What is Low Energy Availability (LEA)?

A low energy availability (LEA) can result in a condition called Relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). RED-S occurs as a result of a mismatch between energy intake and energy requirements for bodily functions. When an energy deficit is sustained long term this is when the problem occurs.

What are the signs and symptoms of LEA?

Loss of menstrual function in females, decreased coordination, decreased concentration, decreased performance, inability to adapt to training load, increased risk of injury or sickness, impaired gut function (nausea, vomiting, bloating etc), mood fluctuations and food cravings

Whilst RED-S can affect anyone, females are particularly susceptible. As a result of RED-S the body starts to shut down vital processes that assist with training recovery, re-fuelling, muscle mass development, immunity, growth, mood and for females a regular menstrual cycle.

Why are healthy menstrual cycles important?

The normal menstrual cycle involves three phases (follicular, ovulation and luteal) experienced throughout a ~21-35 day period, preparing for pregnancy. Whilst menstrual cycles differ from person to person, alterations to menstrual function is one of the most obvious symptoms of a LEA state. 

For menstruating athletes, a regular monthly period can be a good indicator of healthy hormones and an adequate intake to meet their energy requirements, which is crucial for health and performance. 

How does LEA affect the menstrual cycle?

LEA can cause irregular periods or complete cessation of periods (amenorrhea). This occurs due to a particular hormone, gonadotropin regulating hormone, which can inhibit the release of the hormones required to regulate the menstrual cycle. 

Why is this a problem?

One of the biggest consequences of having menstrual cycle disruptions is the impact on bone health. Disruption to normal hormone profile can reduce bone density, leading to long term issues such as osteoporosis. Other impacts of menstrual cycle abnormalities include; cardiovascular issues, gastrointestinal disturbances and decreased immunity.

What about the oral contraceptive pill (OCP)?

The OCP can mask symptoms of RED-S making it harder to assess if an athlete is experiencing LEA. Instead, the OCP produces regular withdrawal bleeds driven by external non-physiological hormones, which is not a real menstrual period. As the OCP masks what is happening with internal hormones, it can make it more difficult to identify RED-S earlier. 

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or are concerned you may have LEA or REDS, head to our website HERE where you can book in with one of our friendly dietitians for individualised support. 

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