I am so happy about the increased awareness of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) and how it negatively impacts health and performance. A lot of this is due to Mary Cain and Amelia Boone speaking out about their stories. If you missed it, I would highly recommend you watch Mary’s video by clicking here and reading Amelia’s blog by clicking here. These stories have opened a flood gate of others athletes talking about their experience with weight and athletics. While a majority of this information shared on social media has served to show the importance of adequate fuelling in sport, there are a few concerns that I’ve noted in regards to this topic. In particular, my concerns surround the role of coaches in “managing” athlete’s weight and nutrition advice given by well intentioned athletes. Read on to find out more.
I recently listened to a podcast with an elite athlete talking about how his coach approached him in regards to the weight he had gained since starting College. This coach showed the athlete a picture of himself running in high school and then at the College level, and asked this athlete if he could see the difference between the two pictures. While the athlete didn’t see a difference, the coach then went on to suggest that this athlete should watch what he eats in order to get to a more ideal racing weight. This athlete then went on to talk about how he extremely limited his food intake, becoming so weak that his performance declined. He then shared how he struggled with his weight throughout the rest of career going through periods of restricting food and then bingeing. What shocked me the most about his story was how he went on to praise his coach for bringing up his weight with him, as he had done it in the “kindest” way possible. He then discussed how coaches should be helping athletes manage their weight. I could not disagree with this more. Yes, we all know that weight will influence performance, and we don’t need to ignore this fact, but this doesn’t mean that coaches need to discuss an athlete’s weight with him or her. Even if a coach notices that an athlete has lost a substantial amount of weight, and wants to talk to the athlete about this out of concern, there is no need to mention the athlete’s weight. Rather, the focus of the conversation should be on how this is impacting other areas of the athlete’s life, such as noticing the athlete appears more tired, sad or withdrawn. Coaches should highlight fuelling the body for performance and health. Coaches have an important role in ensuring that there is a healthy team culture around body and food, such as implementing team pizza parties or not allowing athletes to talk negatively about their bodies.
Another concern that I have seen is the nutrition advice given by pro athletes, especially within the context of RED-S. While not all of this is bad nutrition advice, some of the advice given by the big names in the sport makes me cringe. These tend to be recommendations not based on scientific research, but rather their own anecdotal experience or sponsorship by companies that sell nutritional products. Just because an elite athlete claims they eat a certain way does not mean that this is how everyone else should be eating. This athlete could be eating in a way that is detrimental to their health and performance. Even if this athlete’s nutrition recommendations are health and performance promoting for them, this does not mean that it is appropriate for everyone else. Pro-athletes, be careful of what you throw out there. People are listening, especially young athletes, and they take what you say in very high regards. That being said, there are many pro-athletes in Canada who do have the credentials to be giving nutrition advice. A great example is Rachel Hannah and Krista DuChene who are both Registered Dietitians and amazing athletes. If you don’t follow them on social media, you definitely should by clicking here and here.
I’m so happy for the major shift that we are seeing with an increased emphasis on the importance of adequate fuelling to ensure that health is not compromised in athletic endeavours. Let us keep the momentum going and be careful with our words to ensure that they are health promoting.