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The Female Athlete Health Report w/ Kyniska Advocacy

The health of female athletes is often overlooked or underrepresented in sporting organizations across the world. This is one of the reasons why Mhairi Maclennan and Kate Seary founded Kyniska Advocacy – to educate, advocate, and provide support for female athletes. In cooperation with Project RED-S, they recently released the Female Athletes Health Report, which will form the basis of many recommendations in women’s sports.

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Key Takeaways

Recommendations from the Female Athlete Health Report:

  1. Mandatory female health training within all sports organizations
  2. A toolkit for athletes to have information early
  3. Support network about RED-S and female athlete health
  4. Equipping medical professionals with the information they need about RED-S

About Kyniska Advocacy

Kyniska Advocacy advocates for progressive policies in women’s sports, enacting change one campaign at a time. They want to instill an equitable sporting culture from grassroots clubs to the Olympic games and everything in between.

Their vision is to create a sporting community that fosters a safe environment and has the protection of women at its heart. To develop sport where decisions are made with women in mind, by people who understand us, and where women have a seat at the table. And to build a world where men’s sport isn’t the default standard for women’s sport. 

Kyniska Advocacy is fighting for equity in sports, and sports tailored to different needs.

They work through three principal pillars; educate, advocate, and support. They educate via webinars, resources, and campaigns. They advocate by working with parliamentarians and sports governing bodies to shape policies and procedures to better protect, respect and celebrate women and girls in sports. And they support through our athlete support service, our athlete blog & using our platform to give women in sports a voice.

Policy Change for Female Athletes

Kyniska Advocacy Co-Founders Mhairi Maclennan and Kate Seary join the conversation today to talk about their initiative and why they co-sponsored the Female Athlete Health Report with Project RED-S. They build their foundation because of the lack of responsibility within UK sports organizations for the abuse and overall health of female athletes. 

Mhairi and Kate share some of the challenges they’ve experienced around any policy change for women’s sports. While they experience resistance across the board, more and more athletes find their voices powerful and can enact change.

The Female Athlete Health Report

Understanding female athlete health is pivotal to the work of Kyniska Advocacy. They partnered with Project RED-S for the Female Athlete Health Report, where 800 female athletes filled out the survey. They focused on details such as RED-S, eating habits, and how female athletes view themselves and their bodies. 

One common theme across the board is how a female athlete’s body image can drastically impact their performance. The other big issue is RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport), which impacts the menstrual cycle.

Do you feel supported as a female athlete? What are your support systems? Share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comments below.

In This Episode

  • What inspired the creation of Kyniska Advocacy [5:00]
  • Some of the UK sporting challenges affecting policy change [8:15]
  • How the procedures and policies differ from sport to sport [15:15]
  • Why Kyniska Advocacy partnered on the Female Athlete Health Report [22:00]
  • How your body image can impact your athletic performance [25:00]
  • The different challenges elite athletes face [32:30]
  • The correlation between the menstrual cycle and RED-S [39:00]
  • What is next for Kyniska Advocacy [48:30]

Quotes

“It’s across the board. I think everyone responds in the same way to abuse in sport: they think it’s terrible. But it’s actually getting to the root cause of abuse that people start [to hesitate]. The issue we come across with coaches is a lack of support from their governing bodies, so they’re not informed of safeguarding and welfare, so when they are, they become defensive.” [11:07]

“We want an independent body that the big cases get sent to so that we know that there is consistency across all sports. It’s independent, so it’s more transparent and trustworthy.” [16:53]

“I think because there are these different moving parts and because sport has been independently operated, there has been a reluctance from the government to step in, but I think that in order for us to make real change, and for sports to have one unifying structure, it is necessary.” [20:42]

“Because sport is so performance-focused and success-driven, we don’t prioritize thinking holistically about eating and body image, and they fall by the wayside. We think our bodies are machines because that’s what we’re told.” [26:16]

“We have this belief that there’s an athlete in every body. If you move you’re body, you’re an athlete.” [32:31]

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The Female Athlete Health Report w/ Kyniska Advocacy Transcript

Steph Gaudreau
When it comes to eating enough for your athletic endeavors, it surprises so many people that under-eating is still such a common issue that is prevalent in all levels of athletics from the recreational exerciser up to the elite athlete. In this podcast episode, we’re going to be taking a look at recent results from the female athlete health report, which was co-sponsored by Kyniska Advocacy and Project Red-S. These organizations are doing really important work to ensure that we have sporting communities, which foster safe environments and protection for women at their hearts.

Steph Gaudreau
If you’re an athletic 40, something woman who loves lifting weights, challenging yourself, and doing hardship, the Fuel Your Strength podcast is for you. You’ll learn how to eat, train and recover smarter, so you build strength and muscle have more energy, and perform better in and out of the gym. I’m strength nutrition strategist and weightlifting coach Steph Gaudreau. The Fuel Your Strength podcast dives into evidence-based strategies for nutrition training and recovery and why once you’re approaching your 40s and beyond, you need to do things a little differently than you did in your 20s. We’re here to challenge the limiting industry narratives about what women can and should do in training and beyond. If that sounds good, hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app, and let’s go.

