There is one common complaint I hear from 97% of my clients and athletes and this is low energy or fatigue. This is a major issue and really hinders our ability to perform in our training and in our home and work life. When we think about energy and performance, we must talk about energy availability. What happens for a lot of people when they experience fatigue, is they experience low energy availability, in other words, they do not have energy to do a task/job/activity the way they should be able to. The body is tapped out. Another way to understand the concept is “a mismatch between an athlete’s energy intake (diet) and the energy expended during exercise” (Mountjoy et al. 2018), leaving not enough energy required to support optimal health and performance. This low energy availability is also known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport or RED-S. Before I lose any of you who do not think of yourselves as athletes, the results of not fueling enough and having low energy availability, are the same whether you are training for a sport or just involved in activities for enjoyment in life. The body does not care if you’re an elite, high performance athlete or someone who likes activity, all it cares about is whether it has energy to function optimally and perform optimally. Now what happens to performance…
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you? Many of the performance outcomes of low energy availability are symptoms clients/athletes use to describe the fatigue they are experiencing. The responses that occur in the body include (but are not limited to):
– a loss of menstrual function, no period
– changes in hormones, hormone function such as alterations in thyroid function
– reduced bone health or strength
– slowing of the metabolism or resting metabolic rate
– poor immunity or could be that never ending cold
– digestive upset such as constipation and bloating
I did not describe all the body responses, but this shows you how health is affected by under-eating for the activity one is doing. The first step to alleviating the issue, is the awareness of what is going on. We often do not understand our bodies energy needs and many people are not intentionally under fueling for the activity they are doing. We live in a society and culture that tells us to eat less, to diet, to care more about how we look than how we feel, so we do or we think this is what we are supposed to do. We are only hurts by doing so and it causes us to not fully grasp the large energy demand activity/sport/training can have. We must change the way we think about energy and fueling our bodies.
Next steps: As we are now aware of the effects of under fueling, we must start fueling! Some simple guidelines to help you get started are:
Always have a pre-workout meal and or snack. If you are working out in the morning, have a quick, easy to digest snack before. If you are training after work, do not forget to have an afternoon snack that will provide you the energy you need for that training after a day’s work. The amount and the timing will change but start with ensuring you always have something before.
Recovery!! Never skip a recovery snack. I cannot emphasize this enough. Recovery will provide you body with the energy and nutrients it needs to re-energize and repair the damage you caused by training and build up that muscle we work so hard on. Recovery include a ratio of 3 carbohydrates to 1 protein.
Have a snack or a meal every 3-4 hours throughout the day. This snack should include a source of protein to ensure you have it available for constant recovery and a carbohydrate for the energy.
This sounds simple, but these 3 things will make a HUGE difference. The issue of low energy availability is complex and the steps to prevent it and recover from it are what I work on with clients and athletes every day. I will not discount that fatigue can be caused by many other things like over training, lack of rest and sleep, chronic disease, hormone disruption, etc. but understand that even if the cause is not low energy availability, ensuring you have the appropriate amount of energy for training and for your day to day life is critical for health!
That is it for now … check out my post No Period, to learn more about the loss of your menstrual cycle.