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Screening for risk of Low Energy Availability in elite female netball athletes and the prevalence of injury

Low Energy Availability (LEA) is a condition commonly seen in female athletes, often as a consequence of insufficient dietary intake relative to energy expenditure, resulting in an energy deficit. A negative energy balance can severely impact normal physiological functions, often causing the body to downregulate to conserve energy as a means to survive. LEA poses a significant health risk, which has been associated with a plethora of unfavourable health and performance outcomes such as; reproductive function, bone health, gastrointestinal function, cardiovascular health, immune function and psychological impairment. Until now, limited research has been available for the prevalence of LEA in the team sport population, as most previous studies have concentrated on endurance and/or individual sport athletes. As highlighted in the literature review in the first part of this thesis, the prevalence of LEA ranges from 2-100% in various sports and disciplines, however the few studies to investigate the prevalence of LEA in team sport athletes have found reasonably high rates of LEA present. The associated health outcomes are continuously emerging in research, alongside the multiple measures to screen and diagnosis for LEA, which are explained in the literature review. The second part of this thesis comprises of an original study investigating the prevalence of LEA within elite female netball athletes in New Zealand. Fifty-three elite netballers volunteered to participate in this study and were required to complete an adapted version of the Low Energy Availability in Females questionnaire (LEAF-Q) to identify risk of LEA. Analysis found a concerning prevalence of 53% of participants considered ‘at-risk’ of developing LEA, with additional findings discovering 85.7% of the ‘at-risk’ athletes had sustained an injury within the last 12 months. The final section of this thesis summarises the overall findings of the thesis, as well as providing practical applications, and highlighting direction for future research in this area.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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