Direct and indirect impact of low energy availability on sports performance

Melin, A. K. et al. Scand J Med Sci Spor (2023)


Low energy availability (LEA) occurs inadvertently and purposefully in many athletes across numerous sports; and well planned, supervised periods with moderate LEA can improve body composition and power to weight ratio possibly enhancing performance in some sports.

LEA however has the potential to have negative effects on a multitude of physiological and psychological system in female and male athletes. Systems such as the endocrine, cardiovascular, metabolism, reproductive, immune, mental perception, and motivation as well as behaviors can all be impacted by severe (serious and/or prolonged or chronic) LEA. Such widely diverse effects can influence the health status, training adaptation, and performance outcomes of athletes leading to both direct changes (e.g., decreased strength and endurance) as well as indirect changes (e.g., reduced training response, increased risk of injury) in performance.

To date, performance implications have not been well examined relative to LEA. Therefore, the intent of this narrative review is to characterize the effects of short-, medium-, and long-term exposure to LEA on direct and indirect sports performance outcomes. In doing so we have focused both on laboratory settings as well as descriptive athletic case-study-type experiential evidence.