Studies often indicate that women athletes do not consume enough food to make up for the vast amount of energy they expend. The energy needs of female athletes can differ drastically based on the sport they participate in, as evidenced by doubly labeled water evaluations of their overall energy expenditure (Hill & Davies, 2001, 2002; Schulz et al., 1992; Sjodin et al., 1994). These may range from 2,500 to 5,000 kcal/d. Despite the need for high calorie consumption, many female athletes restrict their consumption of food in order to lose fat and improve athletic performance or meet a visual physique goal (Manore, 2015; Sundgot-Borgen & Garthe, 2011).
Without consuming enough energy, choosing balanced meals, and timing food and drink correctly, it is difficult to take in the right amount of nutrients needed to remain healthy and active. It is hard to get the necessary nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and micronutrients) to keep healthy if the energy you consume is less than 1,800 kcal per day, particularly if you spend a lot of energy exercising (Manore, 2002). Women who are physically active and work out between 6-10 hours per week typically require around 2,500 calories a day or more in order to preserve their bodyweight (Cialdella-Kam et al., 2014; Gilliat-Wimberly et al., 2001; Hand et al., 2016). On the other hand, female athletes who compete and exercise for 10-20 hours or more in a week can need more than 3,000 calories a day (Martin et al., 2002; Melin et al., 2015). If athletes report eating fewer than what is considered as necessary, they may be misrepresenting their calorie consumption (Schulz et al., 1992), deliberately trying to shed weight or fat (Beals & Manore, 1998; Sundgot-Borgen et al., 2013), or be in peril of developing abnormal eating behaviors or an eating disorder (Beals & Manore, 2002; Bratland-Sanda & Sundgot-Borgen, 2013; Sundgot-Borgen et al., 2013), or be voluntarily removing certain foods from their diets as part of a health or performance plan (Cialdella-Kam et al., 2016).
When athletes have not consumed enough energy to balance out their expenditure during exercise, this is called “low energy availability” (Nattiv et al., 2007) or “relative energy deficiency in sport” (Mountjoy et al., 2014). RED-S is a term referring to a disparity between the energy taken in by an individual (measured in kcal/d) and the total amount of energy they expend (measured in kcal/d). The root of RED-S is little energy availability, which may be determined by subtracting how many calories are used in exercise each day from the total amount of calories taken in each day. An appropriate level of energy availability is thought to be more than 45 kcal per kilogram of fat-free mass (FFM) each day, while a minimal amount is thought to be less than 30 kcal per kg of FFM a day (Nattiv et al., 2007). If the total amount of energy consumed is small, then estimated average requirements will also be minimal.
Despite having energy expenditure that appears to be equal to the energy intake, an athlete can still have a low energy availability. Given the nature of the circumstances, it is possible for the metabolic rate at rest to be suppressed as a result of a decrease in energy consumption, and it could be lower than what is known to be typical for someone’s gender, body size, and physical activity. It is important to be aware of when to take measurements when EA evolves throughout a competitive season. Though it looks to be straightforward to find out EA, it is much more challenging to get precise numbers of the other elements used to figure it out (Guebels et al., 2014). Accurate monitoring of how much energy is being consumed should be noted over a period of seven to ten days while exercising (by watching, completing detailed records of what you eat, or taking pictures of the food). If someone is not giving an accurate report of their energy intake, then the appraisal of their EA (energy availability) will also be wrong (Guebels et al., 2014). It is critical that both RMR and EEE should be accurately measured, instead of being merely guesstimated, since such an estimation may cause errors to arise in the calculation of the EA. Ultimately, the tasks that make up EEE have to be specified (Guebels et al., 2014). Does the Estimated Energy Expenditure only include energy used while exercising while in training or during a competition, or would it also involve other forms of physical activity outside of official workouts? The following section outlines the effects that lack of energy intake has on an individual’s health.
