BACKGROUND: The pre-season preparatory phase of collegiate football athletics is marked by increased skill and strength training to develop appropriate body size and body composition for enhanced performance. While specific body composition recommendations are dependent on the position and skill of the athlete, all players’ performances may benefit from maintaining their fat-free mass (FFM). The loss of FFM can be attributed to various causes including low energy availability (LEA). LEA occurs when caloric intake does not match the energy expended causing an inadequate amount of energy left to maintain physiological functioning. PURPOSE: The purpose of the study is to investigate the effects of FFM changes in preparation of the competitive season among Division I collegiate football athletes. METHODS: Seventy Division 1 football players were tested at the end of the spring season (age: 20.3+1.5yrs, height: 184.1+8.7cm, body mass 104.3+1.5kg, fat-free mass 84.6+0.4kg, body fat percent: 18.3+1.1% and again during the competitive season. Height was measured using a standiometer while mass and body composition were measured using bioelectrical impedance for each player. A statistical analysis relied on paired t-tests, spearman correlation (R), and 95% confidence interval (mean+SD). RESULTS: Results indicate a significant difference in body mass and FFM difference (0.6+4.1kg p<0.01; -1.9+3.6kg; p<0.01) respectively from spring to competitive season. Of the seventy players, 59% had lost or maintained their body weight (<2 kg of weight gain) over the 8-month period, whereas 39% lost or maintained (having less than a 2 kg gain) their FFM concentrations. There was no significant difference across time points (83.1 ± 10.6kg; 84.9 ± 11.1kg). CONCLUSIONS: At a time of significant training and purposeful gaining of mass/FFM, athletes lacked appropriate strategies to accomplish their goals. The loss of FFM is consistent with the symptoms of LEA, or low energy availability (lack of adequate calories). Undereating or not maintaining the proper diet while performing at an increased training volume or intensity can lead to a loss in body weight and/or FFM. LEA is also a precursor for various physiological, neuroendocrine, and psychological diminutions. Ensuring proper nutrition during the preparatory phase and in-season will decrease the risk of athletes experiencing low energy availability further allowing them to perform at their highest capability.

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