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are you eating enough low energy availability fuel your strength podcast episode 350

Are You Eating Enough? Low Energy Availability in Sport

I am sure you have heard or seen the common rhetoric of ‘eat less, move more’ online. While this perspective may be well-meaning, it is frequently misused and can have some dangerous consequences. When you are training hard, wanting to improve your performance, and ultimately feel better, it takes the right amount of fuel to achieve those results.

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Key Takeaways

If You Want To Make Sure You Are Eating Enough:

  1. Start unlearning the dialogue that eating less and moving more will give you results
  2. Eat enough relative to your activity level, even if you are not an ‘athlete’
  3. Use activities such as strength training to shift your mindset and improve your confidence

Proper Fueling Is Not Just for Olympians

Recently the Tokyo Olympics have been in the spotlight as women athletes are reporting better performance due to increased food intake. This is not a coincidence, as these athletes need fuel to perform better. But, this is not just limited to the elite level of athletes that compete in the Olympics. 

Anyone active needs to get enough energy through food to help them gain muscle, improve insulin resistance, create confidence, and ultimately feel and perform better.

Feel Like a Badass

Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport, or RED-S, can have a huge impact on your endurance, strength, risk of injury, and much more. While the awareness around low energy availability is increasing, we need to keep having the conversation and shift our mindsets away from the ‘smaller is better’ mentality. 

By approaching your strength training, and nutrition intake as a way to make you thrive, instead of just a laundry list of things to avoid, you can gain confidence and feel like the badass you know you are. Properly fueling yourself is the only way to improve your performance and start seeing the results you are looking for.

Are you ready to experience the magic that comes from feeding yourself enough? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.

In This Episode

  • How the Tokyo Olympics brought light to the connection between nutrition and performance (4:14)
  • Why you should care about how you fuel yourself even if you are not an elite athlete (9:21)
  • Issues that can arise if people are not eating enough food or are in RED-S territory (11:53)
  • The many benefits of getting stronger and fueling to support your body (21:10)
  • How strength training can help you gain confidence and feel like a badass (26:18)


“For women, there is such a pressure and prize placed on leanness and smallness and getting rid of that extra couple percentage of body fat and optimizing those things to the detriment of performance and honestly health.” (6:45)

“Here we are, it’s 2021, and we have some women performing at the highest, highest levels. And even they are susceptible to a lot of the junk they have learned or the fact that they have not had a lot of guidance to what it really takes to fuel for something of that level.”  (9:19)

“Hey, you know what’s going to happen if you eat more food? You are going to feel better, you’re going to have more energy, you’ll be able to train harder, recover better, and perform better!” (14:35)

“Looking back in hindsight, I have learned so much about what it takes to really fuel to perform well and to be healthy.” (19:36)

“I want you to think about fueling to support your body as really allowing you to expand, to be able to do more, to be able to challenge yourself if that is what you love. And to do it in a way that is supporting your health at the same time.” (21:23)

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Transcript: Are You Eating Enough? Low Energy Availability in Sport

Steph Gaudreau

One of the most common refrains in nutrition across the internet is eat less, move more. While this might be well-meaning advice for women who are active and lifting weights and trying to get stronger, this is oftentimes misused. Today on the podcast, I’m going to be diving into this topic a little bit more exploring, what are some of the issues when it comes to low energy intake? What are some of the risks, and more importantly, how to flip your mindset and ultimately, your nutrition practices when you’re exercising hard, lifting weights, and trying to increase your performance.

Welcome back to the podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. I am solo on this episode, we are going to be digging into some things you need to know about the old adage, eat less, move more. Why that could be impacting your ability to get stronger, build muscle, have more energy and ultimately perform better. And some of the interesting stories that have come out of a very recent event that happened here in the world that kind of speak to how this issue is affecting women at various levels of sport. So even if you don’t compete, even if you’re not an elite athlete, I hope that this episode resonates in some way. And it really is driving a lot of the work that I’m doing lately, and I was doing several years ago.

So here’s the thing, this is Episode 350. And I’m just wanted to celebrate that really quickly because I feel like it’s a milestone, it feels significant for some reason. But the thought of closing in on 400 episodes is kind of boggling my mind. So I just wanted to say a quick thank you to everybody who continues to listen to the show. Thanks so much for tuning in for sharing it on social, specially on Instagram. That’s where I hang out all the time. And thank you for telling other people in your life about the podcast, it’s really cool to say to hear people say, Hey, I found you through so and so they sent me this episode. And wow, this is exactly what I needed at this point in time.

