Dina Asher-Smith comments ‘help start the conversation’ into periods in sport

·4-min read

Dina Asher-Smith has been praised for speaking up after revealing “girl stuff” caused issues for her at the European Championships in Munich.

Asher-Smith booked her place in the 200 metres final on Thursday evening, but earlier in the week had pulled out during the 100 metres final due to cramping in her calves.

She told BBC Sport she had been affected by her period and called for more research to be done into how menstrual cycles can affect the performances of female athletes.

Scottish distance runner Eilish McColgan also described in her BBC Sport column the effects periods have had on her, revealing she has twice dropped out of competitions due to her time of the month.

Dr Rebecca Robinson works in exercise medicine with Marylebone Health, and she acknowledged just how much menstrual cycles can alter the impact an athlete has during performances.

“It is the case that women will be affected very differently by the menstrual cycle, at different times in it,” she told PA news agency.

“There will be some where it will be a lesser degree impacting their performance, some it’ll be a really significant degree.

“I just think it’s really important that it’s talked about and recognised so that, if you’ve got young athletes starting off and it’s holding them back they might think, ‘oh, I’m not the only one, I’m not going to step away from my sport because of this’.

“And if it’s someone at a higher level, it’s not feeling like it’s an excuse or anything like that at all, it’s a valid reason.

“We need to make sure that everything around them is the best it can be to help them perform.”

Women’s Super League side Manchester City announced last year they had partnered with the English Institute of Sport to look at how female athlete health is understood.

Manchester City v Everton – Vitality Women’s FA Cup – Quarter Final – Academy Stadium
Manchester City women announced last year that they would collaborate to understand female athlete health better (Martin Rickett/PA)

Greater understanding could potentially be used to an advantage at the highest level of competition, but Robinson suggested this could also lead to a more individualised learning of how an athlete can benefit from their cycle.

She said: “We have this pattern, we have this cycle and we know that for all that some athletes can experience significant limitations in performance and injuries in one point of the cycle, we actually think there could be times of the cycle where people perform at their strongest for them. It’s really individual.

“It tips things towards more individualised medicine in general, or individualised science and approaches to how people can optimise their health, so that’s an exciting thing.

“Hopefully we’ll learn about some of these hormones because we have this very striking cycle for women, which is quite obvious for most women, that can also help others.

“You can also help men in terms of understanding – obviously they don’t have the same hormones or the same cycle – but understanding how we can use our bodies to look after our bodies and optimise performance, but also that recovery and respecting different times for what it can do for individual performance.

“I think in the future we could see that taking sport forward.”

England v Germany – UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 – Final – Wembley Stadium
England won the 2022 European Championship last month (Jonathan Brady/PA)

This summer has seen a celebration of women’s sport, with success from British athletes at the Commonwealth Games and England’s Lionesses winning their first European Championship in July.

However, menstrual cycles still seem to be a taboo topic within women’s sport, and Dr Robinson was full of praise for Asher-Smith openly talking about their impact.

She added: “We’ve had a tremendous summer if you’re an athletics fan, for example, and it’s obviously been a tremendous summer for female sports fans from the European Championship and then looking at the Commonwealth Games.

“I think we should be really proud of these women who are performing under the spotlight and at the same time they’re also raising a subject which immediately helps to start that conversation.

“I think that’s tremendous and it’s a real call, though we have to be aware that we are talking about something that’s limiting them so it’s a real call for us to say ‘now is the time to have that conversation’.

“What does it mean to people? What can we do to take that next step? So the next generation is acknowledging it might difficult at times, but maybe not hitting quite the same barriers.”