Since the beginning of her triathlon career, Lea Sophie Keim only wanted one thing: to become a professional. But on the way there came quickly the first setback, a fatigue break. More fractures followed, her period stopped, she suffered from anemia and iron deficiency. Her own body seemed to stand in the way of her dream. Left behind by perplexed doctors, Keim went to look for the cause himself.
Months later, she tracked down a condition that experts have now identified as a largely unknown but massive threat to all ambitious athletes: that RED-S-Syndrome, the “relative energy deficit in sport”.
Karsten Köhler from the Technical University of Munich has been dealing with the subject for more than 15 years. “RED-S is a syndrome that we observe in athletes who have a relative lack of energy, i.e. who do not have sufficient energy available to cover all body functions, ”Says the scientist. The causes of RED-S are therefore too much training and a relatively low energy intake. An eating disorder is just one of many symptoms.
Up to 60 percent of athletes are at risk
Koehler sees in RED-S an underestimated risk, he believes that around 20 to 30 percent of all athletes are affected by the syndrome. In risk sports he even assumes up to 60 percent. Athletes for whom a low body weight is an advantage are particularly at risk: in triathlon or long-distance running, in sports with weight classes such as rowing and boxing, or in which aesthetics are particularly important.
The roots of RED-S often lie in optimization mania, pressure to perform and emulating false role models. With Lea Sophie Keim, it was questionable body ideals that she followed, favored by dangerous sham images from social media. “You have to be slim and thin and look wiry, then you will be successful and well-trained and fit. Then you are efficient, ”Says Keim. This creed is as dangerous as it is wrong.
The pressure to lose weight can also be created by coaches, as was the case with the American runner Mary Cain shows. Cain expected her ex-trainer from the now closed in 2019 Nike-Oregon-Project off, Alberto Salazar. Cain accused the American, banned today for possible doping practices, of pushing her to lose weight. The result was a dangerous lack of energy.
“In the end, I was really suicidal”
That RED-S is still unknown to many doctors, the Olympic participant Deborah Schöneborn, who is also affected, sees the reason for the lack of information. Gynecologists in particular, who prescribed the pill if they missed a period, only covered up the problem. The participant in the marathon in Tokyo has been trying to regulate her cycle for years. This was canceled in 2017 when she wanted to lose a few kilograms for a competition. Since then, Schöneborn has been waiting for both a natural period and sustainable solutions from sport. In 2014 the International Olympic Committee RED-S and its characteristics are defined. One ARD-Inquiry about how to combat the problem concretely left that IOC unanswered.
The psyche can also get through RED-S to be influenced. Amateur triathlete Anja Kern hit a mental low point with the syndrome. “AIn the end, I was really suicidal because I couldn’t see any perspective and because I didn’t know what the reasons for the deep lethargy were. I didn’t bring them together with RED-S, not at all, ”Says Kern. The consequences of the syndrome can be irreparable, so women can get through it RED-S become sterile.
Coach partly in complicity
Men are alike RED-S– endangered. The former duathlon world champion and today’s trainer Simon Hoyden criticizes the way athletes are treated: “The last few years of my track and field career were definitely the most blatant when I heard that a trainer – now in the position of national coach – said to younger women: You have to lose weight to get faster. It just can’t be.”
The German Athletics Association did not respond to this statement when asked about the sport show. The German Olympic Sports Confederation announces that it is continuously concerned with the current state of research. Concrete measures in the event of suspected cases reported by the regional associations DOSB with. In the end, athletes are responsible for their own bodies, but are far too often left alone with their optimization mania and false idols.
Stand: 07.11.2021, 08:00