RELATIVE ENERGY DEFICIT
If an athlete has the RED-S syndrome, be it intentional or unintentional, they may feel drained of energy, suffer from health problems, nutrient deficiencies, disrupted menstrual cycles, fragile bone health, and an absence of improvement in their performance. Furthermore, athletes may have issues with the amount of energy their bodies use, lowered resistance to diseases, their capability to create proteins, and the functioning of their cardiovascular system (Mountjoy et al., 2014). What is the best way to determine if a physically active woman is getting enough energy? Here are some of the most conspicuous signs and symptoms of inadequate calorie intake in busy women. Also, the International Olympic Committee Specialist Group created the RED-S Clinical Analysis Tool (CAT) so athletes can be assessed to check if they have RED-S (Mountjoy et al., 2015).
- Exercise Associated Menstrual Dysfunction. When energy intake does not cover the demands of energy expenditure it may be manifested as oligomenorrhea (irregular periods) or amenorrhea (no period ≥ 3 months), especially during the training and competitive season (Nattiv et al., 2007). The irregularity or cessation of menses is a sign that the body does not have enough fuel for exercise and training, activities of daily living, and reproductive functions. If a female athlete is on oral contraceptives, it is important to know if she is using these because of menstrual irregularities. Remember, a female athlete does not have to have an eating disorder or disordered eating to have menstrual irregularities (Cialdella-Kam et al., 2014; Kopp-Woodroffe et al., 1999; Manore et al., 2007).
- Weight loss. Once other health issues are eliminated, weight loss while training hard is a clear sign of inadequate energy intake (Manore, 2015). If an athlete wants to lose body fat and weight, this process should be planned at a time when exercise energy demands are lower and there is more time to focus on energy intake and food selection (Manore, 2013). Typically, it is not recommended that athletes diet for weight loss during periods of high-level training or during the competitive season. Finally, any focus on weight loss should emphasize the preservation of lean tissue while maximizing fat loss.
- Poor growth. For young athletes, if growth is below the recommended levels, it may be due to inadequate energy to fuel both exercise and growth. Poor growth may be most evident in high energy demanding sports (e.g., endurance sports) or weight sensitive sports (e.g., gymnastics, diving or dance).
- Fatigue/irritability. If the athlete is finding it difficult to concentrate during exercise, or is shaky or lightheaded while training, it may be due to inadequate energy intake. This can be especially true if an athlete has not eaten for 3-4 hours before a training session, or if they do a long, hard run before eating breakfast.
Additionally, not having enough nutrients or nutrients from improper food sources can have a big effect on energy levels and health status.
Weight training is essential for preserving muscle tissue when trying to lose weight. It can reduce the decrease of muscle mass by encouraging the production of muscle protein. It has been widely acknowledged that taking protein supplements can enhance the impact of strength training on muscle protein synthesis. It has not yet been established what the best amount of protein to take in is in order to achieve weight loss and maintain or build muscle.
Who and what was studied?
Forty men who were overweight (the age of the men averaged 23 years, Body Mass Index 29.7, and 24.2% body fat) took part in a trial that was single-blinded.
The individuals taking part in this study were not involved in any kind of structured workout routine, but they did engage in recreation physical activity on a weekly basis, with most doing so one to two times a week. The group had no experience with preparation at the moment, but they all did have prior knowledge of physical activity; for instance, former rugby or hockey players. A population that has an average pre-test 1RM bench press of more than 100 kilograms is not considered to be untrained.
The two groups of participants underwent a major daily reduction in caloric intake, where each group had their daily energy requirements diminished by 40%. The CON group ate a daily average of 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight totaling 2,284 calories which was composed of 15% protein, 50% carbohydrate, and 35% fat. The PRO group consumed 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight daily, totaling 2,409 calories consisting of 35% protein, 50% carbohydrate, and 15% fat.
The participants were supplied with food for every meal over the four-week period of the intervention. Both groups additionally drank beverages consisting of whey protein right after their training sessions. The amount of carbs was approximately the same for both groups, at around 45 grams. However, the amount of protein in the PRO group was significantly higher, at 49 grams compared to just 15 grams for the CON group. The members in this study didn’t know what group they belonged to, and the beverages that were given to them after their workouts accounted for over 90% of the daily macronutrient variations between the different groups.
