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Lack of energy in sports (Red-S): How to avoid injuries & infections

Lack of energy in sports

This is how a lack of energy in sports affects your body

Energy deficiency in sports – a hardly noticed, big problem

Most people think that the more trained and resilient someone is, the stronger the immune system becomes and the more resistant the body becomes. This is quite a logical conclusion. After all, sport strengthens the immune system, is good for the bones and promotes health.

That is absolutely correct, but one must clearly distinguish between health sports, ambitious hobby sports and competitive sports.

While health sports certainly bring many benefits, ambitious hobby sports and competitive sports can sometimes have the opposite effect. This may sound surprising to many, but it is scientifically proven.[1] Experience can also confirm this for you.

Stress fractures, inflamed tendons and colds are nothing out of the ordinary for many athletes. But why is that?

While injuries are known to result from physical overuse or misuse, a surprisingly common cause is lack of energy.

This is how common chronic energy deficiency is – and THESE are the consequences

An energy deficiency in sports occurs when more energy is consumed than supplied. Such a chronic energy deficiency is called “low energy availability” and affects an extremely large number of athletes.

About 20-60% of the athletes* are according to a study by Logue et al. affected by a lack of energy. Women as well as men from a wide range of sports were considered in the collection of this data.

On the one hand, a high risk of developing a chronic energy deficit is exhibited by aesthetic sports such as dancing and gymnastics, as well as sports with weight classes such as wrestling. But endurance athletes are also frequently affected by a lack of energy. Women are slightly more likely to be affected than men – although the proportion of men affected is higher than previously thought.

Somewhat less frequently, a lack of energy is found in team sports such as soccer or basketball. But even in the less affected ball sports there are so-called risk groups.

For example, in a girls’ soccer team, 58% of the players were found to be energy deficient. In the boys’ team, 24% were also diagnosed with an energy deficit.[2]

Relative energy deficit syndrome

A prolonged and progressive lack of energy forms the main factor for the development of RED-S. RED-S is the abbreviation for Relative Energy Deficit Syndrome or Relative Energy Deficit in Sports and describes a symptom complex.[3]

Joëlle Flück from the Swiss Olympics team summarizes the symptoms of RED-S in a graphic.

Relative energy deficit in sport

The graphic clearly shows how important a good energy supply is for athletes. Bone density, muscle strength, hormone balance, energy level and immune system are significantly influenced by an energy deficit.

The consequences: Many missed training days… 

According to studies, athletes with an energy deficit lose more than 22 training days due to increased susceptibility to infections alone. In addition, there is a high probability of one or more injury breaks and an increased need for regeneration between training loads [3].

This already results in a training loss of several months – and only some of the consequences of an energy deficiency were considered. If you add psychological factors and developmental disorders (especially in younger athletes), the number of training days can become vanishingly small.  The impact this has on performance should be obvious.

Increased susceptibility to infections

As already mentioned, competitive sports put a strain on our immune system. Ambitious athletes are even 3-5 times more likely to get a cold compared to health athletes [1].

There is data confirming that most athletes get sick when it is least convenient – before important competitions. Why?

Long journeys are often necessary to get to the venue of a competition. Long trips mean an increased risk of infection. So during long flights or train rides, energy intake should not be underestimated.

The supply of vitamins and minerals is also important, as the food provided is often poor in micronutrients due to prolonged keeping warm. Furthermore, an important competition is preceded by an intensive training phase. This strains the body.

After exercise, the body enters what is called Post-Exercise Immune Function Depression. During this time, protection against infection is low and we are particularly susceptible to infection.

Our immune system is particularly weak after:

  • Units longer than 90 minutes
  • Strenuous training (high intensity)
  • Units completed without external energy supply [1].

As we all know, the first step to solving a problem is to recognize it. That would (hopefully) be done with this.

Bypass energy deficiency – strengthen immune system & muscles

Clearly, we can protect ourselves from an energy deficiency and give our bodies a helping hand even at high training volumes.

Basically, you should try to make the (training) day as energy-rich as possible. At least 50% of the supplied energy should be covered by carbohydrates.

You can find concrete tips on how to make your everyday life full of energy 

In general: It is important to supply energy as soon as possible after the end of training, as the body is particularly receptive in the so-called “open window”. Ideally, both proteins and carbohydrates are supplied within one hour. 

Special proteins – special effect

However, not all proteins are the same. The amino acid composition can influence the effect of the protein on the body. The amino acid glutamine, for example, is particularly significant for the immune system.

Glutamine can help protect the body from infections, and for this reason is particularly suitable for the sensitive phase after training. Glutamine can be found in wheat and spelt, but also in lentils, soybeans or peanuts.

The easiest way to provide the body with the most balanced and good nutrients possible after training is a high-quality shake, such as our RECOVERY SHAKE.

