A new International Olympic Committee (IOC) Consensus Statement, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, highlights the risk for athletes of a syndrome affecting health and performance, caused by a mismatch between the calories eaten and burned during exercise – known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDs).

The consensus, informed by a panel of international experts, draws on key advances in REDs science over the past five years, with the aim of promoting wider recognition and prevention of the syndrome, and optimising athlete health, psychological well-being, and performance. In particular, the Statement highlights:The full Consensus Statement is available on the British Journal of Sports Medicine website

IOC leading the way in research into REDs

REDs affects multiple body systems and functions as well as athlete performance, and was first recognised as a distinct entity by the IOC in a 2014 Consensus Statement, which was updated in 2018.

IOC Medical and Scientific Director Dr Richard Budgett explained: “IOC consensus statements have a central role to play in the translation of research and theory into clinical practice. And this new statement will do much to protect athletes’ health through improvements in both the prevention and management of REDs.”

While the true prevalence of REDs varies between sports – with estimates ranging between 15 percent and 80 percent of elite athletes – the Statement finds that the syndrome often goes unrecognised 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.

“REDs is common in both male and female athletes in many sports, and although we understand a lot more about its causes, awareness of the syndrome, and its consequences for health and performance, is still low among athletes, their medical and performance support teams, and the general public,” explained Professor Margo Mountjoy, IOC Medical and Scientific Commission Games Group member and the lead author of the Consensus Statement.

“We very much hope that this Consensus Statement will enhance awareness and understanding of REDs and stimulate action by sports organisations and scientists, and athlete health and performance teams, to protect the health and well-being of the many athletes at risk of this syndrome.”

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