Steph Gaudreau
On this podcast episode, I’m very pleased to welcome Kyniska Advocacy co-founders Mhairi Maclennan and Kate Seary. Not only are they both elite athletes, but they’re very passionate about advocating for women in sport. Their mission is to advocate for equity and sport with a lens on female athletes. And to do this work through three principal pillars to educate, advocate and provide support for female athletes, no matter if you are a recreational athlete or you are competing at the elite level.

Steph Gaudreau
So today on the podcast, we’re going to be diving into what is canister advocacy. Why did they form this incredible organization, some of their past work, and also their present work specifically with the female athlete health report? If you are a woman who participates in athletics, whether it’s training for your own enjoyment, competing on a high-level team, or anything in between, this podcast is truly for you.

Steph Gaudreau
Before we dive into that, I want to remind you to apply for Strength Nutrition Unlocked, especially if you are a female athlete over the age of 40, who really wants to learn how to work with your physiology instead of against it so that you can build strength and muscle and perform better than check out what we have to offer. In this program. You’re going to learn not only evidence-based principles but get the support and community that you need to succeed. You can find out more and apply at StephGaudreau.com/apply. Alright, without further ado, let’s jump into this podcast episode with Mhairi Maclennan and Kate Seary of Kyniska Advocacy.

Steph Gaudreau
Hey, everyone, welcome back to the podcast this week. I am so incredibly excited to have these two women with me, because they are really pioneers, quite frankly, in what they’re doing. And it is so very important that we’re having these conversations around women in sports, female health, and so much more. We’re gonna dive into this podcast today. So I’d like to give a great welcome to Kate Seary and Mhairi Maclennan. Welcome to the podcast.

Kyniska Advocacy
Hi, thank you so much.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, thanks for being here. And I was we were talking off the air, that the reason I found out about you and what you do is that a colleague of mine, anybody who’s listened to this podcast, my friend, Jamie Scott posted the female health survey report and some of the stuff that you’re doing. And I saw that and I just thought, oh my gosh, this is well, first of all, like, brilliant that somebody is doing this, because we need to hear this stuff. And also, you know, when you’re in this field, it’s like, it’s hard to be shocked by some of the things that you hear. Because you’re in it and then you see it you see, you know data or you see the numbers, and it’s just, it’s just a wow moment.

Steph Gaudreau
So when I read all of that, I thought I have to have you on the podcast and talk more about what y’all are up to, not just in terms of like the female athlete, health point of view, but also some of the other, you know, the initiatives that you’re taking. So thank you for being here. And I would love to ask you to kind of give us before we dive in because you do a lot of things. First of all, you know what really inspired you to create Kyniska and, you know, really get involved in the advocacy work that you are doing

Mhairi Maclennan
Yeah, sure. So Kate and I are both runners, we’re both athletes. And we’d heard of each other because running is really small. But we kind of got together when we did our first campaign, which was actually more around athlete safety and welfare. And we were looking to get lifetime bans implemented for coaches who were found guilty of sexual misconduct and abuse in UK Athletics. And we loved working together. And for us very much felt like the start of something.

Mhairi Maclennan
And Kate had the brilliant idea to set up an organization, which we felt was filling a gap in the UK anyway, where there wasn’t the athlete’s voice wasn’t particularly well represented at the same levels of decision-making. We were frustrated with a sort of lack of progress. Were kind of taking into consideration women’s sport, and both from a safety point of view, but also this this work around female athlete health. So that’s kind of what got us into it. I’m sure maybe Kate can elaborate on that, though.

Kate Seary
Yeah. 100%. Basically, we launched this campaign. And it did really well. And we realized that this work wasn’t being done. And at least it wasn’t being done by athletes, which was, which is our USP, where we’re athletes for athletes were women in sport for women in sport. And that’s kind of what we’ve decided that we need to stay true to. So yeah, we set up this organization, I rang up Mhairi, and I was like, we need to do more. And we came up with a name. And then you know, we launched that was kind of it there’s, there’s people out there must be more to it. But it’s really not, it’s to women athletes that realize there were issues and didn’t want to sit back and just let issues carry on, but actually tackle them. So yeah, that’s why we’re here today.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, tackling it head-on and kind of rolling right into it. And I guess that speaks a lot to who you are as people too, and not about not waiting until you have everything perfect. To begin. Would you agree with that?

Mhairi Maclennan
Yeah, absolutely. We think we were just so eager to launch and start working and continue doing the work that we were doing. And I think, for me, anyway, I have experience of abuse in sport. And actually doing all of this has been an enormous like healing process. And it’s been incredibly empowering. And actually, sometimes being able to separate myself from Kyniska is really helpful. So doing and channeling a lot of my passion for making change into Kyniska. Rather than having a feeling like I’m alone and doing it has been Yeah, amazing. And so, yeah, working together with Kate on this journey is amazing.

Mhairi Maclennan
It’s tiring. And I think Kate and I would both say that. Sometimes it feels like it’s a little bit of one step forward, two steps back. But we definitely think that action is better than these soft words and thinking really carefully about language. And actually, sometimes it’s an action that’s needed.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, absolutely. With this first policy change that you were able to get implemented in the UK. What were some of the things I guess that maybe that surprised you, but some of the maybe roadblocks that you encountered? Was there any resistance that you’ve encountered? Like? What are some of the challenges, I guess, inherent in sporting in the UK specifically that made this policy, you know, that kind of like led to the evolution of this policy that you all worked on?

