One of the biggest obstacles athletes experience is not fuelling themselves correctly. Inadequate calorie intake can quickly get out of control and lead to you not achieving your peak potential - therefore you need to avoid falling into this pitfall of dieting.
In this blog post, you will learn about the 5 most common signs of not eating enough calories as an athlete. Knowing how to identify the signs and avoiding these yourself, will help improve your nutrition game in 2021 and beyond.
In a world where we place so much importance on rapid quick and easy results, it is not a surprise that there are so many people restricting their intake to a level that they're not eating enough calories - just for the sake of losing weight. Allowing yourself to not eat enough calories for the sole purpose of an aesthetic goal, is like taking your car to get detailed before it even goes for its important car service (or taking your car to get washed before you even fill up the tank of petrol so you can actually drive to get to your destination).
However, the question is: “How do you know if you're eating enough calories to fuel you and keep you healthy as an athlete?”. Well, keep on reading as I’m about to be today’s MVP and answer this for you.
Here is my list of the five MAIN things you need to look for (because these things are quite prevalent and very common signs that you are not eating enough calories). Hopefully, it will give you some more input into your own situation to determine if you may be under-eating calories so that you can start to fix that now - and level up your nutrition.
Number One: Feeling Like You Could Eat A Horse Daily
If you are constantly very very hungry then it’s time to take notice. Look, some extra hunger as a result of being in a calorie deficit is normal (I mean you're literally eating fewer calories than your body needs to maintain so there will be some hunger), but if you find that you're just constantly hungry no matter how much you eat.
If you're constantly still craving & thinking about food and can't control that level of hunger to a point that is manageable, then perhaps you might have to look at your calories and assess if you are eating enough in the first place.
The reality is that constant elevated hunger is a sign of under-eating. Think of it as your body going “ah what are you doing to me!”. Once you think of it that way, you'll realize why that's happening and that it's not normal to always be hungry - even in a dieting phase where you're trying to lose weight.
Number Two: Performance & Energy Levels Feeling Lackluster
Performance and energy levels dropping dramatically suggests you need to fuel yourself properly to perform more optimally. It’s energy in, energy out. Take one out of the equation and the other one suffers.
Let's say you're a basketball player and you're on the court and you're finding that by the fourth quarter you're just fully depleted. However, perhaps previously you used to be able to perform in the fourth quarter with no concern. This could be a sign that you're not eating enough calories and therefore you're not fueling yourself enough for the activity at hand.
Also, if your energy is lacking during the day when previously you had a spring in your step when you did your errands, completed your work, or even when you went to the gym - it may be a sign you are lacking adequate calories.
If this is happening then you should look into it determining if you are eating enough and also look at your sleep game while you’re at it.
Number Three: Losing More Than 1-2 Pounds (500g to 1kg)) Per Week
Losing more than one to two pounds per week is very likely TOO rapid - especially for most athletes who are on the leaner side already as it is. While it may seem appealing to lose a bunch of weight quickly and I understand where this comes from (it’s human nature), it’s not ideal.
While it may seem appealing and probably is, it's not going to be good for your health nor for your long-term outcomes. Quite simply, it's not going to be a sustainable approach for long-term success in nutrition, fitness, physique optimisation, health, and performance. The blunt truth is that if you are losing rapidly (I.e. more than 1-2 pounds), then you are potentially risking muscle loss. This figure is conservative for athletes who a larger body fat mass but is right on the mark for relative to quite lean athletes.
If you rapidly shed the bodyweight then know that not all of that will only be body fat - you will accelerate potential muscle loss too. As an athlete who is performance inclined, it is in your best interest to reduce this as much as possible. Don’t accelerate the process - I mean do you really want to lose your hard-earned gains? I’m sure you don't so slow and steady really does win this race.
Number Four: Loss Or Disruption In Your Menstrual Function
One of the major symptoms of under-eating calories that many female athletes will experience is a disruption in their menstrual function. So if you're noticing irregularity when it comes to your periods and feel something isn’t right, then take notice.
Many female athletes have come to believe that it's normal but it's actually not. I have to have that conversation with some clients and inform them that they have to determine if something else may be causing it. See your doctor first before considering if it’s related to calorie adequacy.
Some questions to ask yourself include:
If so, then these may be leading to a disruption in your menstrual cycle. Don’t sit back and let it slide, address this by seeing your doctor and talking with your Sports Dietitian.
Number Five: Problem With Concentration & Lack of Mental Acuity
If you feel foggy and can’t concentrate on the field or in your day to day...it’s time to consider if a lack of food is the reason.
Let me share a bit about myself. On any given day when I find that I’ve been so busy that I haven't had a chance to eat until the afternoon, I already start feeling a bit sluggish. I start lacking mental clarity & lacking concentration. And that's just one day of delayed eating.
Now imagine if you're in a constant state of under-eating calories where your body's not getting enough calories on a continual basis - across days, weeks, and months. Think about the impact that could have on your mental concentration and your mental prowess, so to speak.
Not fueling yourself enough = your body not working in its most optimal state. Not enough calories can mean you are not in your peak state. Therefore, focus on adequate nutrition so that you can more easily attain a performance edge in your sport and during training.
Nutritional inadequacy will lead to a reduced mental acuity & concentration on the field, in the gym, and in life in general. So if you're an athlete trying to beat the competition, you may find that you will need to out fuel them too - don’t skimp on adequate calories, my friend.
There you go, the top five common signs of under-reading calories that I see often & wanted you to understand. Perhaps you have been reading along and you're like “yes I’m experiencing this, I’m experiencing that”. Perhaps you are experiencing all of them.
However, even if you're not even experiencing any of these symptoms it's important that you now fully understand them so that you know what to look out for later down the track. It’s not only important to know what to do - you need to know what not to do as well (and identify the signs).
Also, I’ve got a question for you: do you want 1:1 individualised help from a Sports Dietitian?
The reality is that you don’t get brownie points for struggling through this alone. I can help take out the guesswork, provide a calibrated plan, and most importantly provide direct coaching accountability that you need so you can keep pushing forward and getting the results in the long term with a periodised approach.
I can actually help you bridge that gap between point A and point B and optimise your nutrition to gain your athletic and competitive edge - helping you reach your goal of becoming the athlete you want to be.
Interested? Then simply email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. I have a new 90-day nutrition program called the 90-Day Macro Sherpa program - which is a nutrition coaching experience designed to help kickstart your flexible nutrition lifestyle and show you how to harness it the right way.
To apply, simply click here and start the process for reaching your peak potential.
Hi there! My name's Aleksa Gagic - i'm a Brisbane Dietitian & Nutritionist. The aim of this blog is to provide value and spread quality evidence-based nutrition information to counter the BS floating around.