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Supporting female performance in sport and fitness
Supporting female performance in sport and fitness

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1 Medals or menstruation? What the athletes say

Athletes, either intentionally or unintentionally, can experience RED-S due to a desire to change body composition with the belief that it will improve their performance and increase their chances of success. This is reflected in these quotes from athletes.

A group of quotations about exercise and body weight, as follows: ‘I was proud thinking I don’t have a period. That’s great, it means I’m light’ - Evie Richards, GB international cyclist; ‘Many athletes came forward to say that losing their periods had not been flagged - in some cases it was celebrated’ - Mary Cain, American international athlete; ‘Lighter meant faster which meant I stood a better chance of winning’ - Sam Woodfield, cyclist; ‘You get caught up in this cycle of running really fast, wanting to lose a little more weight, push that race weight a little more, running faster, and then just breaking, which is what happened’ - Anna Boniface, GB international marathon runner; ‘I am 20 years old and have never had a period. I’m 20 years old and have osteoporosis’ - Bobby Clay, GB international athlete.

Bobby Clay’s story

The image shows the athlete Booby Clay winning a cross country running race. She is about to run through the finish tape and is celebrating by having her hands above her head and smiling.

Bobby Clay was a junior international track and field and cross-country runner who won gold at the 2015 European Junior Championships over 1500m. However, aged 19 she started suffering a series of bone fractures.

Watch the following video clip that tells Bobby’s story:

I believe I’ll be the athlete I once was [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Bobby’s story may seem shocking to us, and like the quotes in this section she links speed to lightness which in turn caused her to under fuel her training. In what she calls her osteoporosis nightmare she describes how she was part of a female training group where food was perceived as the enemy. Although she says she has never had an eating disorder she was constantly doing high volumes of training without taking in enough energy through her diet to allow her body to recover, adapt and progress.

In the short term the result of this was low body weight, which she regarded as a competitive advantage. The suppression of her menstrual cycle and the impact of sustained energy deficiency meant that she was physically and psychologically impacted in the long term. This ended her dreams of becoming an internationally successful athlete.