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RED-S – Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport

What is RED-S?

When athletes do not consume adequate nutrition to meet the energy demands of their exercise, they are at risk of poor health and reduced athletic performance. This phenomenon is known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (RED-S), whereby insufficient caloric intake impedes an athlete's ability to perform at their best and can lead to long-term health consequences.

In simple terms, Energy Expenditure > Energy Intake = decreased Energy Availability.

Although athletes often train intensely and deplete their energy stores, most often, they are able to replenish their energy stores with a big, hearty meal. However, without this replenishment, athletes are at risk of significant adverse effects.

Some adverse effects include impairments in:

- Reproductive health

- Bone health

- Immunity

- Metabolism

- Cardiovascular health

- Psychological health

Previously, RED-S was called Female Athlete Triad. The name was revised when it was realised that men can be affected as well.

What are the symptoms of RED-S?

- Weight loss or low BMI

- Irregular or absent periods

- Recurrent sicknesses

- Suboptimal sports performance

- Mood swings

- Impaired growth/development (children & adolescents)

- Iron deficiency

- Hair loss

- Low libido

- Trouble staying warm

How can we treat RED-S?

Treatment can vary depending on the individual. The most effective strategy involves having a care team that includes a physician, a dietician, and a psychologist. A physician will keep track of the athlete’s physical health, the dietician will help educate the athlete on nutrition and fuelling for their sport, and a psychologist will help address any underlying psychological aspects that may be contributing to any unhealthy relationships with food and exercise.

How can I prevent RED-S?

Ensure you are eating healthy, nutritious food prior to and after each training session. If you are unsure of your caloric needs, speak to a dietician or do some research as to what your specific requirements are. Try to avoid toxic training environments that may trigger unhealthy thoughts and feelings regarding body image, food restriction and excessive training.

Luckily, RED-S is reversible if addressed early on. If you feel you may be experiencing RED-S, reach out to a professional to help you reach your training goals without harming your body.

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