Kate Seary
Yeah, so to go into slightly more detail about the policy. And a coach that was given a five-year ban for sexual abuse was published and we decided that that was just not on. And so our campaign was all about introducing lifetime bans, which was successful. And I think the biggest roadblock we come across with this issue is people say, Oh, but we can’t do that. No, it’s not possible. And we’ve kind of been able to show yeah, actually, it is possible, and safeguarding our athletes is possible. And that comes across in pretty much every topic that we campaign on or it’s not possible, or that’s too ambitious.

Kate Seary
And it’s really not because if you get the right people behind it, and you get that athlete voice behind it, you can change anything, which I think is a big lightbulb moment for people. And I think why kinetic has become really successful because athletes are starting to realize that their voice is powerful for the first time. And that’s a blockage that I think we come across all the time.

Mhairi Maclennan
And I think also in the UK. What’s difficult is we have obviously the UK but then we have four different nations and each of the nations are able to manage sport independently. So quite often when we go to, like UK Athletics or British rowing, for example, the argument is well, actually sport is devolved. And so that’s going to be complicated, complicated to implement. But again, we always can kind of go back to that case study that we have with UK Athletics and show that it’s not. It is complicated, but just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. And so this is, yes, it’s a reactive measure. And no, it’s not lifetime bounds, for example, are not the key to solving abuse in sports, but removing athletes from immediate harm was, as is, and continues to be the priority.

Steph Gaudreau
Absolutely. With that, you know, as you’re going out and having conversations with legislators or MPs, have you found that there’s, like, what is their response then? I guess, to all of this, you mentioned, people, you’ve run into people who are like, that’s just not possible. Is that? Is that phrase being repeated across the board? Is it coming more from MPs and legislators or coaches themselves or the athletes? Is it everybody?

Kate Seary
It’s, I’d say it’s across the board. I think everyone kind of responds in the same way to abuse in sports, they think it’s terrible. But it’s actually getting to the root causes of abuse, where people start to say, oh, no, I don’t know about that. I don’t know how we can, how we can do that. And the issue we come across with coaches is just a lack of support from their governing body.

Kate Seary
And so they’re not informed about safeguarding and welfare. And so when they’re questioned on it, it becomes defensive. So using this, there’s been a real failure of like, of government bodies that are supposed to support coaches here, because they just haven’t, they haven’t given the support, they need to then allow coaches to do what they need to do, and that is kind of develop and support our athletes, and that, that support has just been nonexistent basically.

Mhairi Maclennan
I think the echoing what Kate is saying, you know, the passion is there, the coaches believe in the importance of safeguarding and of fostering a really healthy environment for their athletes to prosper in. But when you ask them, okay, like, so how do you implement that in your day-to-day coaching? They don’t have the answers, or their answer is, Oh, I see my role as ensuring that athletes have a healthy, long life in the sport. And I’m not disagreeing with that. I totally agree that that’s your role. But how do you make that happen? And I think it’s, there’s that missing piece in the education courses that are coming from national governing bodies, where coaches are totally being sold on the ideology, but the practice and putting those into actions is missing.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, and imagine too, it’s like, for example, here in the US, I’m a member of USA weightlifting, in terms of coaching and certification, and we just recently had to go through a safe sport certification. And, you know, I think that was a great step. And at the same time, you know, you sort of go through the education, you think about, okay, like, what are the responsibilities that we have, like, what counts as something that should be reported? Like, how do we know and distinguish those sorts of things? Like what is okay, what is not okay? And, and then you think about, well, if something were to happen, and you were to take that next proactive step in, in trying to protect that athlete or trying to report this thing, like, what would the next step be? And would you run into any resistance? And I think that’s kind of from my side of things is, well, what is the next step beyond that? When somebody goes to actually follow through, are they going to meet resistance or is there a clear channel to the next step?

Mhairi Maclennan
Yeah, that’s a huge piece that I guess we’re trying to fill a little bit of a gap in. So we are another part of what we do is we have a kind of support service for athletes. So we handhold athletes through that reporting process. So when they do decide to come forward, we can help kind of manage expectations of the deadlines and like other timelines, the different steps that they have to go through where expectations and then I guess when it also necessarily like doesn’t go well, or if they have already tried to go through the process, and they’ve not got the results that they’ve wanted, or they don’t feel that their complaint has been dealt with appropriately. We have a legal team that we work with, that can provide legal advice. We have an emotional support volunteer that helps in that regard.

Mhairi Maclennan
And I think, yeah, we can. I think we’re doing quite a good job now of like, fostering this belief that if you come forward, we’ll listen to you but we’re not also offering support. So national governing bodies don’t have mental health support in place and Kate has a lot to say on this. So I will let her speak about it. But I think, yeah, you know, that sort of mental health support and general, all-around holistic support of athletes when they do come forward is not good enough.

Kate Seary
And it’s not consistent. And that is a huge issue. So the reporting system in each sport is completely different which makes it really hard, for us to support athletes, because each system is different. But it also means that depending on what sport you choose to do, or what’s what you fall in love with depends on how safe you’re going to be because the procedures and policies are completely different.

Kate Seary
Some sports take it really seriously. And I’ve been putting a lot of work into improving policies, others are just, it’s a mess, quite frankly. So that makes it makes it really different, and difficult. And as nice as the others, there’s little support around the reporting system, you know, reporting is, as Mhairi will tell you reporting abuse is one of the hardest things you might have to do in your life.

