Optimal health: especially young athletes! Part 3 Consequences of Relative Energy Deficiency in sports

In my previous blogs I have described the adverse effects of Relative Energy Deficiency in sports (RED-S) in both female and male athletes both in terms of current health and sport performance and potential long term health problems. What about young aspiring athletes? There is concern that early sport specialisation, imbalances in training not covering the full range of the components of fitness, together with reduced sleep, all combine to increase injury risk. Young athletes are particularly vulnerable to developing RED-S during a period of growth and development accompanied by a high training load.

Sufficient energy availability and diet quality, including micronutrients, is especially important in young athletes. To investigate further I undertook a three year longitudinal study involving 87 pre- and post-pubertal girls, spread across control pupils at day school together with students in vocational training in both musical theatre and ballet streams. There was a gradation in hours of physical exercise training per week ranging from controls with least, followed by musical theatre, through to ballet stream with the most.

In all girls dietary, training and menstrual history were recorded and collected every six months. At the same visit anthropometric measurements were performed by an experienced Paediatric nurse and bloods were taken for Endocrine markers of bone metabolism and leptin. Annual DEXA scans measured body composition, total body bone mineral density (BMD) and BMD at lumbar spine (including volumetric) and BMD at femoral neck.

The key findings included a correlation between hours of training and the age of menarche and subsequent frequency of periods. In turn, any menstrual dysfunction was associated with low age-matched (Z score) BMD at the lumbar spine. There were significant differences between groups for age-matched (Z score) of BMD at lumbar spine, with musical theatre students having the highest and ballet students the lowest. There were no significant differences in dietary intake between the three groups of students, yet the energy expenditure from training would be very different. In other words, if there is balance between energy availability and energy expenditure from training, resulting in concurrent normal menstrual function, then such a level of exercise has a beneficial effect on BMD accrual in young athletes, as demonstrated in musical theatre students. Conversely if there is a mismatch between energy intake and output due to high training volume, this leads to menstrual dysfunction, which in turn adversely impacts BMD accrual, as shown in the ballet students.

I was fortunate to have two sets of identical twins in my study. One girl in each twin pair in the ballet stream at vocational school had a twin at a non-dance school. So in each twin set, there would be identical genetic programming for age of menarche and accumulation of peak bone mass (PBM). However the environmental influence of training had the dominant effect, as shown by a much later age of menarche and decreased final BMD at the lumbar spine in the ballet dancing girl in each identical twin pair.

After stratification for months either side of menarche, the peak rate of change for BMD at the lumbar spine was found to be just before menarche, declining rapidly to no change by 60 months post menarche. These findings suggest that optimal PBM and hence optimal adult BMD would not be attained if menarche is delayed due to environmental factors such as low energy density diet. If young athletes such as these go on to enter professional companies, or become professional athletes then optimal, age-matched BMD may never be attained as continued low energy density diet and menstrual dysfunction associated with RED-S may persist. Associated low levels of vital hormones such as insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and sex steroids impair bone microarchitecture and mineralisation. Thus increasing risk of injury such as stress fracture and other long term health problems. The crucial importance of attaining peak potential during childhood and puberty was described at a recent conference at the Royal Society of Medicine based on life course studies. For example, delay in puberty results in 20% reduction of bone mass.

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It is concerning that RED-S continues to occur in young athletes, with potential current and long term adverse consequences for health. Young people should certainly be encouraged to exercise but with guidance to avoid any potential pitfalls where at all possible. In my next blog I will delve into the Endocrine mechanisms involved in RED-S: the aetiology and the outcomes.

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance

References

Optimal Health: including female athletes! Part 1 Bones Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Optimal health: including male athletes! Part 2 Relative Energy Deficiency in sports Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine 4/4/17

Keay N. The modifiable factors affecting bone mineral accumulation in girls: the paradoxical effect of exercise on bone. Nutrition Bulletin 2000, vol 25, no 3. 219-222.

Keay N The effects of exercise training on bone mineral accumulation in adolescent girls. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. Vol 15, suppl 1 2000.

Keay N, Frost M, Blake G, Patel R, Fogelman I. Study of the factors influencing the accumulation of bone mineral density in girls. Osteoporosis International. 2000 vol 11, suppl 1. S31.

New S, Samuel A, Lowe S, Keay N. Nutrient intake and bone health in ballet dancers and healthy age matched controls: preliminary findings from a longitudinal study on peak bone mass development in adolescent females, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 1998

Keay N, Dancing through adolescence. Editorial, British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol 32 no 3 196-7, September 1998.

Bone health and fractures in children. National Osteoporosis Society

Lifetime influences on musculoskeletal ageing and body composition. Lecture by Professor Diana Kuh, Director of MRC Unit for Lifelong Healthy Ageing, at Royal Society of Medicine, conference on Sports Injuries and sports orthopaedics. 17/1/17

Relative Energy Deficiency in sport (REDs) Lecture by Professor Jorum Sundgot-Borgen, IOC working group on female athlete triad and IOC working group on body composition, health and performance. BAEM Spring Conference 2015.

Health and fitness in young people

Young people: Neuromuscular skills for Sport Performance

Many publications report concerns over low exercise levels in young people. At the other end of the spectrum there are potential pitfalls to be avoided for young athletes. Some aspects have been discussed in my previous articles: Exercise and fitness in young people – what factors contribute to long term health? and Optimising Health, Fitness and Sports Performance for young people, below are some updates.

