Historically, when we think of an athlete at the very top of their game, all too often that mental image is of a man. But things are changing fast.
As we push deeper into the 21st century, sport is increasingly seen as another positive and potent way to empower girls and women in their race for true equality (http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2016/2/lakshmi-puri-speech-at-value-of-hosting-mega-sport-event).
That’s not to say it’s an easy road. While attitudes are changing and women are succeeding, sport is still a traditionally male arena. It’s the same old story, amid perceptions that women aren’t as athletic and even as interested in sport than men. Girls who do love sport are still perceived as being ‘too boyish’, and can face other obstacles along the way such as body image expectations and a mainstream media that still prefers male sport.
Despite all that, girls are fighting back and kicking goals! And we want to help. There’s a plethora of information out there about ways for men to improve their athletic performance – and very little in comparison in terms of specific tips for women.
So here are 6 unique ways for women to give their sporting pursuits a boost:
1. Get more iron
It’s well known that iron is important for both physical and mental health, especially with a very active lifestyle featuring lots of sweating, energy needs and endurance.
But it’s even more important for female athletes, with women between 19 and 50 at particular risk of iron deficiency and anaemia (https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Iron_depletion_in_athletes.pdf). Even being a little low on iron means the body isn’t using oxygen as effectively as it should, while the heart struggles to keep the heart rate consistent.
2. Do some yoga
You may think it’s all about weird poses, but yoga is much more than that.
While men may care the most about speed, power and winning, women are better at tapping into the performance benefits gained from perfectly balancing the body with the mind and spirit – and yoga is a great way to capitalise on that. Yoga helps female athletes to accept their bodies, find perspective, and achieve a better relationship between the physical and the emotional. And while men flex their muscles, yoga poses like the Warrior or the Tree are a more female way of embracing strength.
3. Have a baby
Conventional wisdom may suggest that once a woman starts having babies, her athletic peak may be over.
But there are plenty of examples of proud mums who are champions in their fields that demonstrate the opposite: that motherhood or the process of childbirth does not hold women back at all. Actually, it could even give the mums a boost. There is evidence that the process of pregnancy and childbirth strengthens a woman’s heart and lungs, improves blood flow, minimises fatigue and improves psychological resilience (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2014/nov/04/does-childbirth-improve-athletic-ability).
4. Eat & drink right
Equality in sport is the aim, but that doesn’t mean men and women are the same.
In fact, women are often disadvantaged when trying to research the best athletic diet, because the vast bulk of the literature is about the dietary needs of men in sport. We’ve talked about the extra iron women need, but also commonly deficient in female athletes is vitamin D and calcium. But that’s not all: because women have a naturally higher amount of body fat compared to men, women athletes are very often not eating enough, which means they’re down on energy and nutrition which can lead to female athlete triad syndrome (http://www.cosmopolitan.com/health-fitness/news/a45781/women-athletes-need/). And if that happens, women definitely aren’t making the most of their natural advantages over men, like flexibility and range of motion.
5. Train smart
Like diet, how women need to train is also different to what all those generic training programs designed mainly for men will tell you.
For instance, it’s not commonly known that women need to train about 5% more often than men for the same basic competency level. The good news is that women also recover more quickly than men, and benefit particularly from training programs that are lower in intensity and aggression and more targeted for building confidence (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20625191).
6. See better
It’s no surprise that better vision during sport boosts performance, but amazingly, all too many girls and women are actually making do in their daily lives without correcting their vision at all!
The main reason for that is body image and the belief that glasses are not flattering and ruin their appearance. Cheap, disposable online contact lenses are the obvious answer. Unlike glasses, they totally mimic better-than-20/20 full peripheral vision. And modern technological advances mean soft lenses are easy to get in and out, they stay in, they’re safe if you get a knock or a scratch, and they’re easy to care for (https://www.opsm.com.au/contact-lenses/tips/caring-for-contacts). And best of all, you can buy contact lenses online, keep a box in the cupboard, and no one will ever know that you pull them out when you’re ready to work out.
So whether it’s eating or drinking right, training and recovering well, or stashing a box of online contact lenses in the cupboard, it’s well within every girl and woman’s reach to keep striving to close that athletic and sporting gender gap.