Kate Seary
And there’s just a lack of communication, you don’t know who your kind of point of contact is. And yet there’s no mental health support around that. There’s no media training, there’s no, yeah, it’s send off a report and, you know, sit and wait and see what the next steps end up being if there are any next steps at all.

Kate Seary
So we’ve actually called for an independent body to review all these cases because, at the moment, it’s done sport by sport. And, you know, in the UK, its sport is grassroots, mostly volunteers. And so if you mark in your own homework, you know, we all know how that goes. So we’ve kind of said that we want an independent body that, you know, these big cases get sent to so that we know that there’s consistency across all sports, and it’s, you know, it’s independent. So it’s hopefully more transparent, and more trustworthy, and then athletes will be in a better position and trust the kind of institutions around them more.

Steph Gaudreau
In the UK, if I’m correct, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, there’s no equivalent of something like Title Nine, whereas in the US, right, we just had the 50th anniversary of Title Nine last year. I think some people would say, Well, I mean, we have Title Nine, you know, so we’ve got 50 years of encouraging female participation in sport. And at the same time, has that really offered any protection here? I think we probably know the answer to that.

Steph Gaudreau
But to what degree do you think that lack of support or formal legislation about something like a title nine equivalent, would help your cause? Would that make things would have no change? Like, what are your thoughts on that? Is that something you’d like to see in place?

Kate Seary
I mean, I don’t know whether, you know, the sports are so different that a Title Nine in the UK might not work but your work as an organization, we fight for policy change, we believe that having a really good structure that upholds values, and gives people a place to turn is really important. However, it is nothing without a call to change.

Kate Seary
And so, you know, we’d like to talk about kind of like package deals when it comes to policies like one policy on its own, for instance, the lifetime ban, you know, that roots out the immediate threat. But that’s nothing without coaching qualifications. That’s nothing without education about female athlete health. That’s nothing without education about just misogyny in itself.

Kate Seary
So as far as there’s this holistic view of women in sports needs to happen. And part of that, yes, is like really robust policies. But it’s also a built-in capability within coaches, and to complete the triangle is the athlete’s voice. So we believe that athletes should be included in every single decision that’s made. So throughout the whole decision-making process and you know, if we get the Holy Trinity, which I’ve just coined as I didn’t call it that before. Those three things are together. We’d hope with them to push real change, kind of, from, the grassroots, all the way to the top of sport.

Mhairi Maclennan
Yeah, I think there is definitely a place in the UK for legislation in some form or even just more legislation. We don’t have anything around that we don’t have anything that’s sports-specific. We recently had the positions of trust legislation that was passed. So it’s quite specific, but it essentially closes loopholes so that it is now illegal for people who are in a position of trust. So coaches, for example, have a relationship with athletes who are between the ages of 16 and 18. But it still means that people who are over the age of 18 are just not protected by that legislation. And I completely understand like in order to get that through, they had to make that case.

Mhairi Maclennan
But yeah, there’s just there’s a lot of work to do in terms of what like policy action and legislation from a government intervention level, and the government in government in the UK again, because it is devolved to have you know, Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Westminster as well. So I think because there are these different moving parts. And also because the sport has been independently operated, there has been a reluctance from governments to step in. But I think that in order for us to make real change, and for sports to have one unifying structure, it is necessary.

Steph Gaudreau
Absolutely, thanks for sharing your thoughts on all of that. I’d like to shift if we can. I think this was a really great intro into what you all do and why you’re so passionate about it and what your mission is, with Kyniska. I’d love to shift into talking a little bit more about the female athlete health report. Since again, this is kind of how I came across what y’all are doing. And this is something that I’m really passionate about talking about as well. And it is, I mean, I just can’t even tell you how many conversations I have on the regular about this topic.

Steph Gaudreau
So I would love to hear you just kind of give us maybe the broad overview of or kind of the why, like, why did you partner on this female athlete health report? Why is this? You know, and how does it fit into your overall mission? And why is this something that you are so passionate about? Educating about and, and really, also, I love in the report is like giving recommendations for next steps, like, why this particular issue?

Kate Seary
So we actually, we started working on female athlete house because one of our interns and kind of ambassadors is really passionate about this, she’d, you know, she’d suffered with injuries she, she’d suffered with, well, basically Red-S. And was like, this is a project that I really want to get my teeth into. And, you know, having promised that we listened to athletes, we were like, you know, absolutely. And the more we’ve dug into it, the more we think it’s kind of understanding female athlete health is just pivotal to all the other work that we do, and just understanding female athletes in general and just closing that knowledge gap between what we know about the male body or what we know about the female body because we know that that gap is wide.

Kate Seary
But we so yeah, we put we decided to put a survey out, we were joined up with an organization called Project Red-S, which really specializes specifically in female athlete health, and kind of with us who are all about athlete’s voice. I’m trying to combine the two. So do we have 800 athletes, female athletes from all different sports, all different walks of life, and fill out our survey, all about red s all about their eating habits, all about how they view themselves and their body?

