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Ida A. Heikura, Louise M. Burke, Dan Bergland, Arja L.T. Uusitalo, Antti A. Mero, and Trent Stellingwerff

Purpose: The authors investigated the effects of sex, energy availability (EA), and health status on the change in hemoglobin mass (ΔHbmass) in elite endurance athletes over ∼3–4 wk of live-high–train-high altitude training in Flagstaff, AZ (2135 m; n = 27 women; n = 21 men; 27% 2016 Olympians). Methods: Precamp and postcamp Hbmass (optimized carbon monoxide rebreathing method) and iron status were measured, EA was estimated via food and training logs, and a Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire (LEAFQ) and a general injury/illness questionnaire were completed. Hypoxic exposure (h) was calculated with low (<500 h), moderate (500–600 h), and high (>600 h) groupings. Results: Absolute and relative percentage ΔHbmass was significantly greater in women (6.2% [4.0%], P < .001) than men (3.2% [3.3%], P = .008). %ΔHbmass showed a dose–response with hypoxic exposure (3.1% [3.8%] vs 4.9% [3.8%] vs 6.8% [3.7%], P = .013). Hbmasspre was significantly higher in eumenorrheic vs amenorrheic women (12.2 [1.0] vs 11.3 [0.5] g/kg, P = .004). Although statistically underpowered, %ΔHbmass was significantly less in sick (n = 4, −0.5% [0.4%]) vs healthy (n = 44, 5.4% [3.8%], P < .001) athletes. There were no significant correlations between self-reported iron intake, sex hormones, or EA on Hbmass outcomes. However, there was a trend for a negative correlation between LEAFQ score and %ΔHbmass (r = −.353, P = .07). Conclusions: The findings confirm the importance of baseline Hbmass and exposure to hypoxia on increases in Hbmass during altitude training, while emphasizing the importance of athlete health and indices of EA on an optimal baseline Hbmass and hematological response to hypoxia.

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Ida A. Heikura, Arja L.T. Uusitalo, Trent Stellingwerff, Dan Bergland, Antti A. Mero, and Louise M. Burke

We aimed to (a) report energy availability (EA), metabolic/reproductive function, bone mineral density, and injury/illness rates in national/world-class female and male distance athletes and (b) investigate the robustness of various diagnostic criteria from the Female Athlete Triad (Triad), Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire, and relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) tools to identify risks associated with low EA. Athletes were distinguished according to benchmarks of reproductive function (amenorrheic [n = 13] vs. eumenorrheic [n = 22], low [lowest quartile of reference range; n = 10] versus normal testosterone [n = 14]), and EA calculated from 7-day food and training diaries (< or >30 kcal·kg−1 fat-free mass·day−1). Sex hormones (p < .001), triiodothyronine (p < .05), and bone mineral density (females, p < .05) were significantly lower in amenorrheic (37%) and low testosterone (40%; 15.1 ± 3.0 nmol/L) athletes, and bone injuries were ∼4.5-fold more prevalent in amenorrheic (effect size = 0.85, large) and low testosterone (effect size = 0.52, moderate) groups compared with others. Categorization of females and males using Triad or RED-S tools revealed that higher risk groups had significantly lower triiodothyronine (female and male Triad and RED-S: p < .05) and higher number of all-time fractures (male Triad: p < .001; male RED-S and female Triad: p < .01) as well as nonsignificant but markedly (up to 10-fold) higher number of training days lost to bone injuries during the preceding year. Based on the cross-sectional analysis, current reproductive function (questionnaires/blood hormone concentrations) appears to provide a more objective and accurate marker of optimal energy for health than the more error-prone and time-consuming dietary and training estimation of EA. This study also offers novel findings that athlete health is associated with EA indices.