By: Keegan McClain

In the Rio 2016 Olympics, two transgender competitors ran for Great Britain as females. Their gender status was revealed to the organizations that governed their respective sports, but it was unknown to their fellow competitors, as well as the public. There has been controversy surrounding transgender athletes, with critics claiming they have an advantage over other competitors in female events due to muscle mass, lung capacity and several other factors that influence the competitors’ performance.

Britian olympic runners


Female transgender athletes have physical attributes that cannot be changed such as lung capacity, bone strength and muscle mass, as well as how much muscle is retained after the surgeries and hormonal therapy. Males have a higher BMD (bone mineral density) and BMC (bone marrow cells). BMC and BMD levels indicate how strong an individual’s bones can be. This can affect sports such as boxing, MMA or jiu jitsu.

Fallon Fox, a transgender female MMA fighter, demonstrates that BMC and BMD levels do not drop after corrective surgery. Fox has won five matches, two of which ended in submissions, meaning the opposing fighter chose to give up. Three of the fights ended in a KO/TKO, meaning the opponent was either unable to continue fighting or completely unconscious. One of the fights left Elisha Helsper, an opponent and fellow competitor to Fox, with an injury in the first round. The injury, possibly a broken bone, raises a serious question. This record is impressive for a female competitor, and while Fallon Fox may just be a talented fighter, it is possible there is another explanation.

The Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health in Zagreb Croatia performed a study consulting BMD and BMC levels in men and women. Men have been found to have higher levels in both BMD and BMC, which results in stronger and more durable bones and skeletal structures. This gives an MMA fighter an advantage in the ring.  This gives no advantage to athletes in a different sport but, the differences don’t stop there.

It has been found through rigorous research that men have stronger bones, larger lung capacity and muscle mass. This benefits athletes of all kinds, from runners to fighters and even athletes competing in field events.

Male-to-female transgender runners would benefit from a larger lung capacity. An average male lung capacity is about six liters of air, while a woman’s average lung capacity is just under four liters of air. This benefit doubles when your account for muscle mass in men and women. Studies have proven that women are 50 percent – 60 percent as strong as men in the upper body, and 60 percent – 70 percent as strong in the lower body. Women transgender athletes retain more muscle mass than male transgender athletes gain after becoming a male. This alone gives them strength and more muscle to build on, but in addition to a larger lung capacity means their endurance and performance rapidly increases.

With more and more transgender athletes coming to compete, eventually there may be cause to add a separate category for transgender athletes. It would allow those athletes to compete without fear of being ridicule and would even the playing field, allowing the women to compete knowing they are not competing against unfavorable odds.