Kate Seary
And we wanted it to be really qualitative, we really wanted to get that rich kind of dialogue from the survey, which I think we really managed to do. And got shocking, but not surprising results. As I’m sure you’ve read.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, absolutely. I think you hit on something really important here. And in this, this weaves through the actual report itself, which is the intersection between things like energy intake, eating habits, and body image, and I think I’ve said this before we hit record, is that there’s a difference between? Yes, there’s a knowledge gap that needs to be closed in terms of education on how we have appropriate intake for our activity or appropriate food intake for activity level.

Steph Gaudreau
And then there’s the complicating factor or thread that weaves through that, which is how that intersects with things like body image. Are you in a weight-class sport? You know, what have you heard from your coach, potentially, or other maybe even other athletes about your body? What you should look like in the aesthetic? And do you have any thoughts on that? How these things are so interwoven?

Mhairi Maclennan
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s inherent right? So if we look at sport and like, why it exists, it’s always been about physical dominance and performing to the best of your capabilities, particularly in sports that have linear performances. So where you have to run the fastest throw the farthest jump the highest. And as athletes, your bodies and your performance are so closely interlinked, and so closely correlated that the way you were performing in a particular way, it’s also going to make you perceive your body in a particular way, even if you’re just doing it for participatory reasons, or you’re in the gym, you can still like those, that narrative infiltrates all the way from elite right down to people who are literally just doing it because they want to lose a couple of pounds or because they want to feel more confident in their body.

Mhairi Maclennan
And I think that, when you’re equating how your body looks so closely with your performance, the way you then perceive yourself, then infiltrates and that that next step is so close, it’s the Go closes that gap, and it’s trying to I guess, separate out what your body can do, and what your body looks like, you know, those are two different things. They’re different conversations. And if we’re focusing on what our bodies can do as the goal, I guess, or the focus, rather than what they look like, I don’t know if that was particularly coherent. But I basically think that they do because sport is so performance-focused and success driven.

Mhairi Maclennan
We don’t prioritize thinking holistically about eating about body image, and they fall by the wayside. So we think that our bodies are machines because that’s what we were told.

Kate Seary
I think, one of the most shocking statistics that we got out of the report was that 74% fat, so they don’t look like an athlete. But like, then none of us like, it’s just nuts. Because if 74% of us don’t feel like athletes, but we’re all athletes, then we must all look like athletes, it’s not as if it’s like 5% of people that I don’t think I look like an athlete 74% Like, that’s pretty much all of us look at ourselves in the mirror, who we’re training day in, day out, think I don’t look like an athlete.

Kate Seary
And you I mean, that’s just like, it’s symptoms of historical ways that we look at women’s bodies, isn’t it, it’s smaller is better, smaller as faster. And that’s just something that’s actually I think, getting worse, I think for a while it was getting better. And now we have social media. And now we’re comparing ourselves constantly to other people. We don’t just see times on a sheet we see times on a sheet next to a picture of what they look like while they were doing it.

Kate Seary
And so it is just constantly being perpetuated that we don’t look like what we think we need to or what we should do. But I hope that in some ways, I tried to take the stat as a positive or like, trying to be like, you’re not alone. You’re not the only person that thinks that because I think sometimes that’s what we do, we look in the mirror and we go, Oh God, I’m the only person that doesn’t look like an athlete in my training group. But actually, everyone in that training group is doing the same thing. And he’s probably looking at you go, God, I wish I looked like Mhairi, I mean, or like, Oh, I wish I looked like my other training partner. And yet Mhairi’s, I’m just using your name, but like, Mhairi is also going ‘God I look in the mirror and I don’t look like an athlete’.

Kate Seary
So it’s like that I’m trying like looking at all these stats like 91% of worried about or worried about how many calories they’re eating, like, if it’s all of us, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all fighting this together. And I think that’s that could be a really powerful way of looking at this, you know, as well as national governing bodies, and that having to actually do something about it. But we’re not alone in this. And I think that’s powerful.

Mhairi Maclennan
And I think some of the findings can speak to particular things, I guess in that like if 74% of us feel like we don’t look like athletes, then what does an athlete look like? And what is that image that we’re aspiring to? Is it that, you know, normal people who train a lot and are working out a lot are aspiring to be something that is actually completely unattainable and not real? In which case, does that thing even exist? And why is it being held up on a pedestal as you know, the goal?

Mhairi Maclennan
And when it’s 91% of us are worrying about calories we’re inputting that just means there’s a lack of education, that means that we don’t know what we’re supposed to be putting into our bodies at all. And we don’t know what calories mean, and we don’t know that actually, we should be thinking less about calories and more about, you know, content and percentages of carbohydrates and protein that make up our diet and fueling our body and thanking it for the work that we’re asking you to do.

Steph Gaudreau
100% Yeah, when you’re talking about comparison, and I mean, I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you, it was definitely one of those three and four, right that 75% or 74% of people when I was in my cycling days in racing bikes, and I, you know, of course, just like in running, we have like power to weight ratio, and this idea that the smaller you are, the faster you’re gonna go up hills, at least on a bike anyway. And how I was constantly comparing myself to the people that were on my team, you know, why weren’t my legs smaller? Why was it my butt smaller, like, if I could just make everything about me smaller then I’d be better at that thing. And that was really isolating, too, to have to sit there with that thought of, you know, just not small enough, just not good enough.

