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Red-S, the rare condition that could attack celebrated athletes

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pippa woolven red-s
Pippa Woolven Red-s. Photo/Glorious Sport
  • British athlete Pippa Woolven Red-S condition is a rare one
  • Red-S is an acronym for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport
  • It is rare but could affect any athlete irrespective of their gender

British athlete Pippa Woolven Red-S condition is a rare one but she now uses her experience to tell the world about it.

‘Red-S’ is an acronym for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. Woolven didn’t know about it even when she bagged an athletics scholarship to the US. All she remembers happening around this time is constant bouts of fatigue and excessively low moods which affected her running.

Still, she couldn’t figure out what was happening to her all of a sudden until years later. Woolven battled this condition for five years and it took so much of her dreams.

I was suffering for around five years of my athletics career,” she told Open University’s Women’s Sport Matters podcast. “I really struggled to get the diagnosis that I needed [for] years and years. As a consequence, I wound further and further into this energy deficit, developed all sorts of health consequences.”

pippa woolven red-s condition

Pippa Woolven. Photo/Athletics Weekly


Not many people knew about such until Pippa Woolven Red-S diagnosis. It is a medical condition whereby an athlete battles poor athletic performance and health in general. It’s as a result of the body not getting enough energy to fuel the performance demands form food. Ideally, an athlete uses more energy when training and never gets it back from the food they consumes.

It can affect any athlete, male and female no matter how good they are. The long-distance British runner happened to be one of the few brilliant athletes to suffer from this condition.


Athletes such as Anna Boniface, Bobby Clay, and mountain bike racer Evie Richards are among the sports personalities diagnosed with Red-S. Doctor state that this condition deprives the body Oestrogen which is crucial for bone health. Weak bones means disaster for an athlete because it often leads to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones lose their strength following loss of tissue caused by hormonal changes such as in the case of Red-S. In other cases, a deficiency of Vitamin D or calcium leads to this condition and patients only known about it after a fracture. Such is the case of Pippen Woolven Red-S.


Woolven, 29, lost her period and it bothered her so much that she went to the doctor. Yet, the diagnosis was nothing close to Red-S. Her doctor told her that it is normal for an athlete training at her level to experience such but little did they know that it was all because of her oestrogen levels.

On top of that, she was using the contraceptive pill, which gives women a bleed that is not really a period. It happens as a result of synthetic hormonal changes and her doctor advised her to keep taking the pills. This gave her relief but looking at it now, it gave her a false sense of feminine security because her period wasn’t natural.

As much as training sometimes triggers hormonal imbalance, it should never have stopped her menstrual cycle. Woolven’s cycle took years to return and it is an experience she dreads recounting years later. Woolven adds that it took so much effort and will to reverse the psychological effects this rare medical condition presented.

“You have to work for a long time to reverse those mindsets that can become so damaging,” she maintains.


Pippa Woolven. Photo/The Mirror


After Pippen Woolven Red-S diagnosis and difficult process to manage the condition at the peak of her career, she has a few lessons to learn. One of them is discounting that thinner people are always fast. In addition, she adds that success in athletics has more to do with supporting factors such as food, rest and recover besides training hard.

The Brit took a hard one in learning about the importance of having a balanced diet always, getting enough sleep, and giving the body adequate time to recover in case of an injury.

Professor Simon Rea, a fitness academia at Open University advices athletes to know the limits if staying light. He implores that while many athletes lose weight to keep with performance, it is likely that their bodies start crashing without their knowledge.


Pippa Woolven Red-S diagnosis is an eye opener that athletes should always be aware of. She is now an ambassador of reality and it is worth to do the needful and steer off this condition.

Teresa is a journalist with years of experience in creating web content. She is a wanderlust at heart, but an outgoing sports writer with focus on tennis, athletics, football, motorsports and NBA.

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