Restricting my eating to become an elite runner wasn’t just wrong – it was dangerous - The Globe and Mail - Canadanewsmedia
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Restricting my eating to become an elite runner wasn’t just wrong – it was dangerous – The Globe and Mail

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RED-S is what can happen if an athlete overtrains or doesn’t consume enough calories throughout the day to replenish their body’s nutritional needs.

Tom Kozelj/Handout

Last summer, I thought I was getting myself into the best shape of my life. I would roll out of bed at 6:30 a.m., run 10 or more kilometres, then eat exactly one English muffin with peanut butter and six slices of banana.

I waited nearly five hours until my next meal, ignored the pain in my stomach, and beat the hunger pangs by drinking water. As a runner for the University of Victoria, I wanted to transform my body to become even leaner on my six-foot frame, which I thought would help me crush my personal best times on the track.

I had all the signs of a dangerous cycle in athletics known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), I just didn’t know it at the time.

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RED-S happens when athletes, consciously or unconsciously, don’t consume enough calories to keep up with their metabolic needs – resulting in injury or illness, such as stress fractures, shin splints or repeated menstrual cycle loss in females and low testosterone for males. Symptoms can also include depression.

For nearly 30 years, researchers thought this was an issue just for female athletes. A seminal paper published in 1986 in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Barbara Drinkwater highlighted low energy intake with menstrual dysfunction and bone health that helped to establish the term Female Athlete Triad.

Five years ago, that name was changed to RED-S in a paper published by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), co-authored by sports physician and clinical scientist Margo Mountjoy, a professor in sports medicine at McMaster University and the clinical and academic lead of the Health and Performance Centre at the University of Guelph.

“It wasn’t until that first paper that I co-authored with a group of experts from the IOC that we said, ‘Really I’ve been diagnosing the Female Athlete Triad in male athletes for years,’ and this is not appropriate. Guys don’t like it when I say they have the Female Athlete Triad, but it’s what they have,” Dr. Mountjoy said.

The first time I heard about RED-S was last fall, was when I reached a new low, 133 pounds, and my university coach brought me into his office to talk about my leaner physique. He told me about the condition, and said I may be sabotaging my own goals by purposefully tracking each calorie I consumed. He said he admired my work ethic, but wished I would put that same determination into my nutrition.

Symptoms associated with RED-S can develop in athletes if they are short as little as 300 calories a day – the equivalent of a smoothie, says Trent Stellingwerff, director of performance solutions at the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific in Victoria.

There are various reasons why an athlete may underfuel, from not preparing enough snacks during the day, to situations such as mine, where athletes try to achieve a physique that gives them an advantage.

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Gymnasts, for example, may need to keep a certain frame in order to flip over bars and hurdles, Dr. Stellingwerff says. Athletes in judged sports such as gymnastics, figure skating and diving can also be at higher risk of RED-S.

Someone with RED-S doesn’t necessarily have an eating disorder, Dr. Stellingwerff says.

“It can mean you have an eating disorder, but it might just mean you’ve decided to do four more morning runs a week, and if you add that all up and don’t adjust calorically, very quickly in a couple weeks you’ll be in RED-S.”

RED-S is the consequence of an athlete overtraining, or not consuming enough calories throughout the day to replenish their body’s nutritional needs. For example, Dr. Stellingwerff has seen orthorexia nervosa – a term used to describe obsessively clean eating – in a lot of athletes recently, but it isn’t classified as a full-blown eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia.

Since the 2014 IOC Consensus Statement, Dr. Stellingwerff says sports medicine doctors are getting a better at diagnosing RED-S in athletes, with the help of an assessment tool that includes a list of criteria that includes risk factors such as extreme weight loss or abnormal menstrual cycles. More research has also outlined health and performance outcomes of an athlete with RED-S.

A 2018 study outlined the prevalence of low energy availability and RED-S in 1,000 athletes attending a sports medicine clinic, and confirmed many risk factors that are associated with RED-S – including poor bone health, cardiovascular deficits and menstrual dysfunction.

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More research has also found the presence of RED-S in sprint and power athletes, a sport that was not previously thought to have a connection with RED-S.

However, even with this breakthrough research, Dr. Mountjoy and Dr. Stellingwerff co-authored an editorial that said the true magnitude of RED-S is underestimated because there have been no studies into the prevalence of RED-S in team sports.

She compares the situation to concussions in football.

“RED-S is so silent, like there’s no visible sign until someone gets a stress fracture or something that [indicates] someone may be in trouble. In fact, the athlete may be feeling leaner, look good and perform better at first,” Dr. Mountjoy said. “When they run into trouble, like they’re not performing any more, and they have mental-health issues, they just think you aren’t trying hard enough, and then they try harder.”

That rang true for me. While I thought I was getting myself into the best shape of my life, during the following season I failed to beat any of my personal bests from the year before. I considered dropping the sport altogether.

