Why Every Athlete Should Know about RED S

RED S stands for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport, it is common in athletes of all ages, men and women, especially when they do not understand the increase in nutritional needs when training.

Firstly we must address that RED S can present much like an eating disorder, but it is generally a lack of knowledge that causes a plan to go off track, rather than a psychological condition. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder professional help is recommended as soon as possible. If, on the other hand the symptoms are caused by a lack of nutritional knowledge, this blog may assist.

Apart from a decrease in performance, RED S can cause low energy, a loss of periods, muscle cramps, stress fractures, dental problems and much more. Awareness of your body, its needs and how to address these is important to ensure you keep yourself healthy when training.

RED S can also be a side effect of eating disorders, it is common among dancers and people with disordered eating in sport. Not all sufferers of RED S intentionally under eat, not being aware of how much your body requires during different training intensities may be the unintentional cause. As training intensifies, it can be difficult to get nutrition right, for people training hard and frequently, it is easy to underestimate how much fuel you should be putting in your body. Sometimes it may be about just not getting enough total calories into your body, but failing to increase certain food groups, like carbs is also a cause. For these reasons a restrictive diet may also cause side effects. Some sports may require a leaner or ‘lighter’ frame and restricting diet to produce this can have disastrous effects.

It’s not just diet that is a risk factor for RED S though, failing to include recovery into your training plan will also put you at risk.

No matter the cause of the RED S syndrome it can be extremely detrimental to a training program. Not only will it affect performance, it could actually stop training altogether with the risk of stress fractures and other conditions increasing.

Anyone physically active is at risk of RED S, the more competitive the program, the more at risk you are. There are certain sports that also carry a greater risk, endurance sports that require a lot of pre, during and post nutrition, as well as dancers, gymnasts and even swimmers. Many of these sports have the leaner body type requirement or even expectation, which can lead to a reduction of calorie intake. Endurance sportsmen and women should be particularly careful as the length of time spent training and competing leaves smaller amounts of time for replacing calories.

So what are the symptoms you could be keeping an eye out for?

  • Reduction in energy

  • Hypersensitivity to the cold

  • Weight loss

  • Stress factures

  • Muscle cramps

  • Lack of focus

  • Anxiety or depression

  • Gum or dental problems

Some red flags to keep an eye out for are;

  • Overtraining

  • Obsessiveness

  • Lack of focus

If you notice any of these symptoms or warning signs in yourself or a friend, point it out. They may not be aware that they are causing some issues for their training program, or indeed their health.

Knowing about RED S and recognising if this could be happening to you is a vital first step. Athletes often put their performance first and foremost, so understanding that increasing your fuel and introducing rest days will help to reduce vulnerability to the condition. Those with a more complex relationship with food and body image will need to engage a specialist as soon as symptoms start to appear.

Being aware of your body and how it reacts to training, fuel and treatments is critically important to staying healthy.

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