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Treatment for RED-S

Written by Abi Woodliffe-Thomas

Treatment for RED-S

Treatment for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) can be complex, especially for athletes who need to take a break from their sport or challenge having a "fit" identity. When looking at the different treatment options for RED-S, one key point to recognise is that everyone is individual, and therefore treatment will look different for everyone.

If you missed it, start off with our blog on What is RED-S?

Through understanding potential triggers, physiological, psychological and behavioural signs and symptoms, as well as environmental changes you can adapt.

Recovery from RED-S is 100% possible.

Physical and psychological side effects of RED-S

There are many side effects which result from inadequate energy intake and excessive energy expenditure (over-exercise), which are outlined below in Table 1. It is important to note that the majority of these are reversible with adequate nutrition, returning to a healthy level of physical activity and a healthy weight for you. Reproductive and bone health impacts however, are two side effects to highlight.

Reproductive health

People can assume it is normal not to have a period, especially for athletes, it seems almost ‘fashionable’ or accepted in the sporting world. However, not having a regular menstrual cycle as a female of reproductive age is typically a sign of an underlying problem and can have significant long-term consequences.

In the UK, 6 consecutive months without menstruation is a warning sign for RED-S. Alongside amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle), the other two symptoms completing the formally recognised ‘female athlete triad’ consist of low energy availability and impaired bone health (3). Low energy availability refers to being in a consistent energy deficit which results in reduction in the energy available for most body systems leading to a decline in physiological functions, such as menstruation and digestion.

It is important to note that this is not necessarily weight dependent and not all individuals with RED-S will lose their period. You can be in a clinically defined "healthy" or "overweight" category and still experience reproductive health changes.

"It is abnormal to not have a period, even as an athlete"

It is slightly harder to diagnose reproductive issues in males, however, <5 morning erections per week, along with a reduction in libido as a result of the low levels of testosterone are the primary physiological predictors. Like oestrogen, testosterone is essential for performance and muscular and physiological adaptations.

Bone health

Bone health is detrimentally affected in RED-S. Low energy availability means vital nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D aren’t consumed in large enough quantities to support bone mineralisation. And if oestrogen levels are low, bone production reduces too. Having a regular menstrual cycle and/or healthy reproductive system is an overall protective factor for bone health. Bone density can be reduced in RED-S and lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis, which can be irreversible if not corrected early.

Common signs and symptoms of RED-S

Common signs and symptoms of RED-S

Treatment options for RED-S:

Treating RED-S is an incredibly individualised approach, and we recommend to consult a medical professional for advice suitable for you and your lifestyle. There are 3 main areas in which individuals must consider during recovery:


RED-S develops due to an energy deficiency and commonly inadequate of carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred energy source, providing the same amount of energy as protein (4 kcal/g) and are essential for health. There are some considerations when recovering from RED-S:

  • Eat regularly. Meals and snacks should be regular, with no more than 4 hours between meals

  • Fasted training is not advised as this can lead to further reductions in overall energy intake and can increase cortisol levels (as a stress response) which can impact recovery

  • Adequate nutrition pre and post physical activity with good sources of carbohydrates, fats and protein. Examples can be a hot cross bun with peanut butter before training and then beans on toast with cheese post-training. Both providing you with adequate sources of the 3 macronutrients, fueling you for performance and supporting recovery.


The frequency, duration and intensity of physical activity will need to be adjusted for recovery. For some, this will mean avoiding high level of physical activity (or all forms) for some time to allow the body to rest. It is important to consult health professionals with expertise in RED-S to guide your return to safe exercise.

It is important in life to have fun, let your hair down and laugh, and this can be a great treatment option for those willing to challenge themselves and push for recovery. However, it is also important to consider the energy you expend on a daily basis, known as NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). Activities such as walking the dog, cleaning your room or even walking to school all require energy to move, just like a car requires fuel to drive. So, remaining consist with snacks and meal timings, as well as reducing daily step count will help you on the road to recovery.


Other lifestyle factors such as sleep and stress need to be addressed as part of recovery. Inadequate sleep or other stressors such as demanding work commitments, travel or a busy social life can delay recovery from RED-S as these stressors keep the body in "flight or fight" mode and increase energy requirements that can be hard to meet without adequate rest and stress reduction.

Treatment for RED-S will looks different for each individual, but full recovery is absolutely possible.

We can support you to heal your relationship with food and exercise at the TC Nutrition clinic. Contact us to enquire about private nutrition consultations with one of our eating disorder dietitians and book your free 15 minute discovery call.

Abi Woodliffe-Thomas

Guest contributor

Abi is a personal trainer and is working towards becoming an exercise nutritionist. Follow Abi on Instagram at @Happeitite_for recipe inspiration and nutrition tips!



[1] Mountjoy, M., Sundgot-Borgen, J., Burke, L., Carter, S., Constantini, N., Lebrun, C., Meyer, N., Sherman, R., Steffen, K., Budgett, R. and Ljungqvist, A., 2014. The IOC consensus statement: beyond the female athlete triad—relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). British journal of sports medicine, 48(7), pp.491-497


Talia Cecchele Nutrition is a team of registered dietitians that specialise in eating disorder recovery, disordered eating, digestive issues and sports nutrition. We aim to bring balance back to nutrition, help you to break free from food rules and find food freedom. We offer virtual consultations and group programs so whether you are based in London, the United Kingdom or around the world we would love to support you. To enquire about a private consultation please fill out a contact form.



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