So we’re gonna dig into a little bit of this stuff today about eat less, move more, energy availability, and so on. And while you’re listening to this, if you’re thinking, Oh, my gosh, I need help with this, I need to get my nutrition house in order. And I need some assistance in doing it. Remember that I have my Strength Nutrition Unlocked group program. It’s currently in session, so you can’t join. But join the waitlist.

Because this fall if you have plans to get back to lifting or you’re lifting, and you’re wondering why you’re not really seeing the results that you think you should, based on your effort, you’re not feeling great, you’re feeling lack of energy, etc, then I want you to get on the waitlist for this group coaching program. It’s going to be open again in the fall. And you can do that at Stephgaudreau.com/link. Stephgaudreau.com/link that will take you to the waitlist. Of course, you can also find it through Instagram by going to my link in profile.

Women Athletes Ate More and Performed Better

Okay, so the reason I wanted to do this show is yes, of course, this is very top of mind as I’m delivering this group program to the people in my program. And I’ve talked about this stuff before on Instagram stories a lot. But one of the things that came out of the most recent Olympics in Tokyo were a ton of stories that you could sum up the headline to say this. Women athletes ate more and performed better. And it’s this interesting phenomenon where this type of article, this type of news has been circulating so much in the last couple years, but especially it seems like the Tokyo Olympics really brought this out.

And let me tell you what I’ve seen stories from women who are mountain bikers, road cyclists, rowers, heptathletes, Iron Man competitors, I mean you name it across the board. There have been so many stories of the elite athletes out there, women who have realized through usually an intervention with either their sporting body or a nutritionist that they’re working with, or whatever it happens to be that holy shit. I’m not eating nearly enough to support my activity levels.

And I just thought there was something terribly wrong with me, you know, it was just me. It was either I was lazy, or I just couldn’t do my workouts as prescribed or I was just feeling really shitty. Or I thought that I should really cut out all of these foods, or I’m trying to get really lean, because I’ve been told over and over and over again, in my sport, by my coaches, by other people on my team. I see it in the world at large through things like diet culture, that thinner and leaner is better and makes me a better athlete, and I need to be smaller in order to perform better. And wow, I realized that, unfortunately, that wasn’t correct.

So the stories have been pretty incredible on one hand and frustrating on the other, I think to read and just think, you know, yes, men are at risk for low energy intake, as well, especially in athletics. And we’ll talk about that in a second. But for women, there is such a, there’s such a pressure and such a prize, placed on leanness and smallness, and getting rid of that extra percentage, couple percentages of body fat and optimizing those things at the, to the detriment of performance and, and honestly health. It’s not just about performance.

Signs of Not Eating Enough

Here’s one example of one of these stories. The article is titled sports science is changing how female Olympians train, it could help you too. And this comes out of NPR and I’ll just read you the first paragraph. It says until a few years ago elite Colorado track and field athlete Annie Kunz used to feel fatigued even during her warm ups. And then there was the constant hunger. Sometimes her stomach would growl in the middle of practice.

She felt like she was always thinking about food, always restricting what she ate, avoiding whole categories such as carbohydrates completely, because she thought they were unhealthy. Add to that awful debilitating cramps when she got her period. Kunz is representing US Olympic team in the women’s heptathlon this week in Tokyo just didn’t feel like she was performing at her best, much of the time. The story goes on to talk about how she realized she was not eating enough food, she was working with somebody on that. And it was just a night and day difference for her in terms of how she felt. I think some of this also comes out of the popularity of, well, a lot of things.

There’s the US women’s soccer team and how they’re using cycle apps to track their cycles, and ultimately trying to optimize performance through shifting their training and nutrition and things of that nature. In 2014, the IOC came out with a statement about RED-S which is relative energy deficiency in sport, and then in 2018, expanded upon that statement. So I think you’re seeing a confluence and a convergence of awareness around this. And it’s, it’s increasing.

And so it makes sense that with such a huge event, such as the Olympic Games, that this is really probably been at the forefront of some athletes mind and whoever’s working with them for the last few years. And so I think it was kind of a confluence of those events that we saw all of these articles, but it was such, it was so interesting, and also head-slapping to go like, I can’t believe you know, here we are, it’s 2021. And we have some women performing at the highest highest levels. And even they are susceptible to a lot of the junk they’ve learned or to the fact that they’ve not had a lot of good guidance about what it really takes to fuel for something of that level.

All of that to say is that you might be listening to this and thinking, Well, okay, that’s cool for them. But I’m not an elite athlete, or I don’t compete in sports. I’m just out there exercising, trying to get stronger. Maybe I lift a few times a week, I do some vigorous cardio, I like to get my sweat on. Maybe I go to CrossFit, maybe I do endurance events, whatever the case might be. That this this issue of not eating enough food your activity level is not limited to women at the most elite level of sport and neither is it just limited to women.

