The human body requires energy for numerous functions including, growth, thermogenesis, reproduction, cellular maintenance, and movement. In sports nutrition, energy availability (EA) is defined as the energy available to support these basic physiological functions and good health once the energy cost of exercise is deducted from energy intake (EI), relative to an athlete’s fat-free mass (FFM). Low EA provides a unifying theory to link numerous disorders seen in both female and male athletes, described by the syndrome Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport, and related to restricted energy intake, excessive exercise or a combination of both. These outcomes are incurred in different dose–response patterns relative to the reduction in EA below a “healthy” level of ∼45 kcal·kg FFM−1·day−1. Although EA estimates are being used to guide and monitor athletic practices, as well as support a diagnosis of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport, problems associated with the measurement and interpretation of EA in the field should be explored. These include the lack of a universal protocol for the calculation of EA, the resources needed to achieve estimates of each of the components of the equation, and the residual errors in these estimates. The lack of a clear definition of the value for EA that is considered “low” reflects problems around its measurement, as well as differences between individuals and individual components of “normal”/“healthy” function. Finally, further investigation of nutrition and exercise behavior including within- and between-day energy spread and dietary characteristics is warranted since it may directly contribute to low EA or its secondary problems.
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Louise M. Burke, Bronwen Lundy, Ida L. Fahrenholtz, and Anna K. Melin
Louise M. Burke, Graeme L. Close, Bronwen Lundy, Martin Mooses, James P. Morton, and Adam S. Tenforde
Low energy availability (LEA) is a key element of the Female Athlete Triad. Causes of LEA include failure to match high exercise energy expenditure (unintentional) or pathological behaviors of disordered eating (compulsive) and overzealous weight control programs (misguided but intentional). Recognition of such scenarios in male athletes contributed to the pronouncement of the more inclusive Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) syndrome. This commentary describes the insights and experience of the current group of authors around the apparently heightened risk of LEA in some populations of male athletes: road cyclists, rowers (lightweight and open weight), athletes in combat sports, distance runners, and jockeys. The frequency, duration, and magnitude of the LEA state appear to vary between populations. Common risk factors include cyclical management of challenging body mass and composition targets (including “making weight”) and the high energy cost of some training programs or events that is not easily matched by energy intake. However, additional factors such as food insecurity and lack of finances may also contribute to impaired nutrition in some populations. Collectively, these insights substantiate the concept of RED-S in male athletes and suggest that a specific understanding of a sport, subpopulation, or culture may identify a complex series of factors that can contribute to LEA and the type and severity of its outcomes. This commentary provides a perspective on the range of risk factors that should be addressed in future surveys of RED-S in athletic populations and targeted for specific investigation and modification.