Women in sport: UniSA study ensures wiser, faster and stronger athletes

Dr Alison Hill, Senior Lecturer at University of South Australia

Never before has women’s sport been so successful on so many levels – participation, media coverage, and exposure. Yet when it comes to promoting optimal health and performance for women in sport, there is still much to learn. Research from UniSA shows that many AFLW athletes aren’t consuming sufficient energy and carbohydrates throughout the season and on game days, which can negatively affect performance as well as recovery post-match.

What were the executives’ thoughts on the study?

UniSA’s Dr Alison Hill, says understanding the importance of nutrition is vital for women athletes at elite levels. “Adequate energy and carbohydrates are vital for elite athletes because they increase endurance and support intermittent high-intensity performance.”

“But when we assessed dietary intakes of elite AFLW athletes, we found that many women were not regulating their diets to meet changing needs across the pre- and competitive seasons. And they weren’t fuelling their bodies for optimal performance on game days.”

Similarly, knowledge gaps exists when it comes to women’s menstrual cycles and sports. Accredited Exercise Scientist and UniSA alumna, Mikaeli Carmichael, says menstrual cycles are likely to affect sports performance. “In general, it is not well understood how sports performance may be affected by the menstrual cycle,” commented Carmichael.

“Anecdotally and in the literature, many female athletes report experiencing menstrual symptoms that affect their ability to train and believe their performance is affected by the menstrual cycle. A preliminary study found that AFLW players could experience decreased sleep quality and heightened fatigue during the luteal phase – the days just before their period starts – so it’s fair to say that this would also affect their performance,” Carmichael added.

How can industry stakeholders mitigate these issues?

UniSA has assembled the experts in health, nutrition, and injury to share the latest findings about women’s health in an upcoming seminar – Women in Sport: Wiser, Faster, Stronger.

Hosted by UniSA’s Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity, and supported by Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) the seminar will be held on Thursday 1 September between 5:30 – 8:00pm in the Bradley Forum of UniSA’s Hawke Building.

Event convenor and exercise and sports scientist at UniSA, Dr Max Nelson, says the seminar will provide cutting edge and practical information for athletes and sports bodies. “It’s a great time to be talking about women’s sport. Not only have we seen greater participation in women’s sports at the elite level – most recently in the first fully-represented AFLW season –  but we’re also seeing more women and girls participating in sport at grass roots.”

“But while this is great in terms of gender equality, having the latest knowledge to support women’s health and performance in sports is also vital. This seminar will provide exactly that. Our experts will talk about injury, nutrition, menstrual cycle considerations, as well as perspectives from leading practitioners in women’s high-performance sports. It’s a must for people working to support women’s sport at the highest of levels,” Nelson further added.

What are the points to cover at the seminar?

The seminar will feature:

  • Injury prevention, recovery and rehabilitation, and returning to peak pre-injury
  • Biomechanics and strength and conditioning in female team sport athletes
  • menstrual cycle and reproductive factors in high performance sport
  • fatigue and performance in elite AFL footballers
  • dietary patterns, and foods for athletic performance

All presenters have worked with elite sports bodies including: AFLW and AFL, Adelaide Football Club, Tennis Australia, and the South Australian Cricket Association. General admission tickets are $25. To register to attend, please visit the website.