So you might have have heard as I did kind of growing up the term female athlete triad. And female athlete triad is characterized by low bone mineral density by menstrual issues. So generally a disruption of the menstrual cycle and some kind of disordered eating, that is oftentimes concurrent or it can be preceding. But the fact is, like, there’s this like loss of period, bone mineral density, putting you at risk for things like stress factors and early osteopenia and osteoporosis, and so on and so forth.

Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport

And what the IOC consensus statement in 2014, did was really open that up and say, Well, we’ve we’ve noticed that this isn’t just unique to women athletes, that men can also be at risk of this too. So it was really expanded to refer to relative energy deficiency in sport, RED-S, and not without controversy. But it was making the point that women are not the only ones at risk for this, that male athletes can also deal with this relative energy deficiency, by the fact of not eating enough or low energy availability compared to their activity levels. So I think it’s interesting to just kind of bookmark that idea.

But what are some of the issues that can arise when people are not eating enough food, especially if they are in the territory of RED-S? So this comes right out of the 2018 consensus statement. And I’ll read you some of the potential risks. So those would be things including but not limited to impairments in metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis, and cardiovascular health. And how does that kind of come out? Well, there are cognitive issues, so issues with judgment and concentration, coordination, mood issues, irritability, depression, and of course, what we are thinking of when we’re thinking about athletic or, or physical performance, which is being able to actually perform.

So decreased endurance, decreased strength, and increased risk of injury, and so on, and so forth. So obviously, this is not something that is desirable. There was an interesting article about the New Zealand women’s rowing team. Again, I came out of the Tokyo Olympics, that was kind of the story. And again, it was something to the effect of our rowers ate more, and wow, they performed way better. But one of the things that they talked about in this article in particular, and I’ll see if I can dig up the link for it, is how these these women athletes had been warned in the past of the potential risks to things like RED-S, why you shouldn’t let yourself get into this state. Why low energy availability is a problem.

And yet, so many of them were dealing with this, they were they were either in a low energy state, or they were in the at risk category. And there was an interesting thing that they talked about, in terms of, well, first education is so important, and how to educate about well, what are the things we want to be doing instead of what is just what is this big laundry list of things to avoid, but also talking about the benefits of eating enough.

And so it was this interesting kind of psychological flip, where they said, and I’m paraphrasing, hey, you know what’s going to happen if you eat more food, you’re going to feel better, you’re going to have more energy, you’ll be able to train harder, recover better, and perform better. And it was when they sort of shifted, how they were approaching it with these women athletes, that things really changed and it really stuck. Again, you might be listening to this and thinking, Well, you know, that’s interesting, but I’m not an Olympic athlete, or I’m not at an elite level, or I don’t even compete in sports. This doesn’t apply to me.

Low Energy Availability in Athletes

I know there are some of you thinking that. And I have to ask, you know, ask you if you’re training intentionally. If you are following a training plan, you’re getting out there, you’re more than surpassing the minimum activity guidelines for adults. You’re training hard you’re trying to improve. How do we define what an athlete is? You know, what’s the cutoff for that? And it doesn’t, there’s no single definition of what that means. So we have to get a little bit honest with ourselves and say, you know, what, if I’m not feeling good, I’m not performing? Well, my energy is not great. I’m noticing all of these other things, like preoccupation with food or fear of certain food groups, you know, I need to I need to get this sussed out. Even though I might not self label as an athlete, I’m still physically quite active.

So with that in mind, there was a 2016 study that came out that assessed low energy availability risk in recreational women, exercisers. So these, again, are people who were not at elite levels of sport and physical activity. And here were the the details of the study. It was an online study, a relatively small study at that 109 female participants, they were given a questionnaire called the leaf queue, which has been used in many studies called low energy, low energy availability in females questionnaire.

And the results of that small online survey study were that 45% of the women in the study were classified as at risk of low energy availability. And for every extra hour of exercise per week that they added, the odds of being at risk for low energy availability, were multiplied by 1.13 times. So all of that is to say that, at least in this study, a lot of the women even though they weren’t at an elite level of sport, we’re still at risk for this state called low energy availability. Remember, that means not eating enough to support your activity levels when you’re taking into consideration your your body’s necessary functions, as well. And earlier, we talked about low energy availability being at the root of things like RED-S.

So I hope that gives you a little bit of perspective that this doesn’t solely happen to elite athletes, it doesn’t only happen to women, athletes, either. And I think it’s important that we have that dialogue. And we have that conversation about thinking about how much are we eating? And this is why the old saying of eat less move more is, again, could be well meaning but is it universally applicable. Of course, it’s not.

