Kristen Faulkner’s disqualification from the Strade Bianche Donne podium this year for wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) during the race, along with statements from both Faulkner and Supersapiens post-race, has reignited the topic of under-fuelling in performance sports.
We’ll take you through everything you need to know about energy deficiency in sport, its prevalence across both amateur and professional athletes (which is shockingly high, especially when you consider the likely extent of underreporting) and how to spot the signs in yourself – as well as ensuring you’re getting the right balance of energy for the intensity of your training.
Under-fuelling in cycling: what is RED-S?
Simply put, RED-S refers to when an athlete is not eating enough to cover normal physiological processes and the amount of training being undertaken.
RED-S is short for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport, and is defined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as “impaired physiological functioning caused by relative energy deficiency and includes, but is not limited to, impairments of metabolic rate, menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis and cardiovascular health.” The underlying factor leading to these impairments is Low Energy Availability (LEA), where an athlete has inadequate energy available to meet basic physiological needs.
The term replaces the ‘Female Athlete Triad’, which is the inter-relationship between disordered eating, menstrual dysfunction, and low bone mass, acknowledging that the condition affects both men and women, and that it involves a whole spectrum of issues rather than just these three components. RED-S is a broader, more comprehensive term describing the overall syndrome that results from energy deficiency in any athlete.
Why is under-fuelling prevalent in cycling?
Energy availability is the energy (calories) you have left after you subtract the calories you expend during your training from the calories you consume in your diet for the day. If you do not have enough energy left to fuel your body’s physiological functions, you will have low energy availability which could lead to RED-S over time.
Low energy availability (LEA) is not always intentional or related to disordered eating.
Intentional LEA occurs when athletes restrict their dietary intake to control body weight and/or body composition. It can occur in the presence of disordered eating but also without. That being said,…
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