If you have been following my blog, then you are most likely aware of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). In a nutshell, RED-S occurs when insufficient calories are consumed by athletes, which has negative impacts on health and performance (for more detailed information, click here). While RED-S can occur in any sport, long-distance runners tend to be especially prone. Various aspects of the sport make it the perfect storm for undereating. Read on to find out more.
Training for and competing in long-distance sports results in high calorie needs due to the extensive training involved. Yet many runners are not aware of how many calories they need to consume. Running can also suppress appetite, so it can be hard to eat enough calories unless you’re intentionally trying to eat more. This under-fuelling is perpetuated by the fact that we live in a society that fears overeating and praises healthy eating. However, these healthy eating requirements are not so healthy for long-distance runners, who have vastly different nutrition requirements. As a result, it is very easy to be unintentionally undereating.
Another reason is the culture of long-distance running. While thankfully this is being challenged, there is the perception of a “typical” or “ideal” runner’s body. Leaner is thought as better for performance, resulting in many runners restricting food intake in an attempt to fit this mold. Short-term, this can result in improved performance, but can have deleterious long-term effects. This inadequate fuelling can result in recurring injuries and illness that result in training and competitions being missed.
While the psychology or mindset of long-distance runners often makes them successful in the sport, it can also make them more likely to under-fuel. Many runners will confess to being the type A personality that likes to follow rules and is overly stringent. While this may allow runners to follow a running program to the tee, it can be negative when it comes to eating habits. This can easily spiral out of control and result in disordered eating.
RED-S can occur in athletes of any age or competition level, from recreational to elite. Body weight is not a good indicator if you are fuelling enough. If you think that you or someone you know may have RED-S be sure to reach out to a trusted health care provider.