What Happens To Young Athletes When We Get Sports Nutrition Wrong...

At The Academy, we are inspired by the grit, determination, and dedication our athletes demonstrate as they strive to achieve their best performance in sport. We talk a lot about the importance of good nutrition in supporting athletic performance, but what exactly can happen when we get nutrition wrong...

Salad - The Youth Academy

Energy availability is a concept that describes the amount of energy in food that is used for normal body functions, including growth and development, once your energy expenditure through exercise has been taken out of the equation. In cases where energy availability is low, something has to give and the body becomes more efficient with the energy available by altering body functions. This is referred to relative energy deficiency in sport – or, RED-S – and can have detrimental effects on bone health, menstrual function, metabolic rate, immune system function, protein synthesis, cardiovascular health and psychological health

In the demographic of young athletes, there is added concern for avoiding RED-S and ensuring adequate energy availability to reach the athletes full potential in growth and development. One of the particular priorities revolves around bone health, as, much like the process of building muscle, adequate energy is required to lay down the materials required to build strong bones. In this case, however, there is added urgency as the body is best primed to build bone in our youth. Peak bone mass is typically achieved at 19 years in females and 20.5 years for males. Therefore, low energy availability during this time represents a missed opportunity to invest in future health by preventing osteoporosis, but can also leave athletes more vulnerable to stress fractures

Tired - The Youth Academy

Additionally, low energy availability can have detrimental effects on performance, including a reduced response to training, increased injury risk via an impaired ability to recover from training, decreased muscular strength and endurance, as well as diminishing the primary fuel for performance – glycogen. It's also associated with fatigue, impaired cognitive function, decreased concentration, decreased coordination, irritability, and depression - which neither favors athletic performance nor the ability to function in day-to-day activities.

RED-S can arise from efforts to lose weight and manipulate body composition through restricted food intake, increased exercise, or both. However, in other cases, it can have completely innocent origins as an athlete pushes to be the best in their sport and increases training load without compensating with an increase in energy intake from food.

The good news is, that by attention to diet with consistency in meals and snacks, it's possible to prevent and reverse the effects of RED-S. As our athletes would be well aware, at The Academy we advocate for abundance from the core food groups and do not support any form of restriction or control of food. Adequate energy intake is vital in supporting an active lifestyle for the sake of current athletic performance and health, as well as future health and to achieve longevity in the sport

And we wholeheartedly believe that restriction of foods & weight loss should be the last thought when it comes to young athletes, even those within a weight-class sport

Nick Maier