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Athletic Energy Deficit in Young Athletes

Athletic Energy Deficit (AED) is a gap in energy. AED results when sustained activity (energy output) is not balanced with a proportional increase in nutrition (energy input). AED often develops when there is pressure to change eating habits, particularly in some sports where a low body weight is encouraged.

As athletes pursue excellence, they are rewarded for their discipline and focus. Sometimes — at a cost. When an athlete is under-fueled for their activity level, they can come up short on bone development and athletic performance.

The years around puberty are a time of rapid bone formation. Children build 60% to 80% of their bone mass by age 18. Whenever pre-teen and teenage girls do not eat enough to meet their energy needs they face “energy deficit.” If nutrition is insufficient, the body may try to conserve energy by shutting down systems that are important to bone growth and reproductive development.

What is the link between AED and menstrual cycles?

With insufficient energy, estrogen levels may be too low to produce a normal menstrual cycle. Delayed menstruation, irregular cycles or missing cycles are signs that there is a hormone imbalance associated with slower bone formation in girls.

If AED is severe, low estrogen levels also block functions necessary for proper bone growth. In addition, a diet without adequate calcium and vitamin D contributes to poor bone formation. Should the AED continue unchecked, poor bone growth may result in stress fractures and early osteoporosis, a disease where bones become fragile and are more likely to break.

Revised: 5/14/19

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