Great Britain’s most successful female Olympian Dame Laura Kenny believes women athletes can struggle to get pregnant because of their lifestyle.
Kenny, 31, won five gold medals and one silver across three Olympic Games at London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.
The mum-of-two is targeting a fourth Games in Paris next year.
Kenny says she has had “many conversations” with athletes suffering with Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport.
Known as Red-S, the condition occurs when athletes expend more energy in training than they consume through food and drink and one of the key symptoms in women is the absence of periods.
Several sportswomen have spoken about their experience with Red-S, including athletes Anna Boniface, Bobby Clay and Pippa Woolven and mountain bike racer Evie Richards.
“There are females that have struggled and will struggle to get pregnant because of the lifestyle of being an athlete,” Kenny, who does not have the condition, told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast.
“We’ve all heard of Red-S – being females losing their periods. You’re not going to be able to fall pregnant if you haven’t got a period.
“It’s actually a really unhealthy lifestyle that these females can’t have kids and it’s actually really sad.
“I’ve always consistently had a period but the amount of conversations I’ve heard of people having Red-S.
“Red-S is actually really dangerous… these people are giving up lots of things that really deep down they want.”
Kenny had her first child in 2017 and gave birth to her second child six months ago – but had a miscarriage and then an ectopic pregnancy in between.
What is Red-S?
It is a condition of low energy availability which has a serious impact on long-term health and performance.
It can impact oestrogen levels leading to missed periods.
Of the UK athletes surveyed, 36% have knowingly ignored missed periods in the belief that this is normal for an active person, according to the Female Athlete Health Report 2023 from Project Red-S and Kyniska Advocacy who surveyed 769 people.
Kenny, who believes periods are still a taboo subject among some people, added: “For me our coach was brilliant, if you were on your period you could openly say as long as you felt comfortable but I do know there are a lot of coaches that I think still struggle with it and even to talk about it – they struggle to say the word.”
‘It would be one hell of a comeback’
Kenny, who had her first child Albie in 2017 with fellow Olympian husband Jason, became pregnant after the Tokyo Games but miscarried in November.
Two months later, she suffered an ectopic pregnancy which is when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes.
Kenny is eyeing up a return to the track in the new year with hopes of adding to her hoard of medals at the Paris Games.
“I think I realised that when we had the miscarriage and the ectopic, I knew deep down that it would be one hell of a comeback [to return to cycling], obviously delaying it because I still wanted to have another baby,” Kenny, who gave birth again six months ago, said.
“I knew that time would be short before the next Olympics and it wasn’t about this big fairytale it was about what my heart so desperately wanted and it was to have him. I just wanted another one.
“It consumed me for a long time because I felt that sense of one, loss and two, this missing piece.”
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