Female athlete health and performance is a key focus for the UK Sports Institute (UKSI), with a team of multi-disciplinary experts supporting sports and athletes in the high performance system.
Now, with the Paris 2024 Games less than a year away, Team GB has released Sporty AF (Sporty and Female), a series of panel discussions hosted by AJ Odudu, featuring the UKSI’s Dr Kate Hutchings as the resident female health expert.
Firstly, Dr Kate, can you tell us about your role at the UK Sports Institute?
I’m the clinical lead for our Female Athlete Health and Performance service. I run a weekly clinic for female Olympic and Paralympic athletes across the network and they can be referred by their CMO [Chief Medical Officer] for any female athlete issue, so that could be menstrual, pelvic or breast health, or symptoms related to female hormones that are affecting training and performance. I also see athletes around pregnancy and following pregnancy, on their return to training. Heading up The Female Athlete Health and Performance Programme we have Head of Sports Medicine Dr Anita Biswas and Senior Physiologist Dr Richard Burden. We also have a dedicated nutritionist, Wendy Martinson, and are supported by other disciplines such Performance Innovation and the UKSI Mental Health team.
What was it like to be involved in Team GB’s Sporty AF series?
It was great fun! It was something that I’ve never done before. There were some athletes I knew through my work at the UKSI and some that I was meeting for the first time. It was a really informal, positive chat about athletes’ experiences and a chance to hear first-hand about how female issues have affected their training and performance.
I really enjoyed the fact that there were athletes from different sports, with different experiences, for example, some athletes felt very open talking about their menstrual cycle with their coaching teams, whereas others felt less comfortable, so we chatted about why that was and how we could best support them. I think it will be great for athletes right across the system to hear positive messaging and to understand that support is available at the UKSI.
Do you think these high profile conversations about female health can help athletes at all levels?
I think to hear elite athletes talk openly about things like their period problems is fantastic. Athletes can struggle with symptoms like any other woman and so hopefully it will encourage younger athletes to start having these conversations and discuss any issues with their support teams. I think it’s a great way to get that message across, you can train and perform at an elite level, you just need to understand your body and monitor your wellbeing. The important thing is that there is always help available, through support teams with expert help from the UKSI where required, and often it is the simple solutions that work well. Sporty AF will help raise awareness not only across the high-performance system, but from the grassroots which is so important for the next generation of athletes coming through.
What message would you share with an athlete who might be worrying about their menstrual cycle ahead of the Games next year?
My big message would be to prepare and prepare now. There are so many simple ways we can help. Talk to your support team, talk to a member of the team at the Institute, we’re all available and here to help you. Together we can start making plans and start monitoring symptoms so that no athlete is worrying about female health issues into an Olympic or Paralympic year.
Real and relatable conversations about women in sport. Team GB’s brand-new series Sporty AF (And Female) is now live. Episode two, Our Cycles, featuring Dr Kate Hutchings, is available to watch from 4pm on Wednesday 20 September. Watch episode one below:
If you are a female athlete on UK Sport’s World Class Programme with questions about any aspect of your health, please speak to a member of your support team, or email us at SmartHER@uksportsinstitute.co.uk.