For example, on a personal note, about five or six years ago, I was competing in Olympic weightlifting, I’ve told this story before, but I think it’s worth repeating. I was on a macro counting plan for three months with a coach who was checking in with me once a week. And by the time I was done with that three month cut, I was definitely, definitely in the range of low energy availability. Now that I know what that is. Now, of course, I did not stay at that level of low energy intake.

And looking back, I was definitely in a low energy availability state, given the amount that I was training and the amount of food that I was told, I should be consuming. This is why it’s just really tricky. And you have to be really mindful and careful. Because you might think, Well, I’m not competing. Or you might get a plan from somebody and just think, well, they said that I should come out of it and go back to maintenance.

Fuel to Perform Well

But you know what I know better. And so I’m just going to keep it going. And honestly, this is what happens to a lot of people that I work with and looking back in hindsight, I have learned so much about what it takes to really fuel to perform well and to be healthy, because certainly we can push performance to an extreme level and ultimately not be healthy at the same time. We’ve covered a lot of ground on this podcast and talked a little bit about the more recent news articles that have come out about women eating more and doing better in their sport and in performance.

We’ve talked about RED-S and low energy availability for elite athletes, why this is a problem, and, of course, and more importantly for you why this is also a risk for recreational exercisers, people who are not competing at the highest level of sport. But I wanted to leave you with something positive. Knowing that I don’t want this to be just a doom and gloom send you out into the world with fear kind of episode.

Certainly, if it helps you with the mindfulness and awareness of what you’re eating, and making sure that you’re getting enough energy in general and enough energy from protein and enough energy from the rest of your food intake carbs and fat. That’s important. But I wanted to leave you with some positive things to think about in terms of getting stronger. And what are some of the benefits of that, I want you to think about feeling to support your body as really allowing you to expand to be able to do more to be able to challenge yourself, if that’s what you love, and to do it in a way that is supporting your health at the same time.

I really want you to think about, okay, yes, strength is something that I value, and how can I go about it in a way that really allows me to thrive, and not just a laundry list of things to watch out for. Because I think that one is going to be much more interesting and motivating and ultimately more positive than the other. So here’s some of the the magical sauce, things that you get from lifting. And I made this as an Instagram story a little while ago, and I just thought it was so well received, and people really loved it. So here we go.

Here are some of the amazing things that you get from lifting and or other kinds of physical activity when you’re able to really get out there and do it well and have enough fuel and get all of the amazing benefits. So first and foremost, when you fuel properly, you’re able to add more of your body’s most metabolically active tissue. And that’s muscle. And, of course, metabolism is much more complex than what I’m about to say. But if you’re worried about your metabolism going down or slowing down, you’ve got to think about a few things, eating enough food and building muscle.

And you build muscle with resistance training, right, things like lifting weights. If you want to be able to pick up heavy shit, because it makes you feel like a badass, then, yes, you need the energy to be able to do that so many people that I talked to on social media on Instagram, I asked, you know, what do you love about strength training, and the word badass came up so many times, people were saying, I love feeling like a badass and makes me feel so strong and like a badass. And I think what that translates into is just this sense of confidence. And this sense of taking up space and of expansion.

Reduce Insulin Sensitivity with Lifting

If you lift, you get you have better insulin sensitivity after you lift weights. So this is kind of nerdy stuff, right. But if you’re thinking about this in terms of health, then yes, lifting weights and resistance training, it helps with better insulin sensitivity. Lifting weights helps you celebrate what your body can do, instead of focusing on all of the flaws. And I’m using air quotes. They’re all the flaws that you dislike, or the fact that your body doesn’t look like an ideal body or whatever other body issues are there. And I really relate to that so much.

When you lift weights, or you’re feeling stronger, you’re better able to care for loved ones. So many people that I’ve talked to over the last year have said things like, you know, I’m actually really interested in being able to be stronger in my daily life because I’m caring for an older parent, or I’m caring for my kids and just carrying them around. Gosh, they’re getting heavy. If somebody recently said I want to be able to carry my, my child around for as long as they want to be carried around for you know, her kids are getting older and heavier because they’re growing and she said, I just want to be able to keep carrying my kids until the point they tell me. You know, I don’t want to do that anymore, but I just thought that was really sweet.