Steph Gaudreau
And, to your point, I’m sure that there were other people. And there are other people who do all of these sports who are thinking the same exact thing, but yet, we I don’t know, I venture that it could be just the vulnerability to start the conversation. And I think that’s a beautiful part of what you’re doing is allowing for that, like, hey, like, what’s, why do we think that is, and let’s just talk about it. And the pressure of ours should look a specific way. So when you talk about that story, I’m like thinking about myself. And I can see like an exact photo, it was me, and then everybody on my team, and I just, you know, that in that at that time really stuck.

Steph Gaudreau
In my mind, as you know, I’m just not I just don’t look like an athlete. So I appreciate you talking about that. And I think the other thing that you do really well is in that report, speaking to different levels of athleticism, because the most common thing I hear from my community is, oh, you know, I train I love working out, I love to do all these things. But I’m not an athlete. And I really appreciate how you were so inclusive in this survey, and like in the results in the report about talking about all of those different, I guess, like levels of competition or levels of athleticism. Can you speak a little bit more to that, you know, the recreational exerciser versus the elite athlete? Are there? Are your challenges really any different at the end of the day?

Kate Seary
No, I don’t, I don’t think so. We kind of have this belief that there’s an athlete in everybody if you move your body, you’re an athlete, like you’re doing a sport, whether it’s you’re competing, you’re competing in it, whether you’re just you’re doing a 5k run, whether you’re going to the gym like you’re moving your body, you have those same pressures that an elite athlete has, okay, it might not be to your hundreds of 1000s of followers, or it might not be on the TV, but you feel those pressures in the same way as everyone else does. And we actually ran a campaign called Reclaiming the Athletic Aesthetic.

Kate Seary
Because, you know, if you put into Instagram or hashtag of #athlete or something like that #sportswoman, you’re gonna get, like, really really toned white woman. That’s it, that’s the aesthetic that we’re told is the only one. And of course, there are lots of toned white women but there are also lots of other body types. And they are all just as valid, and they are all athletes. And so we did a campaign that was using the hashtag, athlete, sportswoman athletic aesthetic, and just getting athletes of all shapes and sizes to us that it’s that hashtag. So now if you go on to that hashtag, you get a completely different view. Well, you get the correct view of what athletes look like. And that’s like everything.

Mhairi Maclennan
Yeah, I think that these kinds of in these insecurities and doubts that seep into you. They see this is it’s true for all of us. Like I had a conversation with a woman at work, who’s a recreational runner. And she said to me, oh, it’s funny talking to you because all of the things that you’re saying are exactly the things that I think and feel. So actually, you are no different to me. And that’s exactly true, you know, and there’s the same gap between worlds the same perceived gap between what she does and what I do and what I do and what an Olympian does, but I can guarantee that the Olympian feels the same way I do. And it’s that we’re human, and we’re all operating in that same environment.

Mhairi Maclennan
Yes, there’s going to be nuances at you know, a professional paid level, and at an international level and at a club level on a participatory level, but the narrative is the same because that’s it’s the narrative that belongs to the sport and exercise world.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate your thoughts on that. And it’s something I asked a lot of my guests because we all talk about, to some degree, right? We’re talking about athletes and athleticism and participation in sports and being active and moving your body. And there are different degrees of that. But I always ask this question, because of that inherent pushback that I get from people, which is like, but I’m not an athlete. And I think a lot of that has to do with a lot of the things that you’re talking about, you know, what are the perceptions of who?

Steph Gaudreau
Who is an athlete? And what do they look like? So that if I don’t fit that that mold, then I’m automatically excluded? And at least from my perspective, and I don’t know what you think, then that is having a tremendously detrimental knock-on effect in terms of, right, the low energy availability, the red s symptoms that people are experiencing? What were some of the surprising or I guess, like we said, shocking, but not surprising data about red S itself that you you want to touch on from the report?

Kate Seary
Yeah, exactly. As you said, like, is shocking, but not surprising. So about 50% of people had at least two symptoms of red s. And I think, yeah, that’s shocking in itself. And then, almost 20% have five or more. And I think, you know, we know that it’s prevalent, but it’s really prevalent. There’s, I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know, any athlete, female athlete who does an endurance sport, or an aesthetic sport that has a 100% healthy relationship with their body or with food. And I don’t think that’s me. over exaggerating.

Mhairi Maclennan
Absolutely. And I think it’s like, it’s even, you know, I know, I have a friend who recently retired from, like, elite competitive running and was considered healthy athletes had studied, the subject in depth knew exactly how to feel their body. But that transition from being a competitive elite athlete into being a normal human, they found really, really hard, because actually, all of a sudden, the, okay, you know, and it’s the same with me, like, I can sit here, and she could sit there saying that I’m really happy with my body, as long as I’m running 70 miles a week, and I can eat whatever I want, as long as I’m running 70 miles a week, but the second that you’re not doing that, all of a sudden, actually the relationship with your body becomes really difficult.

Mhairi Maclennan
Yeah, it’s incredibly prevalent. Because A, because there’s a lack of information, and because our bodies are so equated to our performances, but it’s also because how we look is so contingent on this almost like excessive exercise. So when you’re getting into a pattern of doing that, you’re only comfortable with how your body looks when you’re doing that, and when you are demanding such high levels of exercise from your body. And so you know, then how much to put into your body and how much to feed it.

