England’s Lionesses may have outperformed the nation’s men in winning Euro22 but behind the scenes the women’s game still has a long way to go.
For while Sarina Wiegman’s squad were as prepared as any team in the history of the women’s game, the majority of women footballers still lack the necessary access to and awareness of the sport science tools available to men.
Nutrition is a case in point with many professional women struggling to make the transition from normal eating to fuelling elite performance.
Dr José Areta, of the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, told the BBC’s World Service: “Proper fuelling of footballers can return a big difference in performance for very little investment off the pitch.
“However, it is still not common to have a nutritionist on hand with many professional women’s teams.”
José was speaking on the World Service’s The Food Chain programme, along with LJMU Masters graduate Aimee O’Keeffe, performance nutritionist at Manchester United FC and African footballer Ode Fulutudilu.
"Women have a sensitive relationship with food and there’s still that carbohydrate fear" - Aimee O'Keeffe, MUFC
All have seen women struggle in training and matches due to under-fuelling which they agree is endemic in the women’s game, with problems like ‘fear of carbs’, ignorance, menstruation and lack of scientific support at the root.
Women have a sensitive relationship with food and “there’s still that carbohydrate fear,” says Aimee, who says she’s trying her best day-to-day at United to break down the carbo barrier.
Research from Professor James Morton at LJMU proved than elite women systematically ‘undercarb’, and many intake just 3g of protein per kilo per day, less than half the recommended intake.
Malnutrition is not just a sporting issue either, it can lead to more general health problems, says José. “Women athletes can be three times more prone to bone fractures, in part because of a lack of minerals.”
“There are clear signs that nutrition can make a difference to performance and to long-term health,” says José, adding that much more research is needed. “One of the issues here is the lack of data; only 6% of sports nutrition research has been on female subjects.”