It was all too much, I thought, between the running, constant pressure of measuring food intake, inspecting the fat and calorie labels, and being disgusted with my body whenever I looked in the mirror.

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Nearly a year after that conversation with my coach, I have stabilized my weight at 150 pounds. I can also enjoy going out the door for a run again, without the heaviness that comes from worrying about my weight.

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An Entomologist Claims That Mars Is Covered in Bug-Shaped Things, And He Has 'Proof' – ScienceAlert

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The search for evidence of microbial life on Mars – whether fossil or extant – is ramping up, and it’s even being included in the mission statements of future Mars missions. According to one scientist, though, we may have already found life on Mars, and it’s not titchy microbes, but strapping great bugs.

Entomologist William Romoser of Ohio University has spent years poring over publicly released photos taken by Mars rovers, and he says that many of them show structures that look a heck of a lot like insects, in among the rocks – fossilised as well as living.

And he’s even spotted a few things that look like snakes. This body of evidence is, he said, a good justification for investigating further. He presented his findings, which have not been peer-reviewed, at the Entomological Society of America annual meeting in St Louis. You can view the full poster here.

“There has been and still is life on Mars,” Romoser claims.

“There is apparent diversity among the Martian insect-like fauna which display many features similar to Terran insects that are interpreted as advanced groups – for example, the presence of wings, wing flexion, agile gliding/flight, and variously structured leg elements.”

Photos from the Mars rovers – particularly Curiosity, which is the only rover still active after Opportunity met its sad fate in the form of a colossal sandstorm last year – are publicly released, and they show detailed views of the surface of Mars. Geologists can study these to try and understand the planet’s geological history.

(NASA/JPL; William Romoser/Ohio University)

It’s in these photos that Romoser has spotted his bugs. Many of the photos, he says, show evidence of insects – of carapaces, legs, wings, antennae and segmented bodies that seem distinct from the surrounding regolith.

He has made a careful visual examination of each photo, choosing those that show the forms most similar to insects. Criteria include a dramatic difference from surrounding rock, clarity and symmetry, segmentation, skeletal remains and groupings of more than one form.

He also took certain poses, evidence of motion or flight, apparent interaction with other forms, and apparently shiny eyes as evidence that the insect or snake might be alive.

“Once a clear image of a given form was identified and described, it was useful in facilitating recognition of other less clear, but none-the-less valid, images of the same basic form,” Romoser says.

However, there is another possibility: that the things identified by Romoser as insects are just… rocks.

bug2(NASA/JPL; William Romoser/Ohio University)

Humans who’ve been staring at pictures of Mars have a well-known history of a phenomenon called pareidolia. That’s when you look at something and see something else: when the human mind, searching for meaning in meaningless data, sees something that isn’t there.

It may be a face in a power socket. Or a face in a landscape (it’s usually faces. Face perception is pretty important for humans, social beasts that we are). Or a face on Mars, like the famous picture of a region called Cydonia on Mars, taken in 1976.

There’s also been the Mars Bigfoot, the Mars cannonball, the Mars spoon, the Mars warrior woman and the Mars “Assyrian god”. They all turned out to be normal, ordinary Mars rocks.

We’ve been sending missions to Mars since the 1960s, including four successful rovers and five successful landers, and there has never been a confirmed sighting – or, indeed, any sighting put forward by an actual scientist – of any type of insect on Mars.

So it’s entirely possible is that Romoser, who worked as an entomology professor for 45 years, and whose insect perception is perhaps more acutely tuned than that of the average human, is experiencing insect-related pareidolia.

bug3(NASA/JPL; William Romoser/Ohio University)

Whether he’s right or wrong, though, we may not have to wait too long for the answer. The Mars 2020 mission, equipped with more advanced equipment than Curiosity, is due to launch next year, reaching Mars in early 2021.

Part of its mission will involve the search for life on Mars. If there are bugs, maybe Mars 2020 will find them.

Meanwhile, Romoser advises a closer look at the photos he has identified.

“While any given image does not in itself prove anything, I believe the mosaic of what I have described is compelling,” he wrote in his abstract.

“I view the research reported here to be replicative and corroborative. It is very clear that much more study of the photos is needed.”

Romoser presented his research at Entomology 2019.

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Chinese Mars rover completes landing trial ahead of 2020 launch – Spaceflight Now

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A test model of China’s first Mars rover, set for launch in mid-2020, performs a landing test Nov. 14 inside a specially-built rig in northern China’s Hebei province. Credit: Xinhua

China has performed a hover and hazard avoidance test on a model the country’s first Mars rover, while engineers ready the real spacecraft for launch toward the red planet in mid-2020.

Comprising an orbiter, lander and rover, the mission aims to become the first Chinese spacecraft to reach Mars after lifting off aboard a Long March 5 rocket — the country’s most powerful launcher — during a several week window opening in July 2020.

