Not Eating ENOUGH Is Sabotaging Your Game!!
Emily R Pappas M S Exercise Physiology
Tell me if this sounds familiar…
You train hard. 5-6 days a week.
You want to be in your BEST shape for the upcoming season.
But your weight and body composition just aren’t changing
One week, between training, school, and work…you just don’t have the time to eat. The scale moves down a little. It feels good to see something happen. So you start eating a little less. After all, it saves time and it looks like you’re going in the right direction.
But then the progress stops again.
During your training, you feel fatigued. You keep pushing harder but your body composition just stays…the same. You feel defeated. With season right around the corner…you’re already stressing out.
You may think to yourself…
“How could I work SO HARD and not be getting results?”
The truth is, it happens ALL OF THE TIME. To casual gym goers and pro athletes alike!
For an athlete, this is a problem that comes at a higher risk as their their body composition is related to their performance, and high performance makes higher demands on the body.
This becomes even more problematic, as an athlete may not see the results she is looking for, she tries to “DO MORE”.
She may try to get the their results she wants by:
- Training HARDER
- Resting LESS
- And REDUCING what she eat
Although it seems like these are the things you need to do when you hit a performance or a fat loss plateau, when you are in a chronic state of under-fueling, you are going to set yourself back even FURTHER from your goals.
If you’re feeling frustrated…you aren’t alone. This scenario is COMMON among female athletes.
Let me introduce you to Brooke, a Relentless Nutrition Athlete who came to us looking for help with her performance and body composition.
She was training HARDER than ever but was struggling with maintaining her strength and fatigue levels. Slowly her progress was starting to back track. But even with more and harder training, she did not feel like her strength and body composition was reflecting the time she was putting in.
Brooke was making the BIGGEST MISTAKE female athletes routinely slip into without even knowing it.
The BIGGEST MISTAKE Female Athletes Make: Not EATING ENOUGH!
Like so many of our athletes, Brooke had reached a plateau. But it wasn’t because SHE hadn’t been pushing herself hard enough.
Her nutrition wasn’t keeping up with her!
In just THREE MONTHS on a maintenance diet (aka…slowly introducing MORE FOOD), Brooke got her strength back, hit new PRs and…
….LOST 2% body fat!
Her body had been in deficit for TOO LONG. It had adapted to a restriction situation (gone into “survival mode”) and decreased the amount of energy she needed to just SURVIVE. With a slowed metabolism, reaching the caloric deficit that is NECESSARY for fat loss was nearly impossible!
How did we get her back on track? We slowly implemented MORE FOOD via a “maintenance diet” to allow her metabolism to recover. This recovery period allowed Brooke to increase the amount of energy her body needs to perform everyday tasks! Meaning, Brooke was able to eat MORE to maintain her body weight and improve her performance.
Before we dive into WHAT a maintenance diet is and HOW it can improve your performance, we want to first chat about the dangerous of chronic under-eating.
Are you in the same situation as Brooke?
Here are the signs you might need to rethink your current intake…
4 Dangerous Effects of Not EATING Enough
#1: Dangerous STRESS on Your Body
Putting some stress on the body is good. In fact, it’s necessary if you want to force it to ADAPT to improve as an athlete.
BUT not eating enough food for too long SLOWS your body’s ability to recover, adapt, and ultimately improve.
This is why an underfueled athlete will see a plateau in her progress. Her body is TOO STRESSED trying to “survive” to be able to adapt and make the progress she wants!
This physical stress is bad enough. But MENTAL stress? You can count on it affecting your body’s overall stress levels, just adding more roadblocks to your progress.
Not does an athetes see a slower physical recovery while underfueled, she also:
- Has trouble concentrating during game play
- Feels defeated, irritable, or angry
- Looses her mental stamina to challenge themselves
If your sport is team-based and/or high intensity, this is a no-fail recipe for low performance!
#2: Injury, Sickness, and Time Off the Field
Putting your body under chronic stress INCREASES your risk of injury.
Every time you train without eating enough to recover, you are just adding to the stress pool rather than helping remove from it! This increases your chances of injury AND decreases the time it is going to take to recover from an injury you have already suffered.
What does this mean? Time off the field.
Nothing should stand between you and your best. If you’ve been noticing more strains and pains…and they are lasting longer…this is your body warning you that you may not be getting what you need to recover.
#3: Loss of Muscle Mass
When your body is stressed, it releases hormones (chemical messengers) to tell the rest of the body how to respond to the situation. The types of hormones released when stressed are typically catabolic, meaning they break down tissues like muscle.
In response to a stress like strength training, muscle break down is GOOD. This breakdown paves the way for adaptation: anabolism after training aka where our bodies repair the microscopic tears in our muscle fibers. This is how we get faster, fitter, and gain muscle mass!
But if you don’t eat enough to allow your body to RESPOND to this stress, you deprive it of the building blocks and energy it needs to help you perform on your next game or practice.
Even if you a coach potato instead of an athlete, when you under eat you will LOSE muscle mass. This is because body looks for fuel within itself to burn. This means turning to fat AND unfortunately muscle!!
The benefit of at least lifting during times of chronic underrating is that it acts as a STIMULUS to your provent your body from breaking down muscle for fuel because we may need its strength again later.
#4: Not LOSING Fat!
Science is clear. In order to lose MASS you need to be in a CALORIC DEFICIT. This means you are burning more energy than you are taking in.