An important aspect of this study was the six days of rigorous exercise sessions every week, which included:
- Two days of a full body resistance training circuit (10 reps/set for three sets at 80% of the participant’s one repetition max, with the last set of each exercise to volitional failure and one minute rest between sets)
- Two days of high intensity interval training (one session of four to eight 30 second cycling sprints with four minutes of rest between sets, and one session of 10 sprints for one minute with one minute of active recovery)
- One day of a 250-kJ cycling time trial (about 20 minutes)
- One day of a plyometric bodyweight circuit
Participants were also provided with a pedometer and urged to take a minimum of 10,000 steps every day. If two days in a row, less than 10,000 steps were recorded, they were instructed to do more steps in the subsequent days so that their average daily steps stayed at or above 10,000.
This four-week experiment was not able to be seen by participants and assigned 40 men to reduced-calorie diets (40% energy reduction) that had either a lower protein (1.2 g/kg/day) or a larger protein (2.4 g/kg/day) content while they exercised six days each week. The effects of the intervention were evaluated by checking body composition, testing strength and aerobic capacity, and monitoring blood markers before and after its implementation.
What were the findings?
The two groups both experienced a similar drop in their weight, which was approximately 3.5 kilograms, with no distinction in the amount of weight reduction between the two. Despite remaining the same in the control group, lean body mass (containing muscle) increased in the high-protein group, amounting to a gain of 1.2 kilograms. This increase was also notable when compared to the control group. The weight loss of both parties was considerable, with the PRO group losing 4.8 kilograms of fat compared to CON’s 3.5.
Both the groups exhibited approximately the same gain in strength and aerobic and anaerobic stamina. The same type of alteration in blood hormone levels was evident between the two groups, with a few alterations which could be considered beneficial. Total and free testosterone levels went down, as well as insulin and IGF-1, while an uptick was seen in growth hormone, ghrelin, and cortisol. The PRO group is the only one who showed amplified blood urea nitrogen and speculated glomerular filtration rate, which implies the kidneys are disposing of the extra waste products of protein metabolism.
Cortisol has achieved notoriety as the “stress hormone”, and has the potential to decrease muscle-building, promote muscle destruction, and cause an increase in fatty tissue (especially visceral fat). There was a clear link between a decrease in cortisol and an increase in lean body mass, which meant that higher cortisol levels had a slightly smaller effect on an increase in lean body mass. The amount of cortisol in the body was also somewhat linked to modifications in fat mass, with smaller rises in cortisol amount mildly connected to higher reductions in fat mass.
After a one-month trial period, both groups saw similar success in dropping weight, however, the PRO group saw an increase in their lean body mass greater than that seen in the CON group. Additionally, the PRO group had a greater reduction in fat content compared to the CON group. All measures of performance improved similarly between groups.
What does the study really tell us?
This study is highly impressive as it proves that one can reduce their weight while gaining strength. The guidelines from the U.S. recommended 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram per day, however, it has been seen that consuming three times this quantity is more successful for improving physical build than ingesting 1.5 times the recommended amount.
This research demonstrates the necessity of increasing protein intake in conjunction with weight training exercises to boost body composition, mainly retaining lean muscle mass, while slimming down. This group of individuals was undergoing an intensive physical activity program while consuming 60% fewer calories than usual. The experiment required those involved to do six workouts per week under supervision and to take one 10,000 step walk each day. At the end, the individuals involved in the activity were given a whey protein drink following their exercise. Research suggests that whey protein is more effective at activating muscle protein synthesis than any other kind of protein, and the period after exercising could be the perfect opportunity to build the muscles.
The researcher who was interviewed observed that only a week into the study, the drastic decrease in calories caused the participants to become completely preoccupied with food. They were talking about food incessantly and it was at the forefront of their thoughts. This implies that some (or all) of the weight diminishing accomplished by the participants was nullified upon their return to a place or situation where they could eat as much as they wanted. Although the results are still noteworthy, this might direct attention more towards short-term solutions (e.g. bodybuilding competition, practice for physical aptitude tests in the fire brigade or police services, and so on) instead of using it as an ongoing technique for losing weight.
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