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Female Athlete Nutrition

Jun 2, 2022

In this episode of the Female Athlete Nutrition podcast, I talk with elite distance runner and REDS advocate Pippa Woolven. Pippa recently established Project RED-S, an initiative centered around connecting athletes and their support systems with all the right resources to help them overcome REDS. Pippa explains the need for Project REDS and how she is working to grow a directory of specialists in this field: doctors, dietitians, psychologists, coaches and more, so that athletes can be better signposted to the professional help they need. Pippa discusses the community she is creating where athletes can connect with others, share stories and experiences, and not feel alone in their struggles.

We talk about what REDS, or relative energy deficiency in sport, actually is, and warning signs and symptoms such as injuries, amenorrhea, menstrual irregularities and mood swings. Pippa opens up on her own struggle with REDS while she was a collegiate athlete. She mistook her restrictive mindset and preoccupation with food, body weight and exercise as "normal" and what it took to be a great runner. Training through tiredness and fatigue, concerned with fitting the model image of what an athlete is "supposed" to look like, left Pippa unintentionally underfueling and in a state of REDS. Pippa explains how chronic anemia and mood swings were dismissed by those around her as isolated issues, rather than joining the dots between symptoms that are characteristic of REDS.

We discuss common REDS signs that are often overlooked, even by medical professionals, such as GI issues and anemia. When energy balance is restored and consistently maintained, these signs often resolve without further medical or pharmacological intervention. 

Pippa's underfueling led to unintentional weight-loss, a change she noticed correlated with her running faster and performing better. However, as Pippa emphasizes, this improvement was short-lived and unsustainable, and Pippa opens up about the overwhelming state of fatigue that quickly followed and prevented her from training at all. We highlight the prevalence of disordered eating in women, as well as how restrictive and disordered habits are normalized within athletic populations, aside from full-blown eating disorders.

Pippa shares her long journey to get diagnosed with REDS and how it differed from the Female Athlete Triad. The challenges Pippa had finding a diagnosis, getting the specialist help she needed, and then her difficult road to REDS recovery prompted Pippa to start Project REDS. Her recovery was not linear and speaks to the mental struggles she faced, worried about whether recovery would mean ending her running career and losing part of her identity. Her message to listeners is that recovery is 100% worth it! Now competing at a higher level than ever before, while maintaining a healthy body, menstrual cycle, balanced mindset, fueling and training appropriately, Pippa is a role model to us all!

Check out Project RED-S and on Instagram @project_red_s 

Follow Pippa on Instagram @_pipstagram__ 

Pippa’s Official Bio:

Pippa is a middle-distance runner from England who has run for Great Britain in cross-country and steeplechase for over a decade. She started University life in Birmingham, England before taking up a scholarship at Florida State in the US where her experience with RED-S began. After struggling with the condition for the years that followed, Pippa finally found the medical, nutritional and psychological support she needed to overcome it. After returning to her sport with a healthy mindset and menstrual cycle, Pippa started mentoring others to hope them avoid the same pitfalls. Since doing so, she has been shocked at the sheer magnitude of the issue across all sports, genders and age groups and took her mentoring to the next level by studying a Masters in Positive Psychology and Behaviour Change Coaching. Shortly after the Covid 19 lockdown, she was given an opportunity to establish Project RED-S - a collaborative initiative aimed at raising awareness of the condition and signposting athletes, coaches and parents to the right support resources. 

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