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Sports Science

In 2002, Stacy Sims was completing the Ironman World Championships when she felt off. Nursing a headache and a swelling body, Sims tried to treat her ailments with electrolyte and glucose tablets. However, once the race was over, Sims ran to the medical tent, later learning that her blood sodium levels were dangerously low.

Sims, a PhD candidate for nutrition science and environmental exercise physiology, wondered why she was having trouble with hydration and heat. Though she followed the same training, heat acclimation protocols, and nutrition as he training counterparts, she wondered if she was alone. Sims discovered that other women that were close to their periods were also borderline hyponatremic and were facing lower sodium levels as well.

It was after this race that Sims decided to investigate the differences between male and female athletic performance. Sims’ research focuses on how women’s hormones change the way their bodies maintain hydration, use macronutrients, regulate body temperature, and recover. Since Title IX passed in 1972, there has been a significant increase in female athletes in the world of competitive sports. However, this increase hasn’t been reflected in the research portion of exercise science.

This lack of female representation within exercise science research has created gaps in the overall knowledge of female performance and physiology. The research that many scientists and female athletes have worked with has focus on the understanding that women’s and men’s bodies are relatively similar. For this reason, Sims now speaks out for gender equality in sports science.

In addition to her research, Sims is the co-founder of Osmo, a company that creates customizable hydration products for both men and women. Then, in 2016, Sims publishes Roar, a nutrition and training guide for women. Sims points out that when women tailor their nutrition and training specifically to their genetic profile and physiology, their performance outcomes skyrocket.

Audrey Bergouignan, a researcher of physiology from the University of Colorado at Denver, admits that this disparity in research is likely due to the fact that in the past, mostly men were participating in sports. Therefore, it was easier for researchers to study men’s performance and physiology rather than women’s.

When researching women’s physiology, there is a distinct lack of funding. This makes performing the expensive research on female athletes even more challenging. For this reason, many researchers continue to choose to apply their research with men to women.

Though this bias continues to exist, women like Sims are working to change the industry. As more athletes and researchers recognize the benefits of sex-specific guidelines and research, the playing field between men and women will be one step closer to becoming level.