Recent efforts to engage women in sport and exercise worldwide have had a positive impact, and general participation trends are on the increase. Additionally, we are seeing a greater percentage of female athletes comprising national teams at multisport, major events such as the Olympic Games. For example, The Tokyo Olympics will be the first Games where there are as many medals available for women as for men and reflects a rise in women’s participation from 2% in Paris 1900 to ~49% in Tokyo. Likewise, the Tokyo Paralympics will feature more women athletes than any previous Games, 4,400 athletes will compete in 537 medal events, with 1,756 places available for women, which is a 17% increase on London 2012.
The research gap.
With more women participating in sport and exercise it has become increasingly important to understand the physiology of the female athlete and how this might impact upon performance and training. However, despite this growth in women’s participation in sport and exercise, and the increasing need to know about women’s physiology research on the exercising female, and how a woman’s body responds to exercise still falls short of that carried out on men.
For instance, there is limited research on how variations in ovarian hormones can affect sports performance (Bruinvels et al., 2017), and females, as participants in research, are significantly under-represented in sport and exercise medicine (Costello et al., 2014). Training programmes, exercise regimes, dietary guidelines, psychological interventions, and injury prevention and rehabilitation programmes are therefore, largely based on research that has been carried out on men.
What does this all mean?
Whilst most of the sport and exercise science research will benefit and apply to both men and women, because there are fundamental differences between the sexes taking this approach might not always be the most optimal approach. Therefore, it is important to keep studying and researching about females who exercise, as well as increase awareness, education and support surrounding female athlete performance and health considerations.
Keep an eye out for our next blog post on the female athlete performance and health considerations you need to be aware of if you are a female athlete or someone that works with them, as well as all the details of podcast episodes in Season 1 - coming soon - linked with these considerations.