This contains quickly available carbohydrates and high-quality proteins in the optimal ratio. In addition to leucine for muscle recovery, it also contains the glutamine just mentioned.

How secondary plant compounds strengthen your defenses

In addition to proteins and carbohydrates, antioxidants and secondary plant compounds also play an important role for athletes. The so-called protective substances help the body to fight against free radicals, which are increasingly produced during high physical stress.

Antioxidants and phytochemicals are of particular importance in the post-workout phase: they support the immune system and help to better process the training stimulus. 

Natural sources should be used, that is, a lot of fruits and vegetables in the diet in general and also specifically in the meal after training. To do this, it is best to use products containing appropriate protective substances immediately after the unit.

for example, contains cocoa powder, an extremely effective antioxidant. Furthermore, cocoa – besides the good taste – impresses with zinc, vitamin E and iron. All three of these micronutrients are important for the immune system.

Avoid unnecessary muscle injuries

As shown in the figure above, the muscles also suffer from an energy deficit. Muscle injuries are exceedingly common and are responsible for many aborted seasons. 

For example, in track and field athletes, muscle injuries account for about 40% of the injuries that occur.[4] In professional soccer players, on the other hand, muscle injuries account for about 31% of injury-related absences.[5]

Avoiding muscle injuries is correspondingly important. Of course, the right training control plays an important role here. In addition, adequate energy intake and optimal recovery can reduce the risk of muscle injury.

After units that are particularly stressful for the muscles, it is important to supply high-quality protein sources. Again, care should be taken to provide nutrients within one hour of exercise.

A protein source is particularly good if it contains many or all of the eight essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are so important because they can not be produced by our body itself. So we have to supply them through food.

To optimize recovery, it is equally important that the amino acids are quickly absorbed by the body and that they are well tolerated. In the everyday life of athletes are also suitable here appropriate shakes, because can combine all these properties.

 for example, is suitable for optimal regeneration after particularly high muscular stress. At 
all eight essential amino acids are found. The amino acid mixture used in the 
 is used, is obtained from fermented vegetables and thus provides true plant power.

Furthermore, the amino acids contained are quickly absorbed and can thus be used immediately for recovery, growth and maintaining healthy muscles.

Natural protective substances are also used in the 
natural protective substances: Due to the added power of the 
the shake is rich in antioxidants and well tolerated by the stomach.

The right energy supply during training

It is significant to supply energy already during training. This means that your glycogen stores are not completely empty after the workout and also helps your immune system in this way. It also prevents a general energy deficit.

Energy during exercise optimally comes from carbohydrates. Here can our drinks 
– and
 excellent to use for energy supply during exercise.

The intensity as well as the duration of the training should be taken into account. The exact requirements of the individual sport must also be taken into account. In our
you will find many tips for the right supply for your sport!

Avoid energy deficiency in sports: Three simple & effective tips

To summarize, three simple tips on how you can prevent energy deficiency in sports and thus escape (unnecessary) injuries and infections:

  • Make your everyday life as energetic as possible!
    Build in snacks, also make sure your carbohydrate intake is high and that you eat a balanced diet
  • Add plenty of energy during the workout!
    In this way, a complete emptying of the glycogen stores can be avoided. This promotes performance, helps your immune system and prevents a lack of energy.
  • Optimize your regeneration!
    Try to supply plenty of energy in the form of carbohydrates and proteins after training.
    After high muscular exertion, be sure to use the highest quality protein sources possible.


[1] Sport Nutrition; third Edition; A. Jeukendrup et al.; Human Kinetics

[2] D. M. Logue et al. , “Low energy availability in athletes 2020: An updated narrative review of prevalence, risk, within-day energy balance, knowledge, and impact on sports performance,” Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 1-19, 2020, doi: 10.3390/nu12030835.

[3] M. Statuta, I. M. Asif, and J. A. Drezner, “Relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S),” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 51, no. 21. BMJ Publishing Group, pp. 1570-1571, Nov. 01, 2017, doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097700.

[4] G. L. Close, K. Baar, C. Sale, and S. Bermon, “Nutrition for the prevention and treatment of injuries in track and field athletes,” Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab., vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 189-197, 2019, doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0290.

[5] J. Ekstrand, M. Hägglund, and M. Waldén, “Epidemiology of muscle injuries in professional football (soccer),” Am. J. Sports Med., vol. 39, no. 6, pp. 1226-1232, 2011, doi: 10.1177/0363546510395879.

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Robert Gorgos

Robert Gorgos

Robert is a authority when it comes to sports nutrition science. As a nutritionist, he coaches many well-known top athletes, including the professional cyclists from BORA – hansgrohe. At the same time, he is a competitive athlete himself. And: Robert has developed the sports nutrition of MoN Sports.

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