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Reasons for and Consequences of Low Energy Availability in Female and Male Athletes: Social Environment, Adaptations, and Prevention

  • Wasserfurth, Paulina1
  • Palmowski, Jana2
  • Hahn, Andreas1
  • Krüger, Karsten2
  • 1 Leibniz University Hannover, Am Kleinen Felde 30, Hannover, [PW1] 30167, Germany , Hannover (Germany)
  • 2 Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Kugelberg 62, Giessen, 35394, Germany , Giessen (Germany)
Published Article
Sports Medicine - Open
Springer International Publishing
Publication Date
Sep 10, 2020
DOI: 10.1186/s40798-020-00275-6
Springer Nature


Low energy availability (LEA) represents a state in which the body does not have enough energy left to support all physiological functions needed to maintain optimal health. When compared to the normal population, athletes are particularly at risk to experience LEA and the reasons for this are manifold. LEA may result from altered dietary behaviours that are caused by body dissatisfaction, the belief that a lower body weight will result in greater performance, or social pressure to look a certain way. Pressure can also be experienced from the coach, teammates, and in this day and age through social media platforms. While LEA has been extensively described in females and female athletes have started fighting against the pressure to be thin using their social media platforms, evidence shows that male athletes are at risk as well. Besides those obvious reasons for LEA, athletes engaging in sports with high energy expenditure (e.g. rowing or cycling) can unintentionally experience LEA; particularly, when the athletes’ caloric intake is not matched with exercise intensity. Whether unintentional or not, LEA may have detrimental consequences on health and performance, because both short-term and long-term LEA induces a variety of maladaptations such as endocrine alterations, suppression of the reproductive axis, mental disorders, thyroid suppression, and altered metabolic responses. Therefore, the aim of this review is to increase the understanding of LEA, including the role of an athlete’s social environment and the performance effects related to LEA.

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