Athletes News

21.06.2019

Shooting sport and the female athlete

Dr. Neda Nozari, Member of ISSF-Medical Committee

Introduction

Women’s participation in different sports has increased significantly in recent decades, including in shooting sport.

It is widely accepted that exercise is beneficial to women’s health.[1]  It is also obvious that there are some physiological differences between the average male and the average female.

However, these differences are reduced significantly when professional male and female athletes  competing in the same event or sport are compared. Professionally trained male and female athletes typically match in lower body strength, have similar body weight, cardiovascular endurance capacity, body composition and muscle fiber type.

Accordingly, it seems the significant dramatic biological differences between male and female athletes may be caused by cultural and social restrictions that are placed on the female athletes rather than a strictly physiological predisposition[2].

This article reviews the physiology, clinical consequences and treatment strategies of shooting sport and the female athlete.

Some risks for Junior female shooters

Optimal physique is a gold key to success in many sports, and this may also be the case be in shooting sport[3] .  Therefore, identifying future elite athlete athletes at a young age and enticing them to specialize in a specific discipline happens frequently. Specialization has increased at the high school level but typically starts well before depending on an athlete’s physical growth, stature, and skill set.

The age at which competitive level sport specialization should be defined for women is controversial.  Yet, little conclusive evidence is offered to support the benefits or argue against the negative the effects of early specialization in many sports, including shooting.  However, it appears that early sport specialization may increase the rates of both overuse injury and psychological burnout.

Burnouts, defined as the physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress[4],  are quite simply the result a young athlete spending too much time doing the same thing.

Overuse sports injuries in the junior female athletes are often related to musculoskeletal and physiologic immaturity. Such injuries could be reduced by modifying training techniques until the junior female athletes  have matured and increased their skill level[5]. Although this is mostly reported in junior athletes competing in aerobic sports, the data also supports the need for dietary periodization in junior female shooters to foster to enough energy intake that will in turn allow for good training adaptation and maximal sport performance[6].

The effects of intensive training on growth and maturation of female athletes

The female reproductive system is very sensitive to physiological tension and stress[7].

Intensive training maybe delay menarche (the first period or menstrual cycle in the women) in junior female athletes far more so that in the normal population.  

However, overall, it appears that mild to moderate training, as might be the case in shooting sport, will not affect the growth and maturation of the junior female athlete.

Indeed, regardless of whether junior female athletes chose to participate or were selected by coaches and sport systems to compete in shooting sport[8], the studies showed no difference between the body composition of the eumenorrheic (normal period cycle) and the amenorrhoeic (no period cycle) female athletes[9].

Mention must be given to the fact that a less than predicted height during puberty may be a  sign of slow or late maturation due to the late onset of menarche in female athletes. Although the gap between ages at peak height growth and menarche (1.2–1.5 years) for the female athletes and non-active females does not differ in studies, the body mass and composition can be influenced by regular intensive training in sport[10]. This again, does not appear to pose a problem for shooting sport athletes.

The effects of intense exercise on the female reproductive system

If female athletes are at greater risk of menstrual disturbances, so too are they at greater risk of the subsequent osteopenia or osteoporosis[11] because the clinical consequences associated with irregular menstrual cycle are infertility and compromised bone density, which can occasionally be irreversible.

The treatment is often simple with a weight gain of 1–2 kg or a 10% decrease in exercise load (in either duration or intensity). Nutritional counseling is also advised. Specifically, a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is advised for bone preservation. Finally, hormonal replacement therapy may be advised for some female shooters.

Sport injuries

Coaches and female athletes looking for greater success are often pushed to the edge in search of better results and accuracy and greater success.   Such pressures can induce obsessive behaviors that put the athlete at risk of signi´Čücant physical and mental injury and illness.

The physiology of the female athletes perhaps places them at greater risk of these issues. It is imperative that the athlete’s treating physician  be able to recognize the danger signs[12] because most sport musculoskeletal injuries occur in athletes who are younger than 20 years old[13].

Diet

Female athletes need to meet essential nutritional requirements for daily training and competition related to the specific demands of their age.  Dietary education and recommendations for female athletes require a focus on eating for long-term health, with special attention given to “at-risk” dietary patterns and nutrients.

The recommendation of dietary supplements for female athletes overemphasizes their ability to manipulate performance in comparison with natural food strategies[14]. It is better to encourage any athlete, not just women, to fulfill their nutrient needs by consuming whole foods rather than supplements.

Mental health

Female athletes typically present more clinically relevant symptoms of depression than their male counterparts[15].  

Female shooters can be discouraged when they feel they cannot meet fundamental competence skills in sport or when they do not reach their intended objectives. It may be that coaches pay more attention to male shooters than female shooters. This issue sometimes induces a deep mental sequel in female shooters.

Also, female shooters tend to be more involved in their social roles and responsibilities. That means they need to find balance between sport, family life, kids, competitions, work and social life[16], which sometimes can be hard to achieve. These issues highlight the need for increased mental health screening among female shooters as part of standard sport medicine care[17].

