Step 1: Know the danger
Coaches and parents must realize that persistent Athletic Energy Deficit (AED) can hurt the long term competitive performance of their athletes. Preventable stress fractures make it harder to compete. More importantly, AED poses a danger to bone development and may rob a young child of a healthy adulthood.
AED can affect children as young as five years of age who compete in club level sports, but without the same warning signs. With younger children, it is even more important to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition and eating — and instill good training habits early.
Step 2: Educate young athletes
Early, frequent and open discussions with athletes about the relationship between AED and poor bone development are important. Coaches can introduce the subject to their entire team in a group setting with help from sports dietitians, team doctors or volunteer medical professionals who familiar with the syndrome. Parents are urged to talk to their children about their level of sports activity, proper nutrition and the relationship to strong bone development.
Step 3: Watch for signs of a problem
Early recognition is essential. For girls, amenorrhea is the only definitive symptom of this serious potential problem. Occasional “missed” menstrual periods can occur normally in some young girls. Concern is appropriate if a young athlete has not started her first menstrual period by age 15, or has missed several consecutive menstrual periods. Either of these scenarios should prompt parents to consult a doctor.
Step 4: Prevention
The goal to preventing AED is to maintain positive energy balance by consuming enough nutrition to offset the energy expended during physical activity. Research shows that consuming adequate carbohydrates and proteins within 20–30 minutes of strenuous athletic activity will help replenish the body and prevent AED. The diet needs to include adequate macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) and the essential micronutrients, including the bone and blood building nutrients (e.g. calcium, magnesium, iron, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D) and B-vitamins required for energy metabolism (vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, biotin and patothenic acid).