Negative Consequences of Low Energy Availability in Natural Male Bodybuilding: A Review

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Energy availability (EA) is a scientific concept describing how much energy is available for basic metabolic functions such as reproduction, immunity, and skeletal homeostasis. Carefully controlled studies on women have shown pathological effects of EA < 30 kcal/kg fat-free mass (FFM), and this state has been labeled low EA (LEA). Bodybuilding is a sport in which athletes compete to show muscular definition, symmetry, and low body fat (BF). The process of contest preparation in bodybuilding includes months of underfeeding, thus increasing the risk of LEA and its negative health consequences. As no well-controlled studies have been conducted in natural male bodybuilders on effects of LEA, the aim of this review was to summarize what can be extrapolated from previous relevant research findings in which EA can be calculated. The reviewed literature indicates that a prolonged EA < 25 kcal/kg FFM results in muscle loss, hormonal imbalances, psychological problems, and negatively affects the cardiovascular system when approaching the lower limits of BF (∼4%–5%) among males. Case studies on natural male bodybuilders who prepare for contest show muscle loss (>40% of total weight loss) with EA < 20 kcal/kg FFM, and in the study with the lowest observed BF (∼4 kg), major mood disturbance and hormonal imbalances co-occurred. Studies also underline the problem of BF overshoot during refeeding after extremes of LEA among males. A more tempered approach (EA > 25 kcal/kg FFM) might result in less muscle loss among natural male bodybuilders who prepare for contest, but more research is needed.

Fagerberg is with the Division of Applied Neuroendocrinology, Dept. of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society (NVS), H1, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Address author correspondence to Petter Fagerberg at Petter.Fagerberg@ki.se.
International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism
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