An audience of around 30 Elswick Harriers met at Newburn Leisure Centre to listen to Dr Alan Currie, Consultant Psychiatrist at Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Trust speaking about Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. Put simply, RED-S is all about the simple equation representing the calories we feed our bodies which must equal the energy we burn in exercise.
Once a competing runner himself, Dr Currie developed an area of expertise in the topic of diet in sport and how diet can impact performance in a positive and negative way.
He identified that there is spectrum of diet ranging from normal, and healthy up to severe eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa at the opposite end. In the middle sits an athlete’s diet. It must be extremely healthy and in very keen athletes, it is controlled in order to keep body mass to a minimum. There is a fine line to be taken with this kind of diet. Weight loss can lead to an improvement in performance, but only for the short term. Performance will deteriorate if weight loss goes a step too far with fatigue setting in and the potential for an eating disorder to materialise.
Given that runners performing at a high level commonly have a very lean body shape, it is very difficult to detect the existence of an eating disorder on the basis of a visual observation. Coaches must be alert to this and support their athletes to eat the right diet with sufficient carbs and fats to sustain regular and intensive training.
Women are at greater risk of developing RED-S and/or eating disorders, but there are increasing numbers of men showing themselves to be at risk in sports like running and cycling. Those in their teenage years are the most susceptible when bodies are changing rapidly and youngsters are driven by a desire to perform well and to have a lean body shape. Coaches and parents play a vital role in ensuring that junior athletes understand the importance of maintaining a diet that is sufficient to sustain their energy through their training and competing.
An article in the March 2019 edition of Athletics Weekly focused on the risks of RED-S on female athletes and also highlighted a useful website for information on the RED-S topic. The article is attached below>
Dr Currie has supplied some documents which he is happy for us to share and are attached below. He has indicated that the reading list is a little out of date, but Jane Griffin’s book on nutrition is a very good read. There is the UK Sport Guidance from 2007 and a paper on RED-S if anyone fancies having a go – it’s a big read.
Many thanks go to Dr Alan Currie for giving up his time to speak to us. Thanks to Kim and Harry Matthews for initiating the idea of the talk and getting in touch with Dr Currie; and to Derek Nelson for organising the refreshments which were paid for by England Athletics.