Preventing Relative Energy Deficiency in Young Female Athletes

It usually begins innocently. A young female athlete pushes harder than usual and trains intensely to gain that competitive edge. This increased output consumes naturally more calories to meet the demands of this kind of training in recovery all the while not to mention growth and development. Her diet though typically doesn't change and this can lead to a condition known as relative energy deficiency and support or RED-S.

Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport

This term was coined by an expert panel at the Olympic committee and is now a comprehensive term that builds on the condition known as the female athlete triad. This describes an energy deficiency gap that results when energy intake is insufficient to support the activities of all that is needed in health and functioning. The syndrome affects bone health, menstrual function, metabolic rate, immune system function, protein synthesis and cardiovascular health and psychological health. It is also been shown to affect young male athletes.

RED-S develops and there is pressure to change eating habits but also emphasis on appearance and low body weight and endurance. Many young girls are exposed to dieting and that is perceived as healthy but is inappropriately applied to those who are growing and training. The desire to eat healthier lose weight in hopes of improving athletic performance can lead to willful food restriction and rigid dieting.

Many girls just don't understand that their energy needs translate into daily food choices. An eating disorder doesn't always precede the development of RED-S although there are some psychological factors that are present. Serious short and long-term health can occur in these young females who develop RED-S.

The effects of RED-S

Bone health is of major concern as many girls build 60 to 80% of their lifetime bone mass by 18. Preteen and teenage girls who restrict their eating can shut down their bone growth. Any restricted diet is low in calcium and vitamin D and contributes to poor bone formation. This can lead to stress fractures and osteoporosis in which bones are fragile and more likely to break.

Another concern is a reproductive development. Their low estrogen levels that delay menstruation or irregular missed cycles.

There is increased risk of injury and decreased endurance and muscle strength as a result of training. All this impairs the judgment and increases irritability and depression none of which any athlete wants to have happen.

Parents should play a significant role in preventing RED-S. Educate your daughters on the energy demands of their training and proper nutrition etc. Keep an eye out for weight loss and changes in menstruation and mood.

Create a supportive environment where girls can consume three meals and one to three snacks per day. Missing a meal and a regular basis can result in an energy deficit. Make sure your child is a regular breakfast impacts or eats a full lunch at school. For those girls who train after school give them an easily digested snack prior to practice which gives energy for training. Choose an energy bar, cereal, crackers, banana, fruit or fruit juice pretzels and peanut butter.

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