BUT, when you don’t eat enough calories over an extended period of time, your body kicks into survival mode. Your body adapts to the current state of decreased energy supply and figures out how to survive on that supply without continuing to break down tissues to make up for the deficit.
This adaptation of a slower metabolism is your body’s way of SURVIVING and protect the tissues including the fat stores it already has! Your body is smart, and it knows if you are not supplying it with enough energy, it better start conserving the stored energy it already has!
Not eating enough for TOO LONG means that you could see very the opposite effect of what you want.
Chronic under-eating is a STRESSOR to the body.
Stress hormones, like cortisol, increase the visceral storage of fat cells around your stomach, waist, and thighs.
Do you remember Brooke dropped 3% in body fat by eating more?
Eating more signaled to her body that “survival mode” was no longer necessary. This decrease in stress allowed her metabolism to recover. A recovered metabolism is a fancy way of saying Brooke was able to burn MORE energy when performing any activity.
By fueling her body with MORE, she was able to finally able to improve her performance, AND introduce a caloric deficit to achieve the body composition she wanted.
Long story short, if you’re training hard but
- Not seeing the gains you want
- Have plateaued in your progress
- Feel fatigued, irritable, or defeated
- Or have noticed a LOSS in muscle definition…
- Or have noticed a LOSS or dysfunction in menstruation
…it’s time to reconsider your nutrition regimens.
Here’s how a maintenance diet can get you back on track.
Do you need to “Reset” your metabolism?
You can’t “reset” a metabolism…but you can help it run smoother by reducing stress from it.
If you’ve been underfueled for too long, you need to alleviate some stress.
This DOESN’T mean bringing home an extra large pizza and pairing it with a side of Ben & Jerry’s. Introducing too many calories too quickly can promote fat gain as a slower metabolism is a prime condition for fat storage.
We want to bring your body out of survival mode SLOWLY by
- Gradually increasing caloric intake
- Increasing the frequency of your eating (especially if you’ve been skipping meals!)
- AND maintaining a balanced macro ratio matched to your activity level
When the body begins to recognize…
“Hey- I’m going to be fed on a regular basis!”
…it lowers production of stress hormones, increases the metabolic rate of EVERY process in your body performs, and allows you to finally RECOVER and improve!
More Calories In = LESS STRESS
Less Stress = faster metabolism
Faster metabolism = More Calories Burned
Science for the win!!
Underfueling shortchanges your potential and your overall well-being.
Once you’re back on track, how do you stay on top?
The Fully-Fueled Female Athlete
High performing athletes know: Meal plans aren’t a “set it and forget it” thing.
Your nutrition needs change with the seasonality of your sport, your current level of activity, and your future goals…just like your training regimen!
How do you know if you’re eating enough?
There are a few formulas than can give you an ESTIMATE of your dietary requirements.
One popular one is the Harris-Benedict equation. Here’s an example of how to calculate this for an 18-year old female who stands at 5’5”, weighs 135 pounds, and is “vigorously active” (i.e. swimming two hours daily):
BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161
For a “vigorously active” person: BMR x 2.25
For this example: (10 x 135/2.2) + (6.25 x 2.54 x 65) – (5 x 18) – 161 = 1,395
1,395 x 2.25 = 3,139 calories
So, this athlete would require over 3,100 calories per day. And as her activity levels increase, her caloric intake must as well. It’s also been suggested that athletes doing moderate levels of intense training (2-3 hours per day of intense exercise performed 5-6 times per week) or more extreme training (3-6 hours per day of intense training for 5-6 days per week) may need to increase their daily energy consumption by anywhere from 600-1,200 calories per day.
The problem is this: It’s ONLY and ESTIMATE.
The BEST thing an athlete can do is to get set up with a nutrition coach who takes into account ALL of the variables of your athletic performance.
Such variables include:
- Your CURRENT activity levels, BY DAY.
This might mean having a meal plan that changes day to day, whether you are resting, training, or performing
- Your BODY COMPOSITION
A LOT of female athletes sacrifice performance for society’s aesthetic “standards” (hello Instagram filters….).
Unfortunately, these aesthetic goals seem to be prioritized OVER your performance.
However, with the right guidance on your macronutrient ratios that are dependent on YOUR activity levels, not only will your performance improve, but your body compsotiion will reflect this improved performance!!
- Any dietary restrictions you have
If you’re an athlete with dietary restrictions, it’s critical for you to be working closely with a nutrition coach who understands the macro and micronutrients that need to be prioritized in your diet. (PS…Are you a vegan athlete? Check out our latest article here!)
- And, most importantly, WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE!
There ARE healthy ways to change your body’s composition. But there are NO quick fixes: cleanses, meal replacements, and detox diets are all a scam. If you truly want to reach your performance and aesthetic goals, it takes TIME, adherence to SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLES, and consistency!
Working with a nutrition coach ensures you are NOT sabotaging your goals accidently by doing things like…not eating enough!
LESS IS NOT ALWAYS MORE!!
Underfueling is a HUGE problem with female athletes.
Society pressures tend to support the “less is more” mentality
But when it comes to performance and body composition improvements, less is often LESS.
If you want to improve your performance and want a body composition to match those goals, it is time to consider if you are eating ENOUGH food.
When it comes to fueling for female athletes, often MORE FOOD is going to lead you in the direction of the improved performance and aesthetics you are striving for
Need help with your nutrition? So did Chase-
Chase Wassel, one of our Relentless volleyball athletes, was having trouble figuring out this food thing too. It turns out NUTRITION was the key to unlocking her full athletic prowess.
See what she has to say about working with us here: