A life history perspective on athletes with low energy availability

Shirley, M.K., Longman, D.P., Elliott-Sale, K.J. ORCID: 0000-0003-1122-5099, Hackney, A.C., Sale, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-5816-4169 and Dolan, E., 2022. A life history perspective on athletes with low energy availability. Sports Medicine. ISSN 0112-1642

1525827_Elliott-Sale.pdf - Post-print

Download (375kB) | Preview


The energy costs of athletic training can be substantial, and deficits arising from costs unmet by adequate energy intake, leading to a state of low energy availability, may adversely impact athlete health and performance. Life history theory is a branch of evolutionary theory that recognizes that the way the body uses energy—and responds to low energy availability—is an evolved trait. Energy is a finite resource that must be distributed throughout the body to simultaneously fuel all biological processes. When energy availability is low, insufficient energy may be available to equally support all processes. As energy used for one function cannot be used for others, energetic “trade-offs” will arise. Biological processes offering the greatest immediate survival value will be protected, even if this results in energy being diverted away from others, potentially leading to their downregulation. Athletes with low energy availability provide a useful model for anthropologists investigating the biological trade-offs that occur when energy is scarce, while the broader conceptual framework provided by life history theory may be useful to sport and exercise researchers who investigate the influence of low energy availability on athlete health and performance. The goals of this review are: (1) to describe the core tenets of life history theory; (2) consider trade-offs that might occur in athletes with low energy availability in the context of four broad biological areas: reproduction, somatic maintenance, growth, and immunity; and (3) use this evolutionary perspective to consider potential directions for future research.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Sports Medicine
Creators: Shirley, M.K., Longman, D.P., Elliott-Sale, K.J., Hackney, A.C., Sale, C. and Dolan, E.
Publisher: Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Date: 3 February 2022
ISSN: 0112-1642
Rights: This version of the article has been accepted for publication, after peer review (when applicable) and is subject to Springer Nature’s AM terms of use, but is not the Version of Record and does not reflect post-acceptance improvements, or any corrections. The Version of Record is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40279-022-01643-w
Divisions: Schools > School of Science and Technology
Record created by: Laura Ward
Date Added: 16 Mar 2022 16:31
Last Modified: 03 Feb 2023 03:00
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/45903

Actions (login required)

Edit View Edit View


Views per month over past year


Downloads per month over past year