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Underfueling in Nutrition and Sports

Mar 15, 2023

Tired female athlete on the bench

When it comes to nutrition, sports have steep demands. The nutritional requirements for athletes are higher and more exacting for their optimal athletic performance. One of the most common problems is underfueling, when health and performance issues arise because athletes don’t eat enough to sustain their training and activities in daily life.

It’s estimated that as high as 60% of athletes are considered to be underfueling. These include elite athletes, non-elite athletes, and youth athletes in various sports. The nutrient most often lacking is carbohydrates but in some cases it’s protein or certain macronutrients.

Underfueling results in a host of problems: 

  • Decreased performance
  • Increased irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased risk of injury and illness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle loss
  • Menstrual syndrome
  • Poor bone health 
  • Increased emotional stress
  • And more

For most people who exercise and play sports, a balanced diet with enough calories to support their optimal weight should be enough for most cases. But for elite athletes and those who aspire to reach that level, it pays to observe certain blood biomarkers.

  • Vitamin D is crucial for preventing injury and illness, and its inadequacy is distressingly common
  • Cortisol is the stress hormone that is the common result of underfueling
  • Iron deficiency is also common and is linked to inflammation
  • Testosterone can be suppressed in males that suffer from underfueling
  • DHEAS is a lipid used for female for the formation of female hormones and low levels can indicate low calorie intake

To avoid underfueling and identify any sign of its onset, it’s advisable to work with a qualified professional in sports nutrition. The nutritionist can help athletes optimize their diets and ensure that their bodies are never lacking in energy and nutrients to perform at the highest level. 

The proper nutrition in sports should be pursued by coaches and sports organizations with the same passion as training. Meeting the human body’s nutritional requirements is a vital ingredient to victory.