4 ways to know if you’re not eating enough for your energy requirements
Written by Sport dietitian , Kelsey Hutton
Most people who are active and trying to eat well for their performance judge their diet on how healthy it is, maybe how many vegetables are added to each meal or how tightly calorie and macro requirements are followed. Although many have the best intentions, a desire to eat healthier can often result in a discrepancy between energy the body needs for performance, and the energy output during exercise and across the day. The body needs a baseline amount of energy to support basal metabolic rate (BMR), digestion and your daily activities, known as incidental activity, along with the additional energy demands of training or competition added on top of this. When these daily energy demands aren’t met, the body can make adaptations or adjustments to ensure that energy is still available for the training you are doing. While that does sound like a convenient and intelligent thing that the body does for us, it can result in a number of negative health consequences that can have serious impacts on performance, which really highlights how important it is for an athlete to ensure they fuel adequately. If you are a really active person or athlete, these are 4 key signs to look out for that can tell you if you’re not eating enough to support your needs:
2. You find yourself frequently injured
or sick Getting sick often can be a big set back for athletes as it can start to feel like you’re constantly playing catch up with your training, especially if you have to take days off. Upper respiratory tract infections (cold & flu) are particularly higher risk for someone who doesn’t eat enough. There’s also research to suggest that athletes are more likely to sustain over-use injuries when they are under-fuelling. So if you’re constantly getting niggles here and there, or more serious injuries, it’s time to think about whether your diet has been supporting your training. It’s also a really crucial time to check in on your diet when you do sustain an injury to ensure you’re providing the nutrients the body needs for healing and recovery.
3. Micronutrient deficiencies
Most of us know about the macronutrients; protein, carbs and fats. But the micronutrients are often overlooked even though they are equally as important for an athletes health and performance. Micronutrients are the little guys in our food that provide essential functions and benefits; these are vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are found in higher amounts in whole foods compared to processed foods. Many micronutrient deficiencies result in feeling fatigued (even if you’ve had a good nights sleep), feeling run down and sick and general feelings of weakness. Even just simple things can start to feel difficult, let alone training! If you experience symptoms like these, it is worth speaking to your GP about a blood test to assess your nutrient levels, as well as looking at your diet to see what might be missing and how you can boost your micronutrient intake.
4. Changes to your menstrual cycle
For females, changes to your menstrual cycle are a sign that the body is experiencing stress, such as under-fuelling or over-exercising. Changes to menstrual cycle includes changed frequency, duration or a complete loss of your period for longer than 3 months. Some women’s menstrual cycle will be more sensitive to changes in fuelling and training compared to other women, and this is not dependent on your body fat levels either; you don’t have to be underweight for your menstrual cycle to change in response to training levels and fuel. It’s also important to note that other things can impact your menstrual cycle, such as PCOS, so it’s important to speak to your doctor about changes or abnormalities in your cycle. For males, the signs of under-eating might not be as obvious as they are for females (such as loss of a period) however other signs to look out for can be reduced libido (sex drive), hormone changes particularly testosterone, injury and illness frequency, stress fractures, plateaus in training and more.
So, maybe you resonate with one or a few of these signs and are now wondering what to do? Our Sports Dietitian, Kelsey, can help you to ensure you understand your fuelling requirements and eat well to maximise performance while also using our Fit & Healthy Chef meals. Click the book dietitian link to book in your session with Kelsey!