Gillian Robinson, a soon-to-be qualified Sports Nutritionist, has been studying the impact that COVID-19 has had on female athletes’ training and nutrition. Here’s what she’s found so far and what we can do to help:
I have been following the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on sport with interest. A potentially unexpected outcome of the restrictions has been the impact on gender inequality in sport and across the board. Women have endured a lot over this last year; job losses, reduced working hours, an increase in unpaid care work, and terrifyingly, an increase in domestic violence (1). Aside from the social and economic toll, COVID-19 has also thrown a spotlight on the gender disparity within sport. Obviously, the enforced lockdowns have impacted all sports, but they seem to have hit women’s sport the hardest (2). Rugby has been particularly impacted, with the Woman’s Six Nations being postponed and now also the Women’s Rugby World Cup.
In the UK, the first lockdown included a total shutdown of competitive sport at all levels (2). By early summer 2020, some elite sports resumed, but many women’s competitions were abandoned by governing bodies and sponsors (3). During the current third lockdown in England, the Government’s definition of an ‘elite athlete’ (“an individual who derives a living from competing in a sport”) has meant that many professional women’s sports are suspended (4). However, ‘elite athletes’ are allowed to compete and train behind closed doors (hence why professional men’s sports have returned to play).
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Not only have the COVID-19 restrictions impacted play, research has found it has also impacted athlete’s training and mental health. The limited research on athletes found a decrease and change in training, while mental health has also been affected in terms of lack of motivation, concerns about future performance and the general uncertainty of sport (2; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9). Only one study focused solely on elite sportswomen and found the quality of training had decreased (due to lack of resources) and funding was affected by restrictions (2). While the same could be said for elite sportsmen, the sportswomen interviewed said that male counterparts had “greater access to or greater resources to” fitness equipment during lockdown, and some also commented on the lack of time they had to train due to the extra commitments at home.
I am particularly interested in the impact of restrictions on the nutrition behaviours and training habits of female athletes in the UK. While there has been research on this on the general population; participants reported negative changes in eating and physical activity as a result of lockdowns (10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15; 16; 17; 18), there are no studies which examine the impact of lockdown on the nutrition and training habits of British female athletes. A UN Women’s report calls for data on women’s sport during the pandemic (19). I hope my research will contribute to the understanding of female athletes’ experiences during social lockdown and to the understanding of the role sports dietitians and nutritionists can play in similar social lockdowns in the future.
So here’s what you can do to help:
If you are an athlete (over 18 yrs and live in the UK) or have friends or family who are and would like to add your voice to this key piece of research then please complete my survey (which takes less than 10 minutes) https://westminster.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/nutrition-behaviours-training-habits-and-covid-19-lockdow
If you would like a summary report of my findings, please email me at [email protected].
MSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition
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- EIGE (2021).Covid-19 derails gender equality gain. Available from https://eige.europa.eu/news/covid-19-derails-gender-equality-gains [Accessed 6 March 2021].
- Bowes et al. (2020). The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on elite sportswomen. Managing Sport and Leisure, 1-17.
- Tomas et al. (2020). Special report: As men’s sport clamours to restart, how women’s sport is being abandoned, The Telegraph, 29 May. Available from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/womens-sport/2020/05/29/special-report-will-see-game-womens-team-sport-will-damage/ [Accessed 6 March 2021].
- uk (2020a). Elite sport Stage Two – return to training.Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-phased-return-of-sport-and-recreation/elite-sport-return-to-training-guidance-stage-two [Accessed 6 March 2021].
- Graupensperger et al. (2020). Social (Un)distancing: Teammate Interactions, Athletic Identity, and Mental Health of Student-Athletes During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Journal of Adolescent Health, 67, p662-670.
- Jagim et al., (2020). The Impact of COVID-19-Related Shutdown Measures on the Training Habits and Perceptions of Athletes in the United States: A Brief Research Report, Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 2: 623068.
- Pillay et al. (2020), Nowhere to hide: The significant impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) measures on elite and semi-elite South African athletes, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 23, 670-679.
- Pons et al. (2020). Where Did All the Sport Go? Negative Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown on Life-Spheres and Mental Health of Spanish Young Athletes, Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 1-9.
- Senisik et al. (2020).The effect of isolation on athletes’ mental health during the COVID-10 pandemic, The Physician and Sportsmedicine.
- Blaszczyk-Bebenek et al. (2020). Nutrition Behaviors in Polish Adults before and during COVID-19 Lockdown, Nutrients, 12(3084), 1-15.
- Cancello et al. (2020). Determinants of the Lifestyle Changes during COVID-19 Pandemic in the Residents of Northern Italy, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(6287), 1-13.
- Di Renzo et al. (2020). Eating habits and lifestyle changes during COVID-10 lockdown: an Italian survey, Journal of Translational Medicine, 18(299), 1-15.
- Górnicka et al. (2020). Dietary and Lifestyle Changes During COVID-19 and the Subsequent Lockdowns among Polish Adults: A Cross-Sectional Online Survey PLifeCOVID-19 Study. 12(2324).
- Kriaucioniene et al. (2020), Associations between Changes in Health Behaviours and Body Weight during the COVID-19 Quarantine in Lithuania: The Lithuanian COVIDiet Study, Nutrients, 12(3119), 1-9.
- Robinson et al. (2021). Obesity, eating behaviour and physical activity during COVID-19 lockdown: A study of UK adults, Appetite, 156(104853).
- Rossinot et al. (2020). Behavioural Changes During COVID-19 Confinement in France. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(8444), 1-15.
- Sidor and Rzymski (2020). Dietary Choices and Habits during COVID-19 Lockdown: Experience from Poland, Nutrients, 12(1657), 1-13.
- Visser et al. (2020). Self-reported Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Nutrition and Physical Activity Behaviour in Dutch Older Adults Living Independently, Nutrients, 12(3708), 1-11.
- UN Women (2020). COVID-19, women, girls and sport: Build back better. Available from https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/06/brief-covid-19-women-girls-and-sport-build-back-better [Accessed 6 March 2021]