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Supporting previous publications that exercise in young people improves cognitive and academic performance, it was found that in boys delay in reading skills was associated with high levels of sedentary time combined with low levels of exercise. Low muscle tone, associated with lack of exercise is also proposed as potential inhibitor of learning in children. Lack of physical activity, coupled with unfavourable body composition in young people is linked with adverse outcomes for bone development and cardio-metabolic disease in adults. Now there also appears to be long term consequences for cognitive ability and neuromuscular skills.

For young people already involved in sport training, the same principles apply in that this represents the optimal time in life for development of not only physical fitness such as CV fitness, muscular strength and endurance, but also neuromuscular skills. All these factors are important to enhance sport performance and to avoid injury. The risk of injury is more prevalent in early sport specialisation, so any strategies to minimise injury risk is important. For example, periodised strength and conditioning with neuromuscular training to reinforce the acquisition of a diverse range of motor skills. In other words to combine both health related physical fitness (eg. CV fitness) with skill related fitness (eg. co-ordination). The Pilates style body conditioning which I teach for young people, includes developing flexibility, proprioception, core stability, balance and co-ordination which are applicable for all sports.

Collaboration with coaches, sports clubs, physiotherapists and other health care professionals is required to support young people and their families in optimising health and fitness.

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance

References

Optimising Health, Fitness and Sports Performance for young people Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine

Exercise and fitness in young people – what factors contribute to long term health? Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine

Factors impacting bone development

Reading skills in sedentary boys

Muscle tone and leaning in children

Factors impacting bone development

Optimal Heath especially for Young athletes! British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

When to initiate integrative neuromuscular training to reduce sports-related injuries and enhance health in youth?

Sports Specialization, Part II: Alternative Solutions to Early Sport Specialization in Youth Athletes

The role of Pilates in facilitating sports performance

Health and Fitness in young people

Recent reports reveal that children in Britain are amongst the least active in the world. At the other end of the spectrum there have been a cluster of articles outlining the pitfalls of early specialisation in a single sport.

Regarding the reports of lack of physical activity amongst young people in Britain, this is of concern not only for their current physical and cognitive ability, but has repercussions for health in adult life. Research demonstrates that young people with low cardiovascular fitness have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease in adult life. Conversely, the beneficial effects of weight bearing exercise in prepubescent girls has been shown to enhance bone mineral density accumulation, which will have beneficial impact on peak bone mass. However, as I found in my longitudinal studies, the level of exercise has to be in conjunction with an appropriate, well-balanced diet to avoid relative energy deficiency deficiency in sport (RED-S), which can compromise bone mineral density accumulation.m-running

At the other end of the scale, early specialisation in a single sport does not necessarily guarantee long term success. Rather, this can increase the risk of overuse injury in developing bodies, which in turn has long term consequences. Ensuring that all elements of fitness are considered may be an injury prevention strategy. I agree that injury prevention can be viewed as part of optimising sports performance, especially in young athletes for both the present and in the long term.

Sleep is a vital element in optimising health and fitness, especially in young people who may be tempted to look at mobiles or screens of other mobile devices which delays falling asleep by decreasing melatonin production. Sleep promotes mental freshness and physical elements such as boosting immunity and endogenous release of growth hormone. As Macbeth put it, sleep is the “chief nourisher in life’s great feast”.

A balanced approach to health and fitness should be promoted, with young people encouraged to take part in a range of sporting activities.

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance

References

Young athletes’ optimal health: Part 3 Consequences of Relative Energy Deficiency in sports Dr N. Keay, British Association Sport and Exercise Medicine, 13/4/17

Sleep for health and sports performance Dr N. Keay, British Journal Sport Medicine, 7/2/17

Optimising health, fitness and sports performance for young people Dr N. Keay, British Journal Sport Medicine

Telegraph article

Active Healthy Kids global alliance

Poor cardiovascular fitness in young people risk for developing cardiovascular disease 

Sports Specialization in Young Athletes

IOC consensus statement on youth athletic development British Journal Sport Medicine

Optimising Health, Fitness and Sports Performance for young people

Version 2Young people need information in order to make life decisions on their health, fitness and sport training with the support of their families, teachers and coaches.

As discussed in my previous blog anima sana in corpore sano, exercise has a positive effect on all aspects of health: physical, mental and social. The beneficial impact of exercise is particularly important during adolescence where bodies and minds are changing. This time period presents a window of opportunity for young people to optimise health and fitness, both in the short term and long term.

The physical benefits of exercise for young people include development of peak bone mass, body composition and enhanced cardio-metabolic health. Exercise in young people has also been shown to support cognitive ability and psychological wellbeing.

Optimising health and all aspects of fitness in young athletes is especially important in order to train and compete successfully. During this phase of growth and development, any imbalances in training, combined with changes in proportions and unfused growth plates can render young athletes more susceptible to overuse injuries. A training strategy for injury prevention in this age group includes development of neuromuscular skills when neuroplasticity is available. Pilates is an excellent form of exercise to support sport performance.

In athletes where low body weight is an advantage for aesthetic reasons or where this confers a competitive advantage, this can lead to relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). Previously known as the female athlete triad, this was renamed as male athletes can also be effected. The consequences of this relative energy deficiency state are negative effects on metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, protein synthesis and immunity. If this situation arises in young athletes, then this is of concern for current health and may have consequences for health moving into adulthood.

A well informed young person can make decisions to optimise health, fitness and sports performance.

Link to Workshops

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance

References

Optimal Health: Especially Young Athletes! Part 3 – Consequences of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports Dr N. Keay, British Association Sport and Exercise Medicine 13/4/17

Report from Chief Medical Officer

Cognitive benefits of exercise

Injuries in young athletes

Young people: neuromuscular skills for sports performance

IOC consensus statement\

Exercise and fitness in young people – what factors contribute to long term health? Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine