Coyle warns of dangers of energy deficiency disorder
Two times Olympian became anaemic ‘and I was getting injured and sick all the time’
Pentathlete Natalya Coyle and gymnast Rhys McClenaghan at the Olympic Federation of Ireland announcement of Indeed as the new sponsor. Photograph: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography
Two times Olympian from London 2012 and Rio 2016 Natalya Coyle has spoken about the dangers of developing RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport), a condition in which elite athletes suffer an imbalance in energy intake and energy output.
Simple as it sounds the condition has detrimental effects on bone health, menstrual function, metabolic rate, immune function, cardiovascular health and psychological health.
Coyle, who came ninth in London and sixth in Rio in the Modern Pentathlon, developed RED-S in 2013 and it her took a long time to recover. It is different from an eating disorder in that it occurs when the calorific intake is too little for the elite athlete workload. Fully recovered, she currently consumes 4,000 calories a day.
“It has become very prominent,” said Coyle at an Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) announcement of recruitment company Indeed as a new sponsor. “I didn’t realise what I had. I had become anaemic and I was getting injured and sick all the time. I’d get two really good weeks of training and suddenly I’d get a hip problem and I’d have a cold.
“That’s when I learned I had to eat more. Everyone is different. I wasn’t doing it on purpose. I just wasn’t educated enough to know the calorie content. I’d to take six months off. It’s not like you can rest for a week and get better – you have to wait until your whole system rests. I’m lucky my system reset. It was a tough slog.”
Coyle, who will target qualification for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, has a number of events before the first Olympic European qualifier in August, where the top eight qualify automatically. The World Championships take place in Budapest in September with three more qualifying places.
“It’s good more people are talking about it,” added the 28-year-old. “I didn’t know what it was. So many talented young athletes – girls and boys – come and break all these records at 16 and 15 and you never see them at 18.
“These women coming out now saying: ‘Oh I haven’t had a period in 12 years.’ That’s hugely detrimental not only if she wants to have kids but also [regarding] osteoporosis. These things are really important.”