If you want to carry all the groceries in one trip, maybe this goes into the badass category, but I don’t know about you. There’s some sick satisfaction I get from being able to carry every single I go groceries and not have to go back to the car. So if you’re a fan of that, then yeah, lifting weights is going to help you with that and being stronger and having more energy. Okay, again, going back to more serious health things, of course, resistance training is so important in terms of having stronger bones and better bone mineral density, so that way we can avoid osteopenia and osteoporosis.

And there’s some interesting read more recent evidence that has come out to say not only can we prevent a loss of bone mineral density, but we can start to remineralize and actually build this back. So again, this is not the sexy talk that most people want to hear, they want to hear about booty gains and toning, and, you know, having a certain look and PR in their squat and all that stuff. And at the same time, it’s some of these more real health things that come up that are really important and important to talk about. You know, things like preventing falls or being strong so that you have better balance and coordination. Right. All that stuff’s really important.

Lifting Brings Women Confidence

And we’re all getting older, every single one of us. So this is relevant. Lifting, I’ve never seen something that gives women so much confidence is just, I don’t know, I can’t explain what I see. But it’s this sense of, wow, I had no idea I could do this thing. And now, I proved myself, I proved I could do it. I didn’t think I could lift that bar, I walked up to it. I lifted it. And now I’m like, holy shit, what else can I do? Because I didn’t think I could do that.

I remember the first time I got a pull up. It was October of 2010. I remember the month and the year because it was that significant in my mind. And I grew up as somebody thinking I wasn’t strong. Actually, I played, almost every single sport that I did was lower body dominant, running, soccer, track, I ran hurdles. So nothing throwing, I got cut from the freshman basketball team, I was terrible at it. I still can’t throw a frisbee to this day. I always just thought my upper body was really weak, and that I would never be strong, I would never get a pull up. It just was never gonna happen for me.

And I remember the day that I got that pull up and Whoa, it just, it just shifted something in my mind. It shifted something over, something clicked. And I thought well, to him. If I could do this thing that I didn’t think I could do for my whole life. What else is possible? What else could I do? What else is out there for me, not just in physical pursuit. But you know, where else have I been thinking I can’t do things. And I can do them if I practice. And I guess I’ll leave it at that.

Some of the amazing benefits that you get when you can lift, you can do the activity that you want to do, you’re able to enjoy the benefits to your mood to your cardiovascular health and your stamina. I mean, gosh, there’s so many things. And we’ve talked about this before. But I think in the context of eating enough food is going to help me be able to continue doing those things. Because if I am lifting and I am just so drained and exhausted and not eating enough and not recovering well and I get frustrated or I get disappointed or I get injured, then there’s a chance I’m going to stop lifting forever.

And I’m going to not experience that magic anymore. And of course, there’s lots of real physiological benefits. We could call those magic too. But I don’t, I don’t get to experience that magic. I don’t get the benefits to my health and well being that we know come with those things. We don’t get the sense that you know what, this is expanding my life. Things are so much bigger than I once thought they were and all of the myriad ways that then that then ripples out into the world. If we’re not feeling good or not fueling, we’re not recovering well. It’s just so much harder to keep that going.

So I want you to have all of that deliciousness. I want you to have all of that magic. I want you to experience those things because you are well fed and you are well rested and you are following a smart training program that’s going to help you progress and not burn yourself into the ground. With training. You feel strong and vital and energetic and Like you can take on the world. That’s what I want for you.

So I hope that this episode has been interesting and informative and inspiring at the same time. Remember, if you want to learn how to do this, and do it with me in a group in a group coaching format, where there’s support, and we’re answering your questions, and you’re really learning the evidence-based information that you need to do it in a smart and safe way, then go ahead and join my waitlist for Strength Nutrition Unlocked, you can do that at Stephgaudreau.com/link. We’re going to be opening up another group that will be in the fall. So go ahead and do that.

Of course, you know, the show notes will be Stephgaudreau.com. If you want to go back and read through the show notes or share any of the links that are in there, or just pass it on to a friend. That’s awesome. You can also find links to meter podcast apps there. So if you’re not currently subscribed to this show, and you just happen to stumble across it, then yes, please subscribe to this podcast. It’s free for you, but it helps other people find the show and spread the word. And lastly, share this out on Instagram stories if you found it useful, helpful, inspiring in any way. Share it on stories and tag me at Steph_gaudreau. Alright, thanks so much for joining me for Episode 350. We did it. I can’t wait to be back soon with you again with another informative episode and Until then, have an incredible week and stay strong.

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Steph Gaudreau

Hi, I'm Steph Gaudreau (CISSN, NASM-CPT)!

Nutrition and fitness coach for women, Lord of the Rings nerd, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.


Purpose built for strength, fitness, and athleticism. This is a templated, app-based 12-month progressive strength program for women over 40.


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