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IOC issues new guidelines to protect athletes’ health from energy deficiency

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has published a new consensus statement on Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDs), a syndrome that affects the health and performance of athletes due to insufficient calorie intake. The statement, which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, provides updated recommendations and practical guidelines for the prevention, diagnosis and management of REDs.

What is REDs and why is it important?

REDs is a condition that occurs when an athlete does not consume enough calories to meet the energy demands of their training and daily activities. This results in a negative energy balance, which affects various body systems and functions, such as metabolism, bone health, immunity, cardiovascular health, reproductive health and mental health. REDs can also impair the athlete’s performance, recovery and injury risk.

REDs can affect both male and female athletes of any age, level and sport. However, some factors may increase the risk of developing REDs, such as:

  • High-intensity or high-volume training
  • Low body weight or body fat
  • Restrictive or disordered eating behaviors
  • Pressure to achieve a certain body shape or weight
  • Lack of awareness or education about nutrition and energy needs
  • Stress or anxiety

The IOC said that REDs often goes unrecognized by athletes themselves and their coaches and team clinicians, and may be unintentionally exacerbated by ‘sports culture’ due to the perceived short-term performance gains from limiting calorie intake.

IOC issues new guidelines to protect athletes’ health from energy deficiency

What are the new recommendations from the IOC?

The new consensus statement from the IOC is based on the latest scientific evidence and expert opinions on REDs. It aims to raise awareness and understanding of REDs among athletes, coaches, medical professionals and the general public. It also provides practical tools and resources for the prevention, diagnosis and management of REDs.

Some of the key recommendations from the statement are:

  • Athletes should be screened for REDs regularly using validated tools, such as the RED-S Clinical Assessment Tool (RED-S CAT) and the Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire (LEAF-Q).
  • Athletes with suspected or confirmed REDs should be referred to a multidisciplinary team of experts, including a sports physician, a sports dietitian, a sports psychologist and other relevant specialists.
  • Athletes with REDs should receive individualized nutrition and exercise interventions to restore their energy balance and optimize their health and performance.
  • Athletes with REDs should be monitored closely for their progress and recovery using objective measures, such as body weight, body composition, bone density, hormonal status and performance indicators.
  • Athletes with REDs should be educated about the causes, consequences and management of REDs, as well as strategies to prevent its recurrence.
  • Coaches, medical staff and other stakeholders should also be educated about REDs and how to support athletes with REDs in a positive and respectful manner.

How can athletes prevent REDs?

The best way to prevent REDs is to ensure adequate energy intake to match energy expenditure. This can be achieved by following these tips:

  • Plan your meals and snacks around your training schedule and daily activities.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from all food groups, especially carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, calcium and iron.
  • Avoid skipping meals or restricting food groups or calories unnecessarily.
  • Monitor your body weight, body composition and menstrual cycle regularly.
  • Seek professional advice from a sports dietitian if you have any questions or concerns about your nutrition or energy needs.
  • Listen to your body and adjust your nutrition and exercise accordingly.
  • Seek help from a sports psychologist if you experience stress, anxiety or negative emotions related to your body image or performance.
  • Communicate openly with your coach, medical staff and support network about your health and well-being.

The IOC said that it had led the way in research into REDs since 2014. It also said that it would continue to support further research and education on this topic. The IOC hopes that the new consensus statement will help protect athletes’ health and enhance their performance in a safe and sustainable way.

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