Mhairi Maclennan
But in the second that that balance is, you know, pressured or put into question when you get injured when you get ill. When you’re stressed. If you go through a breakup, then all of a sudden, things fall apart quite easily. And you realize how fragile that relationship that you have with your body and with eating is…

Kate Seary
It’s really interesting, like when you touched on just the lack of knowledge that the athletes have, even though it’s their full-time job, some people but just around understanding period. So we had lots of people fill out our survey that said they were on hormonal contraception, but they also said that they were having a natural period, the two of which can’t happen. And it’s just it’s even like, it’s like that lack of understanding. So you know, there are people on whole hormonal contraception who were like, oh, no, I’m great. Because I have a period I have a natural period. That means that I don’t have Red S.

Kate Seary
But actually, that’s just not true. So it’s kind of like small little bits of information like that. But also what we found in the survey was that people with more symptoms of red s said that they had more not higher knowledge about red s&p might athlete health. So I guess we’ve kind of concluded two things from that either. People think they’re informed, but they’re not. Or they’re getting the information they need, once that unwell.

Kate Seary
So, what we’ve been really calling for, it’s just like, basically, as soon as you’re entering a sport that national governing body is like, here, here you go. Here’s the information you need. This is about your body. So it’s really hard to tackle, isn’t it? Because, yeah, it may be it’s good that people with red hair symptoms feel like they’re getting the support they need now, but they should have had that 10 years ago. I think that was two really interesting findings from the report.

Steph Gaudreau
For sure. Yeah, I mean, I was 19 age to correct me if I’m wrong, that female athlete triad was introduced as a term in the literature, I was in like seventh or eighth grade, and went through, you know, high, like youth sport, high school sport in my, you know, 20 years. And still today, and only in the last, I would say, five years, even heard of the term Red-S. And even as an athlete, before I got into what I’m doing professionally, like, nobody was like, hey, better, make sure you really eat enough. I mean, it was just like that basic level, I think there’s another interesting compounding factor, especially for athletes over 40.

Steph Gaudreau
And that’s kind of my wheelhouse here is like, if you do not have a period anymore, your menstrual cycle has stopped. Because you’re now in menopause. You know, that sometimes, we use that as like one of the main catch-alls like, hey, if you’ve lost your, your cycle, like you better pay attention to this stuff, too. And I’ve had several clients, students, and people in my community who are like, I actually thought I was in menopause. And I went to my doctor, and my doctor said, Actually, you are, you know, you have read. So you’ve, you’re experiencing that, amenorrhea, you’re not in menopause yet. And they’re able to turn it around through, you know, a lot of the things we know you need to do one be eating more. But that’s another thing I think people don’t think about, too, is what do you do if you’re getting to that transition in your life where it’s kind of normal for that to go missing?

Mhairi Maclennan
I think it’s interesting that you touched on, you know, that you’re not knowing about it, and you work in the space and not understanding or not having heard of Red-S. And I think also, just like perceptions have changed quite a lot, even in recent times. I remember being a teenager and reading a book by an incredibly famous and world-renowned runner, and it says in that autobiography that they had had to the Monterey area and that it was very normal for elite female athletes to suffer from that. So if you get it, then it doesn’t matter. It’s fine. I don’t obviously like that’s not entirely blaming this athlete, because they had also received misinformation. But it meant that when I was under-fueling when I lost my period, I thought, Oh, great now that means I’m elite.

Mhairi Maclennan
I think you know that. And I would ask questions like, do I look like a runner now? And my partner at the time was like, Yeah, you look like a runner. No. And it just fuels this awful cycle. But you’re right that like, I think, sometimes when teenagers start their periods late, then it can be oh, well, they’re just active. And then again, when few people are, you know, even starting, like, even just if they’re in their 30s or mid-30s, they can think that they’re starting menopause early when actually it’s because they’re not feeling correct.

Mhairi Maclennan
And it’s that balance between it’s not just fueling correctly, it’s also that kind of excess exercise versus fueling. And I think it’s getting that balance, right? Because often when you when people are like, particularly when you get into a stage where maybe you’re not well, and this is a symptom of poor mental health, perhaps where you’re excessively exercising, and under fueling, you get into a bit of a cycle, and you can get into a really dark place unintentionally because your body goes into overdrive and thinks you’re in survival mode. So actually, you end up producing endorphins and getting excited by the fact that you’re hungry.

Mhairi Maclennan
And I think that’s, yeah, there’s not enough education about what happens then when you’re in that rut when you’re in that pit. And how do you get out of it? And how can people help you get out of it?

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, absolutely. So what are some of the recommendations from the report that you would like to see going forward? Like, what are what? So now that we have this information, which again, I mean, to survey almost 800 people and have this survey in the data is incredible, from an awareness point of view, but I really appreciate how you go that step further. And you’re like, well, here’s, here’s what we think would help. What are some of those recommendations?

Kate Seary
Yeah, so we tried all our recommendations based on what people told us in the report that they wanted. So the first one is mandatory coaching. Sorry, mandatory female athlete health, like training within all coaching qualifications. So we want that to be like, really comprehensive, but also consistent across sports. So that’s a really key one, because we actually found that athletes that had coaches that they believed were not informed had 30%. So 36% increase in Red-S symptoms.

