Female Athlete Performance and Health research programme

The Female Athlete Performance and Health research programme aims to enable girls and women to better understand their physiology and their bodies. We research how the menstrual cycle affects performance and health, and help to create positivity around being a woman in sport.

Participant recruitment

Female sex hormones in saliva feasibility study

We're currently recruiting healthy women aged 16 years or older who have had a natural regular menstrual cycle (~28-35 days long for a minimum of two years).

To express your interest in participating in this research, contact Natalie Hardaker on natalie.hardaker@aut.ac.nz or 027 898 9023.

A female-specific ACL rehab programme

We're currently recruiting women aged 16 years or older, who are undergoing ACL surgery, and who are not taking the oral contraceptive pill.

To express your interest in participating in this research, contact Emma O’Loughlin on ccq8275@aut.ac.nz or 022 172 3949.

Research on female athlete performance and health

Research projects in progress

The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between salivary hormone profiles and symptoms across the menstrual cycle as monitored by a menstrual cycle tracking app (WILD AI) in healthy eumenorrheic (naturally regularly menstruating) females. The hormones included in the salivary measures will be estrogen, progesterone and cortisol. The second part of this study is to confirm salivary measures of estrogen and progesterone against blood serum.

Estrogen and progesterone, the primary female sex hormones, are typically associated with reproduction and are linked to brain health. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone, and levels of cortisol can influence female sex hormones.

Knowledge gained from this study about how salivary hormone profiles change in relation to symptoms throughout the menstrual cycle will be used to inform a related study that will investigate symptoms in females recovering from sports-related concussion.

(AUTEC 21/167 valid to 9 July 2024)

Rates of female ACL injuries have increased in recent years. Results after surgery are worse for females and females are more likely to suffer another injury. Quadriceps strength has shown to be able to predict outcomes and further injuries for those who have had anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery. Females usually have less quadriceps (knee muscle) strength compared to males. Menstrual cycle phased strength training programmes have been shown to increase quadriceps strength and size in females. However, before, this has only been researched in people who don’t have injuries.

The purpose of this research is to understand what effect completing certain exercises at certain parts of the menstrual cycle has on the strength of knee muscles and ability for females to use their knee following rehabilitation after ACL reconstruction surgery.

Principal Investigator: Emma O’Loughlin

AUTEC Approval Number: 21/CEN/92

Research projects in development

The purpose of this study is to understand:

  • How hormone profiles might be linked to the rate of sports-related concussion (SRC) in female athletes
  • How hormone profiles might influence the symptoms experienced following SRC in female athletes
  • How hormone profiles and symptoms might change in response to and during recovery from SRC

There are differences in the way that males and females experience SRC. Females often have different symptoms and can take longer to recover. Diagnosis and management of SRC is symptom based. Even for highly trained doctors, it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose a concussion, and to understand why someone is having symptoms after injury. It can also be hard to track improvements and changes in symptoms during recovery from SRC to decide if someone is ready to return to school/work and sport. Going back to sport or activity before you are fully recovered can increase the risk for a second injury with worse symptoms that last longer.

Female sex hormones are linked to brain health and function; more female specific research is needed to understand how sex hormones influence brain injury. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and is known to have an impact on sex hormones. A change in cortisol levels is also associated with acute injury like concussion.

Data collected in this study (described in next section) will be used to better understand how hormones (estrogen, progesterone and cortisol) impact on SRC in female athletes and whether levels of hormones are related to symptoms and time to recover after the injury. This will help direct future research to develop female specific prevention and rehabilitation protocols and inform clinical decisions for doctors during treatment and rehabilitation of female athletes with SRC.

Project under ethics review.

Principal investigator: Natalie Hardaker

This intervention study will utilise a TONAL (San Francisco, USA) strength training machine that can be used to understand whether a “digital gym instructor” can help educate the correct technique and potentially prevent injury by improving knowledge, attitude and behaviours of gym users.

Project under development.

Principal investigator: Melissa Cuthbertson-Moon

Contact us

Participant recruitment

  • “Female sex hormones in saliva feasibility study”

Natalie Hardaker
natalie.hardaker@aut.ac.nz
027 898 9023