The years following puberty are a time of rapid bone formation for children. They build 60% to 80% of their skeletal mass by age 18. Puberty is also a time when increasing numbers of children become involved in competitive sports and begin to worry about their body image. During this time of pressure and change, young athletes need to take special care in balancing their activity and nutrition.
Whenever teenagers do not eat enough to meet their energy requirements they face an “energy deficit”. Through dieting or by not increasing their calories to match the extra energy expended in sports or other intense physical activity, they are at risk for Athletic Energy Deficit. If the deficit is extreme, the body responds by suppressing physiological functions that are essential for bone growth, reproductive development and general health.
In girls, menstruation is one of the essential bodily functions that can be suppressed. Athletic Energy Deficit can be associated with delay or loss of menstruation. Amenorrhea is the medical term for the absence of menstruation. “Primary amenorrhea” occurs when a girl has not begun to menstruate by age 15 and “secondary amenorrhea” occurs when a girl misses three consecutive menstrual periods.
The same energy deficit that adversely affects the reproductive system can also severely compromise bone development. Scientists have linked AED with premature osteoporosis, making bones susceptible to fractures even with little injury.
Poor bone development is rarely suspected in athletes even if they have a stress fracture. We now know that a young athlete with energy deficit may still be able to compete in sports, even temporarily excel, but their bodies will pay a hidden and serious price in the future. The long term consequences of Athletic Energy Deficit can be both severe and permanent.