Kate Seary
So like, it’s super tied to what your coach is telling you kind of like what’s telling you to do. And that makes sense, right? In your coaches setting you’re training your coaches, kind of like who you listen to and learn from. So if they’re not informed, how on earth is that as it can be informed? So that’s step number one, a toolkit for athletes, like I said, like we want information early, we want athletes to come into a sport and have that information readily available for them. And having that online in a really accessible place.

Kate Seary
The third one is a support network. So in our survey, we asked how people want support for Red-S and the female athlete house and a lot of people said they want mentors, they want people to speak to they want people that have gone through this themselves. And then number four is GP support. And this kind of ties to what Mhairi was just talking about, about lack of education about kind of missing periods with loads of our survey respondents, saying that they’d been to a GP about missing a period or missing multiple periods, and then being told that it was normal for an athlete.

Kate Seary
So our fourth one is equipping our medical professionals with the information they need about red s because you know, it’s, it’s still not out there. And I just think it’s absolutely nuts that for years, athletes, like women have been going, to their GP and like the medical professionals and saying, I’m not having this thing that my body is supposed to do every month, it’s supposed to tell me that everything’s working. And you’re going, yeah, no, it’s normal. That just is quite bewildering to me, because we know that having a regular menstrual cycle is kind of your body’s signal to be like you ever do well. And to lose that, and then be told, yeah, it’s fine. It’s, it’s quite shocking.

Mhairi Maclennan
And I think just to on the education piece when we’re saying that we need like GPS, to have education and coaches to have education, harking back to what we said about the safeguarding stuff, it’s not just equipping them with the knowledge, it’s also how to talk to athletes about it because it’s all fine. And well, then having this information, but then how do you make that link, and actually be able to engage your athletes in the conversation?

Mhairi Maclennan
I’m sure we’ve all been in lecture halls are classrooms where your teacher has probably had all the knowledge that they need to be able to teach the class, but it’s been really poorly implemented. And so it’s the same point, you know, not everybody is going to know intuitively how to disseminate that information. And it’s giving really clear guidelines on how to do that.

Steph Gaudreau
Yeah, absolutely. I so appreciate everything that you are doing and what you were able to work on in this report. And, you know, bringing the athlete voice to, you know, how can we start addressing this thing is absolutely critical. What is next for Kyniska? What do you have in the pipeline? What are you excited about? Working on next, like, where are things going?

Kate Seary
We actually were just on a call with Pepper from Project Red-S, which is really exciting. So, I mean, our plans are to implement these policies and recommendations, that’s our plan. We were setting up meetings with all the sports councils governing bodies to try and try and get this to actually make real change. And I was working on some toolkits, we’re looking at setting up kind of a support network for athletes. And then lots more stuff on our abuse and sexual violence in sport work.

Mhairi Maclennan
Yeah, we have questions about the female athlete health network or the athlete support network. What that looks like, and how that’s going to kind of exist is still a work in progress. I think probably we need a bit of consternation with athletes of like, what do you want that to look like? Is it that it’s you want a full-on comprehensive app that’s like a hub for all the information and as a forum and everything? Or is it that you want a Facebook group or a LinkedIn group or, you know, a WhatsApp group, you know, what does that look like for you? And how can our organizations along with your national governing bodies work together to create that? And so yeah, there’s work on that happening. And then just Yeah, continuing, as Kate said, with our stamping of sexual violence kind of agenda, and working with national governing bodies, governments, and organizations to continue that mission.

Kate Seary
So basically Steph we just annoy people until they do what we say. That is basically what we do, it takes persistence.

Steph Gaudreau
I mean, I’m sure that like what you’ve learned, like the traits that you have, as athletes have helped you tremendously in terms of like your persistence, your like growth mindset, not giving up, like learning to overcome obstacles, because like you said earlier in this conversation, when you do reach out and or come up against people who are like, that’s just not possible, you’re like, well, actually, why, like, let’s find a way. And that’s that, that that dogged persistence is, I’m sure, so, so necessary, such an asset to you here.

Steph Gaudreau
I think what you’re doing is incredible, you know, I’m down to help spread the word of support. And that’s why you’re here in any way that I can. So, you know, I hope that this is also the inspiration for folks in other countries to take up a similar mantle. Because sports and athleticism are worldwide. And I think what you’re doing is an incredible role model to other people about what is possible. So thank you for all your hard work. And I really appreciate you being here on the podcast.

Kyniska Advocacy
Yeah, thank you for having us!

Steph Gaudreau
Absolutely.

Steph Gaudreau
Thank you so much for joining us on this podcast episode with Kyniska Advocacy co-founders, Kate Seary, and Mhairi Maclennan. I hope that you took something positive away from this episode, whether it’s some kind of special or unique talent that you have that you can lend to this cause the cause of female athletes and equity in sport. Or maybe it’s the understanding and knowledge now that low energy availability is a thing. And it can affect athletes at all levels of proficiency in sports, not just the most elite.

Steph Gaudreau
So maybe you realize in this episode, that low energy availability is something you could be dealing with. And now you’re gonna seek out the proper support channels. In order to change that and turn it around. Make sure you hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And also hit subscribe here on YouTube and ring the bell so that you get notifications about more podcasts when they become available. Thank you so much for joining us this week. And until next time, stay strong.

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Steph Gaudreau

Hi, I'm Steph Gaudreau (CISSN, NASM-CPT)!

Nutrition and fitness coach for women, Lord of the Rings nerd, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.

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