Many of you have likely heard of disordered eating but, have you heard of RED-S?
Disordered eating is an eating pattern that restricts or limits intake of overall energy or certain foods types/categories. When disordered eating is severe an athlete can be in a state of low energy availability which can lead them to the development of RED-S.
If you have not heard of RED-S, it is an acronym for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. RED-S was first introduced in 2014 with a goal to provide better diagnosis, treatment, and gender inclusivity to the issues seen with poor energy intake in athletes, then termed the female athlete triad. Both RED-S and disordered eating share some of the same characteristics so differentiating between the two can be difficult but is very important in terms of diagnosis and treatment.
You might be thinking to yourself how do I know if I am just eating “healthy” or if I am not taking in enough energy and putting myself at risk for RED-S? Continue reading below to find out!
Disordered eating is a spectrum of eating behaviors and patterns that includes characteristics such as mental preoccupation with food, avoidance/restriction of certain foods, and strict food rules.
With disordered eating many people just think they are eating “clean” or “healthy” but in reality, they are engaging in restrictive and harmful eating behaviors. This can become even more of an issue when it is an athlete who is engaging in disordered eating as they are burning a lot of energy through exercise and likely not able to replace all that energy with their disordered eating pattern. This can lead to poor recovery and performance deficits.
RED-S can simply be defined as a low energy intake that leads to impairment of body systems and body functioning.
Some of the body systems that RED-S affects includes the endocrine system, bone health, metabolism, immunity, gastrointestinal health, and menstrual cycle function. To read more about the consequences of poor bone health click here. Some physiological symptoms of RED-S include fatigue, weight loss, hair loss, frequent illness, difficulty concentrating.
Many people think you need to have an eating disorder and be underweight to fit a RED-S diagnosis but that is not true. Many individuals diagnosed with RED-S do not have an eating disorder and can still maintain their normal body weight. It’s also a misconception, due to its predecessor which was named the female athlete’s triad, that RED-S is a female only diagnosis but this is also false as plenty of male athletes meet RED-S criteria.
After learning all of this information you might still be wondering as an athlete how do I tell the difference between disordered eating and something like RED-S that can lead to series health consequences?
You may be able to tell that you are at risk for RED-S when you start to feel some of the symptoms we discussed above: fatigue, weight loss, hair loss, and difficulty concentrating. You may also start to experience some of the organ system dysfunction such as missed or irregular periods. As always, consult your doctor and go see a sports dietitian if you feel you are at risk for RED-S.
Fueling your body for sport is essential for sports performance and preservation of your overall health. Without adequate fuel, it becomes difficult to train, progress, and recover in sport. Not to mention, underfueling can lead to both short and long-term consequences to your health.
If you’re looking for a sports dietitian to help you optimize your performance and health through optimizing your fueling and hydration plan, we’re here to help. Check out our performance packages HERE.
Dave, S.C., Fisher, M. (2022). Relative energy deficiency in sport (RED – S). Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care, 52(8),101242.
Logue, D., Madigan, M.S., Delahunt, E., Heinen, M., McDonnell, J.S., & Corish A.C. (2018). Low energy availability in athletes: a review of prevalence, dietary patterns, physiological health, and sports performance. Sports Med, 48(1), 73-96. DOI 10.1007/s40279-017-0790-3