If You’re Working Out More, You Better Be Eating More

What you need to know about RED-S, and how it could affect your workout goals

Man stretching in red shirt
The key to your most efficient workout could be more calories
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty

The best advice for a successful workout? Eat. 

What was once deemed a woman’s problem, the “female athlete triad,” has a new name you should know: RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport). Part of RED-S is consuming less calories than your body needs to function effectively, making everyday activities more difficult, including working out. 

Eating isn’t just fuel for workouts, it’s fuel for everything you do. Your brain, liver, and other organs all need calories to function properly, before you can focus on building muscle at the gym. In one study of male cyclists, the results showed that, “Those whose training and dietary patterns appeared to be insufficient had substantially lower bone density and testosterone than would be expected for men of their age. There was also an effect on athletic performance.”

As reported by Outside, Kathy Butler, the coach of Run Boulder Athletic Club and the head of USA Track and Field coaching instruction, said that a possible effect of RED-S is a reduction in muscle strength, and other issues might become apparent, including “negative effects on the immune system, heart, mood, coordination, glycogen supply, and thyroid level.”

RED-S is harder to spot in men, and while a restricted diet is the primary cause, along with sleep and digestive issues, people with RED-S may not look underweight. Nutrition is highly personal, and what works for some may not work for others, but the best advice, according to Nicky Keay, an exercise endocrinologist at University College London and Durham University, is to trust your body and what it’s telling you about what you eat, how much you eat, and to avoid restriction. Eat snacks, check in with yourself, and if you’re still concerned, contact a nutritionist.

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