Dietitians and nutritionists for the country’s top sporting teams fear many athletes are unintentionally suffering disordered eating.
- Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDS) often occurs without athletes knowing
- REDS is harder to detect in male athletes
- Regular blood profiles are taken to ensure athletes are properly fuelled
The condition known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDS) occurs when athletes are under-fuelling their body for the intensity and the exercise they’re undertaking.
Alicia Edge is the leading performance nutritionist for the Australian Women’s soccer team the Matildas and said often REDS occurred without athletes knowing.
“This isn’t something that’s only for the lean, it’s not only for the young female, it’s something that impacts so many groups of people,” she said.
“You’ve got these athletes that are training with such high training loads that their opportunity to eat is lower.”
Dietitian Mikaela Welti is also a professional rugby player with the Melbourne Rebels and said she has seen symptoms of REDS emerge among athletes striving to be at the top of their game.
“The common denominator is sport, it’s not a particular sport … you can have a 120 kilogram, 6-foot male that has REDs, so it doesn’t discriminate in terms of who you are and what sport you play,” Ms Welti added.
In her role with the Matildas, Ms Edge said players were constantly monitored and if they were showing symptoms their nutrition was adjusted or their training load reduced.
A key indicator for women was how regularly they were getting their period and a missed menstrual cycle was the first indication something was amiss.
It was also a sign the athlete could be suffering from REDS.
“It’s one of our first call cards to being in a state of low energy availability,” she said.
“In males, we’ll actually see a lowering of testosterone and that can come about or be shown as lowering of libido, reduced bone health and all those types of things as well,” Ms Edge said.
But those indicators are not as clear cut, making REDS harder to detect in male athletes.
Consequently, staff at the Australian Cycling Team closely monitor their cyclists and conduct regular blood profiles to ensure athletes are properly fuelled.
Performance nutritionist Jill Leckey said a team of professionals were constantly on the case.
“From physios, an athlete help lead, doctor, nutritionist, a psychologist and of course, most importantly the coaches. We do tend to be very present around the training environment, so for us presence is really key and that really opens up the communication channels with the riders,” she said.
Staff at Australia Cycling are also attempting to better educate each athlete to ensure they can identify their own nutritional needs and execute a tailored nutrition plan.
“It also just enables them to be adaptable when we’re not around as well.”
REDS is not exclusive to elite athletes and can be experienced by anyone who is not matching their food intake with the amount of exercise they’re doing each day.
Ms Leckey said in some cases, a couple of extra hundred calories a day could make all the difference.
She said it may also be a case of lowering the intensity or amount of exercise until the issue was addressed.