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Maximising energy and fighting fatigue in athletes

Maximising energy and fighting fatigue in athletes

It is quite normal for most people to experience tiredness and fatigue at some stage. General tiredness and feelings of ‘acute’ fatigue are also common for athletes when there is an increase in the amount or intensity of training. This usually disappears as the body adapts to the new workload provided this is supported with adequate nutrition.

If training loads are not supported with adequate nutrition, an athlete may experience low energy availability (LEA). This occurs when an individual does not match their energy intake to the demands of training and their lifestyle requirements, leaving inadequate energy to support health and normal bodily functions. Chronic or prolonged low energy availability can lead to Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) which results in impaired physiological and performance consequences. 


Understand key symptoms

As a coach or parent you might notice some of these physiological and performance symptoms in your athletes:

  • Drop in performance or lack of expected improvement in performance
  • Increased perception of effort during exercise and general daily activities
  • Altered mood and attitude to training
  • Muscle soreness and poor recovery between sessions
  • Loss of appetite and/or sudden weight loss
  • Reduced strength due to weight loss
  • Low resistance to infection (colds/flu)
  • Sleep disturbances

Tips for coaches and/or parents

Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional strategies that can assist in minimising fatigue in your athletes:

Showcase the role of carbs!

  • Carbohydrate foods are important sources of energy for athletic performance pre, during and post daily training sessions as well as across a week
  • Carbohydrate is crucial to support immune function and to nourish the brain, supporting concentration, mood and skill acquisition
  • After moderate to high intensity exercise, consuming a carbohydrate based drink/snack or meal is the most effective way to initiate the start of muscle fuel store recover, followed by further intake of carbohydrate rich foods across the day
  • If there is a longer time between training sessions, your athlete may not need to be as aggressive with their carbohydrate intake across the day, provided they consume enough for their daily requirements

Optimise iron rich foods

  • Athletes and active individuals can be prone to iron deficiency due to iron loss in sweat, urine and faeces. Females also have increased losses due to menstruation
  • Poor dietary choices, total dietary intake or food avoidances may result in low iron intake
  • Iron needs are higher for athletes and those who follow a plant-based diet
  • Low iron stores may cause general tiredness with an increase in recovery time, poor immunity, cold-like symptoms, poor appetite, and changes in mental health

Help hydrate

  • As a coach you can help support adequate hydration status by creating regular training breaks or identifying opportunities across a training route for your athletes to drink
  • Your athletes may not drink enough fluid during or after to replace their sweat losses and therefore can experience ongoing dehydration
  • Including a drink with every meal and snack will assist with daily fluid needs

Be proactive in engaging with an Accredited Sports Dietitian, and involve a great support team around your athlete. Book an appointment with our Sports Dietitian, Georgie Tran here.

Seek appropriate support from a health professional e.g. Psychologist and Exercise Physiologist, and GP where appropriate.

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Mali Unahi - Dietitian