The mission will launch from the Wenchang space center on Hainan Island, China’s newest spaceport.

China invited ambassadors and envoys from 19 countries, including the European Union, the African Union, France, Italy and Brazil, to visit a test rig in northern China’s Hebei province Nov. 14 to view a ground test of the Mars lander. The demonstration tested the rover’s ability to hover and autonomous avoid obstacles during descent under reduced gravity conditions, similar to those on Mars, according to the China National Space Administration.

Billed by China as the public unveiling of the Mars mission, the event last week verified the lander’s design, the Chinese space agency said.

If it launches next summer, the mission will reach Mars in early 2021 and release the landing module to enter the Martian atmosphere. After landing, the rover will drive off a ramp to begin exploring the surface with a suite of scientific instruments.

The orbiter will circle Mars to provide communications relay support for the rover and conduct its own scientific measurements.

The orbiting module carries high- and medium-resolution cameras, a radar instrument to probe the structure of the Martian subsurface, a spectrometer to analyze minerals in the Martian crust, and sensors to collect data on the interaction between the red planet’s tenuous magnetosphere and the solar wind.

Designed for three months of operation after arrival on Mars, the rover carries its own cameras and a radar to study underground layers below the mission’s landing site, along with a spectrometer and a Mars weather station, according to the National Space Science Center at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The three-part spacecraft China plans to send toward Mars in 2020 is seen here in launch configuration. Credit: CASC

China kicked off development of the Mars mission in 2016.

It will be the country’s second attempt to reach Mars with a robotic probe, following the Yinghuo 1 orbiter, which was stranded in Earth orbit after launch as a piggyback payload on Russia’s failed Phobos-Grunt mission.

China has landed two robotic spacecraft on the moon, and plans to launch a third lunar lander next year to attempt the first lunar sample mission in more than 40 years.

Like the Mars mission, the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission will launch on the Long March 5, one of the most powerful rockets in the world, and the heaviest in China’s inventory of launch vehicles.

While the Mars orbiter and rover launching next year will carry exclusively Chinese payloads, officials used the Nov. 14 test to herald the country’s cooperation with other countries on space projects.

According to a CNSA statement, China has signed more than 140 space cooperation agreements with 45 countries and international organizations.

The China-France Oceanography Satellite and the China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite were launched by China last year in partnership with scientists from France and Italy, respectively, to collect climate measurements and detect precursor signals that could help predict earthquakes. China has developed a series of Earth observation satellites in cooperation with Brazil, and Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Saudi Arabia contributed to China’s Chang’e 4 lunar mission.

China has invited international proposals for small science instruments that could fly to the moon on the Chang’e 6 robotic mission in 2023. Earlier this month, Chinese and French space officials signed an agreement to fly a French instrument on the Chang’e 6 mission to measure the transport of volatiles, such as water molecules, in lunar dust.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Hibernation chambers might make space exploration a reality – BGR

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We’ve all seen it in sci-fi space movies: Deep-space travelers cruising to a new location and sleeping for weeks, months, or even years to pass the time. In fiction, hibernation pods are a convenient plot device, but would they work here in reality?

A new research effort by the European Space Agency suggests that if we can get the technology working as intended, placing astronauts into a state of suspended animation might actually be the best way to explore the cosmos. The benefits would be many, including the option to use a much smaller spacecraft for long-haul crewed missions.

There are many hurdles we still need to overcome before we could even think about sending humans to other planets, let alone other systems. Even if we figured out how to overcome things like space radiation and the toll of long-term low gravity on the human body, we’re still left with one major problem: Humans need living space and a lot of it.

When engineers dream up concepts for crewed spacecraft that could travel to distant locations they’re typically quite large. That’s because we need space to move around, exercise, and live our lives, regardless of whether or not we’re flying through space in a big metal cylinder. Sleeping astronauts require far less room to stretch their legs, so to speak, and that means a much smaller ship.

“We looked at how an astronaut team could be best put into hibernation, what to do in case of emergencies, how to handle human safety and even what impact hibernation would have on the psychology of the team,” Robin Biesbroek of ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility explains. “Finally we created an initial sketch of the habitat architecture and created a roadmap to achieve a validated approach to hibernate humans to Mars within 20 years.”

The team came up with a design that reduces the mass of a deep-space crew module by a third. This is largely thanks to the removal of crew living space that would no longer be needed, as well as a reduction in the supplies that would need to be carried along for the journey.

The design assumes a lot of technological advancements that, put simply, just don’t exist yet. That includes the ability to safely place a human into a state of hibernation and slow down their metabolism by as much as 75%. This comes naturally to animals who hibernate, but humans aren’t one of them. Additionally, the crew would need time to recover after waking up, and that could mean spending weeks in cramped quarters of a shrunken ship.

We still have some time to figure it all out, of course, but it’s incredibly interesting that a concept dreamt up by science fiction writers decades ago may end up being the best solution to exploring other worlds.

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