Article written by Annie Skidmore- BSc Sport & Exercise Science Student
Consuming the right amount of food to support athletic performance can be challenging for teen athletes. It is vital that the athlete has enough energy to fuel their performance and has a healthy balance of food intake. However, it can be tricky to ensure youth athletes are eating enough to support their performance especially when their training volume is high, and competitions are frequent.
WHAT IS ENERGY BALANCE:
Energy is another term for calories. Energy balance is achieved when the number of calories you consume from eating and drinking during the day equals the amount of energy you burn each day (learn more here). The more physically active you are the more energy i.e., calories you will need to consume to match the energy you are burning – this will maintain your current weight. Not matching energy out with energy in will cause a negative energy balance and result in weight loss . Over time this can cause poor health and underperformance.
NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF UNDERFUELING:
Chronic negative energy balance i.e., eating less than you are burning for long periods of time is common in endurance and aesthetic sports such as gymnastics and long-distance running. A long time spent consuming a reduced calorie intake can impair performance, growth, and health – especially in female athletes where reproductive disorders can occur . Undereating can cause relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) which is impaired physical functioning and overall health from a negative balance of food intake and energy expenditure in the athlete . RED-S can result in symptoms such as :
- Decreased muscle strength
- Increased injury risk
- Impaired judgement
- Decreased Co-ordination
- Decreased concentrations
- Decreased training response
- Decreased endurance performance
- Decreased glycogen stores
TIPS TO ENSURE ADEQUATE ENERGY INTAKE:
- FUEL BEFORE, DURING & AFTER COMPETITION: the youth athlete needs to ensure they have eaten before, during and after competition and training sessions to support their performance and recovery to prevent RED-S and enhance success .
- AVOID FIZZY DRINKS: these are great in moderation but if you are consuming a lot of low sugar or diet fizzy drinks these can leave you feeling bloated and full preventing you from eating enough food.
- EAT REGULARLY: this is a good tip for youth athletes who may not be able to or want to have large meals. Snacking is a great way to get those extra calories in to meet their performance needs.
- EDUCATION: understanding the calorie and nutritional content of foods will help athletes to monitor their daily intake to ensure they are eating enough.
- KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS: low energy levels, hair loss, constant hunger, abnormal sleeping patterns, irritability, constantly feeling cold, constipation and anxiety can all be signs that you are not eating enough. Take a look at our blog on the warning signs to look out for here .
- LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: ultimately your body will tell you if it’s hungry so listen to these cues and fuel your body correctly to prevent under performance.
Worried that you or your youth athlete may not be a eating enough?
Speak to our nutrition team today for expert advice specific to you and your sport. Click here to book in a consultation call or to learn more about our 1-1 coaching packages.
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 Mountjoy M, Sundgot-Borgen J, Burke L, Carter S, Constantini N, Lebrun C, Meyer N, Sherman R, Steffen K, Budgett R, Ljungqvist A. The IOC consensus statement: beyond the female athlete triad—relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). British journal of sports medicine. 2014 Apr 1;48(7):491-7.
 Collins J, Maughan RJ, Gleeson M, Bilsborough J, Jeukendrup A, Morton JP, Phillips SM, Armstrong L, Burke LM, Close GL, Duffield R. UEFA expert group statement on nutrition in elite football. Current evidence to inform practical recommendations and guide future research. British journal of sports medicine. 2021 Apr 1;55(8):416-.