Pregnancy

Pregnant women need not cease competing while pregnant. They have the right to make decisions about competing in shooting activities. However, they should consider the opinion of their treating physicians prior to doing so.

There is no evidence to show that mild to moderate exercise during pregnancy is in anyway harmful to the fetus. But, the female shooter must aware and consider of the harmful effects that being exposed to lead can have on her fetus[18]. Pregnant and child-bearing women should also avoid performing housekeeping chores at shooting ranges or collecting bullet from ranges due to the toxic effects both the lead and the chemicals in the cleaning products can have on their health[19].

Eating disorders

It is not clear whether sport has any impact, be it a risk or a  protective factor, on eating disorders. Societal pressures, high volumes and intensive exercises pressure, and greater focus on body size all have effects on eating behavior of female athletes[20].

Most female athletes competing in shooting sport ae at risk of developing an eating disorder probably more as a result of sociocultural factors rather than sport specific reasons[21].

The most important finding from studies conducted is that most female athletes with eating disorders have subclinical symptoms which require visits to a medical practitioner in order to effectively to diagnose them [22].

Conclusion

There is currently no study available which offers conclusive evidence of the physiological effects of shooting on women’s health. 

The consensus is that, much like all other female athletes,  female shooters need to be regularly and carefully screened for abnormal physical and mental findings by their medical practitioners and treating physicians, particularly in the early years of their sport specialization.  

It is also increasingly important to educate coaches and shooters about abnormal physical and mental symptoms that may lead to greater-long term medical issues.

The longevity of any female shooting sport athlete’s career is contingent on her maintaining a healthy body, and  healthy mind.

 


[1] Warren MP, Perlroth NE. Hormones and sport-the effects of intense exercise on the female reproductive system. Journal of endocrinology. 2001; 170(1):3-12.

[2] Wilmore JH. The application of science to sport: physiological profiles of male and female athletes. Canadian journal of applied sport sciences. Journal canadien des sciences appliquées au sport. 1979 Jun; 4(2):103-15.

[3] Baxter-Jones AD, Maffulli N. Intensive training in elite young female athletes. British journal of sports medicine. 2002 Feb 1; 36(1):13-5

[4] Oxford Dictionaries

[5] Feeley BT, Agel J, LaPrade RF. When is it too early for single sport specialization? The American journal of sports medicine. 2016 Jan; 44(1):234-41.

[6] VanHeest JL, Rodgers CD, Mahoney CE, De MS. Ovarian suppression impairs sport performance in junior elite female swimmers. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2014 Jan; 46(1):156-66.

[7] Ibid 1.

[8] Baxter-Jones AD, Maffulli N. Intensive training in elite young female athletes. British journal of sports medicine. 2002 Feb 1; 36(1):13-5.

[9] Ibid. 1.

[10] Ibid 1.

[11] Khan KM, Liu-Ambrose T, Sran MM, Ashe MC, Donaldson MG, Wark JD. New criteria for female athlete triad syndrome? British journal of sports medicine. 2002 Feb 1; 36(1):10-3

[12] Castricum A. High performance medical challenges with elite female athletes. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2018 Nov 1; 21:S69.

[13] DeHaven KE, Lintner DM. Athletic injuries: comparison by age, sport, and gender. The American journal of sports medicine. 1986 May; 14(3):218-24.

[14] Desbrow B, Burd NA, Tarnopolsky M, Moore DR, Elliott-Sale KJ. Nutrition for Special Populations: Young, Female, and Masters Athletes. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. 2019 Jan (00):1-8.

[15] Wolanin A, Hong E, Marks D, Panchoo K, Gross M. Prevalence of clinically elevated depressive symptoms in college athletes and differences by gender and sport. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Feb 1; 50(3):167-71.

[16] O'Reilly N, Brunette M, Bradish C. Lifelong Female Engagement in Sport: A Framework for Advancing Girls’ and Women’s Participation. Journal of Applied Sport Management. 2018 Aug 13; 10(3).

[17] Wolanin A, Hong E, Marks D, Panchoo K, Gross M. Prevalence of clinically elevated depressive symptoms in college athletes and differences by gender and sport. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Feb 1; 50(3):167-71.

[18] White S. Banning pregnant netballers—is this the answer? British journal of sports medicine. 2002 Feb 1; 36(1):15-6.

[19] Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (Public Health Ontario). Lead exposures among recreational shooters. Toronto, ON: Queen's Printer for Ontario; 2014.

[20] Goodwin H, Haycraft E, Meyer C. Disordered eating, compulsive exercise, and sport participation in a UK adolescent sample. European Eating Disorders Review. 2016 Jul; 24(4):304-9.

[21] Anderson CM, Petrie TA, Neumann CS. Effects of sport pressures on female collegiate athletes: A preliminary longitudinal investigation. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. 2012 May; 1(2):120.

[22] Greenleaf C, Petrie TA, Carter J, Reel JJ. Female collegiate athletes: prevalence of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours. Journal of American College Health. 2009 Mar 1; 57(5):489-96.

Dr. Neda Nozari