I’d been really unwell in February and March but I hadn’t listened to my body. I had lots going on outside of cycling and training was my way to cope with all the chaos. In truth I’d been overtraining and under fuelling for some time and it wasn’t long before I was sat in front of sports dietician Renee McGregor and sport medicine specialist Dr Nicky Keay with a pretty dire set of bloods from my most recent Forth Edge test, being told that I needed some prolonged time out the sport and that racing might be off the cards altogether for 2019.
So why am I writing this now? Well as we come to the end of the first fortnight of ‘lockdown’ I noticed I was rapidly slipping into the same over-training habits again. I was encouraged to sign up to virtual riding and racing. With multiple points orientated goals depending on the mileage and elevation I completed, I was riding hours more than I should have been with my training plan. More worryingly for me, the reliance on w/kg of all these online games meant thoughts of how I could rapidly get my weight down became very prevalent, and combined with the increased training, that’s a dangerous place to go. Having ended up in a very bad place with my health last year, I was able to quickly identify these danger signs and I know I won’t follow that path again. All around me though, friends are constantly discussing power to weight, virtual miles and levels. With the lack of daily structure for many right now, and the psychological need to find things we can control when the world around is out of control, it’s going to be so easy for many people to fall into a state of RED-S if they’re not mindful too.
RED-S has started to gain more awareness, but many are still unaware of how easy it is to succumb to. It stands for ‘Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport’. In short, you are not replacing the calories that you are expending on exercise. For some this will have resulted from purposeful restriction but for others, like me last year, it can come about through just not being mindful enough about matching your nutrition and training. I was eating but not at the right times and not consuming the right things because I was finding it so hard to manage the demands of supporting myself in my training and racing around working full time and going through a period of extreme personal stress.
Train Brave is a campaign to help raise awareness of RED-S amongst athletes
So how do you know if you’re slipping? It’s far easier to tell as a woman when something is going wrong, as your periods become irregular, but there are several key warning signs in men too.
NB You don’t need to have all of these to be suffering with RED-S.
In 2017, Alice broke the 12-hour time trial record, formerly held by the legendary Beryl Burton and a record that had stood for 50 years. She has continued to clock up excellent performances, with medals and wins at competitions including the 50-mile and 100-mile National Championship. She is an ambassador for Forth Edge and continually monitors her blood biometrics to help her optimise her performance and avoid overtraining.
Dr. Nicky Keay is Chief Medical Officer for Forth Edge. She is a field-leading endocrinologist with a focus on sports medicine. Renee McGregor, Forth Edge’s nutrition expert, works with Olympic and National squads to optimise performance and has published numerous books on sports nutrition including the Fast Fuel series and Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Goes Bad. As well as being part of Forth Edge’s sports science team Nicky and Renee run the sports consultancy clinic – Enspire.
Dr Nicky Keay’s website (Sports & Dance Endocrinologist) https://nickykeayfitness.com/tag/red-s/
Renee McGregor’s website (Sports & Eating Disorder Dietician) https://reneemcgregor.com/
Renee McGregor Interview https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p079wcv0
Study on RED-S in male cyclists https://bmjopensem.bmj.com/content/bmjosem/5/1/e000523.full.pdf