting food intake? Are you feeling more fatigued? Have you been underperforming or repeatedly injured? Ensure that you are properly fuelling your body for both your health and performance.
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