As a running club with ample opportunities and races, it can be hard to say no. Running can enhance your life for all the right reasons. Seeing a PB can be a high like no other. But at what point can it all be too much? Can we ever run too much? The answer is yes, yes we can.

RED-S stands for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. It is characterised – as you'd expect from the name – by low energy availability resulting from a long term/ ongoing calorie deficit. Often this low energy availability will not be intentional, but simply as a result of exercising too much and or eating too little.

RED-S as a term was coined back in 2014. It’s not only a condition that affects only elite athletes – it can in fact affect anyone – male, female, elite or amateur. And it can lead to irreparable damage, impairing almost every system in the body if left untreated.

Because it's only recently that it's been categorised – though of course cases will have existed for decades – there is relatively little known about the condition amongst the general medical and indeed athletic community. It can often therefore get overlooked, go under the radar until a dramatic collapse or injury occurs.

'It is still a relatively new condition,' explains Sports and Eating disorder specialist dietitian, Renee McGregor. 'It is a clinical condition within a sporting community, so only practitioners trained in both clinical and sports science/medicine will have a full understanding of it.'

Things, though, are changing. As evidence of its dangers mount, more people are speaking out to try and raise awareness about the syndrome. Myself included!

In this month’s coaches corner, I would like to raise awareness that a ‘fit body’ doesn’t mean a healthy body. I was running my fastest times (19.17seconds for a 5k, 39 mins for a 10k and 87 minutes for half). During this time I was the unhealthiest I have ever been. I was underweight, hadn’t had a natural period for years and after a bone density scan, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis aged just 26. Note: you do not have to be underweight to suffer from RED-S – it is more about the energy availability.

RED-S can affect both men and women. Some warning signs to look out for are:

        Ongoing fatigue

        Often picking up niggles and injuries

        Feeling like your running has plateaued / got slower

        Irregular / missing periods in women (the pill doesn’t count!)

        Poor digestion

        Poor sleep

        Changes in mood – e.g. feeling low or anxious

The danger of RED-S lies not just in its symptoms, but in our failure to recognise them as symptoms.

Runners World states: ‘RED-S is not an invisible illness that wreaks havoc on our internal organs as we ignorantly carry on with our lives: it waves at us in a bunting of red flags, but we remain colourblind to its warnings. In a society warped by messages like ‘No pain, no gain’ and ‘Eat less, move more’, it’s easy to view physical hardship as fundamental to making progress.’

Our ability to detect health problems can, ironically, be corrupted by our determination to reach our fitness goals.

The Responsibility of others

With athletes often unable to identify the issue objectively, it’s therefore crucial that their support team develops an understanding of RED-S.

Unfortunately, the initial ‘pros’ of the condition are often applauded by coaches for the same reasons as the athletes themselves – because of the short term positive results it may bring. Many doctors also have little knowledge of the condition, which further delays diagnosis. Despite displaying all the symptoms, it took years for me to discover I had RED-S. I ended up working with an amazing sports doctor. Her support and knowledge have been life changing.

Recovery

The sooner you realise you are over training, the sooner you can do something about it and the sooner your body can repair!

Recovering from years of overtraining can take a very long time (months, years, depending on the individual). 3 years later I am still far from where I would like to be, but I am now making the right choices. I know my body really well and I am the healthiest I have ever been.

Fancy a chat?

If any of the information has raised alarm bells, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m always up for a chat.

Keep looking after yourselves and remember, resting is where the magic happens!

References:

 

www.runnersworld.com 

https://reneemcgregor.com

https://red-s.com