What is LEA?
Low Energy Availability.
A concern for the female athlete who is striving to improve fat loss and performance gains… sometimes too much!
What is Energy Availability?
Energy availability is the amount of dietary
energy remaining after exercise, available for
other physiological functions such as growth,
muscle recovery and homeostasis.
Low energy availability (LEA) occurs when
the calorie intake of an athlete is insufficient
to meet the energy required for daily living
plus the demands of training. Energy intake
should never drop below resting metabolic
If we have insufficient energy on board to meet demands of daily living (BMR, TEF and Exercise)… we are left without enough energy reserves to our essential metabolic functions.
Dr. Stacy Sims discusses in her book NEXT LEVEL that LOW ENERGY AVAILABILITY leads to reduced energy- lowered thyroid function- lower resting metabolism rate – cortisol increased – resistance to growth hormone- ghrelin (hunger hormone) increased and leptin levels (satiety) decrease.
What is the impact of LEA on performance for the female athlete?
Signs and Symptoms of LEA
- Reduced training capacity
- Repeated injury or illness
- Delayed or prolonged recovery times
- Change in mood state
- Failure to lose weight
- Reduced or low bone density
- Reduced libido
- Cessation or disruption in menstrual cycle
- Excessive fatigue
Dr. Stacy Sims discusses LES frequently on her blog, book ROAR and NEXT LEVEL – plus she just launched a new microlearning course.
The foundation of an appropriate diet with sufficient intake of macro- and micronutrients that will cover an athlete’s needs is formed by adequate energy intake. Energy balance is achieved when dietary energy intake matches total energy expenditure. Furthermore, energy availability (EA) is defined as: EA= Dietary energy intake(kcal)−Exercise energy expenditure(kcal) FatFree Mass(kg) … which equals the dietary energy left after exercise . Low energy availability occurs when either dietary energy intake is too low or energy expanded through exercise is too high, leading to an insufficient amount of energy left to maintain normal physiological functions such as metabolic and immune function, bone health, and the menstrual cycle in female athletes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7483688/
As women, we are making incredible progress in sport and we continue to push for parity. We owe it to ourselves to not hold ourselves back with low energy availability. For reference, we know the baseline calorie intake for women to meet energy needs is 40-45 calories per kg body weight; and in this here are the carbohydrate ranges I recommend based on exercise duration and/or intensity.
- For a light or active recovery day, aim for 2.5 grams per kilogram.
- For short intense days (like CrossFit training), aim for 2.5 to 3 grams of carbs per kilogram.
- For moderate- to high-intensity training lasting 60 to 120 minutes, you need 3 to 3.5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram.
- For endurance training involving two to five hours of intense training per day (distance running, cycling, swimming), you need 4.5 to 6 grams of carbs per kilogram.
- For extreme intense training of five hours or more per day (Ironman or multisport events), you need 6 to 7grams of carbs per kilogram.
A well-fueled female is a powerful female. Fuel yourself and optimize your power and performance starting today.
If you are doing excessive intermittent fasting while you are training at least once a day… you are probably not intaking enough calories as myself.
Are you training hard and still not losing fat?
Maybe you do not need to eat less and train more to burn fat – perhaps you need to EAT MORE and FAST LESS?
What is the definition of INSANITY? Doing the same thing (same program, same routine, same eating plan) over and over again but expect different results?
Sometimes women end up in this type of undernourished state because, as I mentioned upfront, they’ve been restricting food for years (maybe most of their lives) and they are afraid to eat enough. Other times, women can inadvertently under fuel because they start performing more high-intensity exercise, but since they’re working out for a relatively short amount of time, they don’t register that they need to eat more to support that harder type of training. They also may not feel as hungry right away, because their appetite is blunted by the intense exercise. So they go about their day and end up in a hole .So many women barely achieve their resting metabolic rate needs (~1300-1400kcals) – the amount of calories needed to just lie on the couch watching Netflix, let alone eat enough for life and training.
As an active woman you need to eat enough, being sure to consume a well-rounded diet that includes ample amounts of fruits and vegetables and all your macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates).
For reference, on a moderate training day, which is a day where you’re doing a HIIT session, a heavy weight session, or 1 to 2 hours of cardio you need:
Carbohydrate: 3-4 grams per kg of body weight
Protein: 2-2.3 grams per kg of body weight
Fat: 1.2 grams per kg of body weight
So a 140-pound woman would need to eat about 2300-2500 calories on the majority of her training days. That’s a far cry from what many women actually eat.
Are you prioritizing your protein intake?
I am focused on getting 1g of protein per my ideal body weight eat day but spread out throughout the day in 30-50 grams – especially post workout and early in the day. I WAS doing TOO MUCH intermittent fasting as I was too busy to eat but burning too many calories with exercise and movement throughout the day. My old schedule as a personal trainer and coach involved eating pretty much one main meal of the day once I got home… I lived on “Bulletproof fat coffee” for most of the day then ate a big meal late afternoon. Is that healthy for me?
Are you getting faster, leaner and stronger as you age?
If not, don’t blame the aging process but blame your fueling and training schedule as well as what you are eating, when, how and why as an aging high performing athlete. Men and women.
Let’s reserach what is Low Energy Availability?
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. -https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7483688/
Dr. Stacy Sims dives into fueling and training for the menopausal female athlete in her latest book “NEXT LEVEL”.
Nutrient Timing is key- which probably helps us get in more energy via recovery and repair with prioritizing our protein …especially as I know I am not hungry after I workout for a few hours and then end up eating just one main meal if later afternoon!
Dr. Stacy Sims suggest women, different from men, eat around exercise rather than fast.
- Exercising underfuled creates more STRESS
- We need macronutrients available to provide power for key workouts to avoid increasing stress and/or breaking down (catabolic) muscles.
- Post workout in our recovery window (30 minutes post workout), time our bodies (females) are more sensitive to restore glycogen stores and muscle repair from damage created in workout (men can go longer around 3 hours).
- Post workout, we (females), have higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which puts us in a CATABOLIC state – leads to breadking down our own muscle stores and tissues.
- Menopausal athletes are prone to higher levels of cortisol (lower hormones) – impacts insulin function.
- Post higher intensity/stressful workout – strive to eat carb/protein snack (drink) 30 minutes post workout (easy to digest) to pull our body out of breakdown state, to lower cortisol and stimulate repair processes (carbs into liver and muscle), while helping protein synthesis, improve blood sugar control and lean body composition.
- We can avoid LEA – low energy availability with proper recovery nutrition while supporting our microbiome.
- My solution- blend Paleo Valley or Kion unsweetened Whey protein (highest leucine) with colosturm, bone broth, glutamine and ice/water with 1/4 cup frozen berries, ice and water (add avocado to be creamy!).
- Goal to get 30-40 grams protein per meal but prioritizing the post workout protein intake with some carbs (berries) with 3-3.5g leucine to stop muscle breakdown process.
- Spreadout your protein intake throughout the day (1g protein per lb ideal body weight) 30-40 grams per meal and snack (Kion EAA and bone broth) to continue muscle protein synthesis and amino acids in circulation.
Let’s work on matching your training and fueling together to improve fat loss (if needed), performance gains and the FUTURE you- improving your longevity.
Contact me, Coach Debbie, to schedule a consultation to discover how to train, fuel and perform you best in life for the unique you.