Earlier this summer, I was SO EXCITED to read a research article I had been waiting for…the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s position stand on nutritional concerns of the female athlete (Don’t let the “athlete” word scare you away…if you move your body on purpose, you are an athlete). This would summarize all we know about how women can optimize how we fuel for life, activity and through the hormonal changes of life. I expected a 100 pages with 100’s of facts. Take a guess at how many absolute facts specific to women’s nutrition we know…8. That’s right. Only 8 facts in the nutrition world specific to women. Don’t researchers know that over half the population of the globe is women?!
You have a unique physiology that is designed for you to feel strong and healthy for a lifetime. If you don’t feel this way- you CAN change it! We know how to support you! Hormones drive every process in our bodies. Men and women use nutrients differently because of the hormones specific to us. Differences lie in how our immune system functions, muscle makeup, iron metabolism, temperature regulation (hello night sweats!), hydration, appetite control and how much energy we have available to use. Until recently, all research on these topics were done on men, and the findings extrapolated to women. Women did things that we “should”, yet didn’t get results. Then enter the likes of Dr. Stacy Sims, and we know that “Women are not small Men” based on research findings. Say GOODBYE to being told, “oh, well that’s just the sucky part of being a woman”, or “it’s normal to not have a period if you exercise a lot”, or “yeah, bummer to gain weight through menopause. You’ll just have to eat less and workout more”. I am here to tell you to listen to that inner voice that tells you something feels off. That inner voice is never wrong. The struggle until now has been not having the research to backup why we experienced certain things, and definitely not knowing what to do about it. WE KNOW BETTER NOW!
- Active women need to track their cycle to understand how hormonal changes affect them & what you can do to help mitigate any symptoms you aren’t jiving with. I love the Wild.AI app for these needs.
- Active women need to eat enough. Not eating enough can cause a host of problems from not having a regular cycle, bone density struggles, injuries, thyroid dysfunction and more. The old adage of “calories in = calories out” is false. Take it out of your brain.
- There are big differences between men and women on metabolism. Did you know the original research on the ketogenic and intermittent fasting diets were done on overweight men that needed to lose weight for surgery? You are not an overweight man who needs to lose weight for surgery, so stop eating like one! Ever feel like some days you eat great, then at night end up eating a pint of ice cream or a sleeve of Oreos? Check your calendar. Chances are, you are in weeks 3-4 of your menstrual cycle. In these weeks we need 200-300 more kcal or carbs a day to meet our needs. When those needs aren’t met, your brain sends an SOS signal for quick energy…aka crappy foods. Eat more quality carbs during the day those weeks and watch the nighttime binges disappear.
- Premenopausal female athletes need high quality protein ASAP post exercise. In weeks 3-4 of your cycle, we need to be at the upper range of protein in take due to progesterone breaking more muscle down. For most women, this is 20-30g of protein.
- Post-menopausal female athletes need 10g of high essential amino acid protein/supplement close to the start of exercise or immediately after exercise to prevent muscle atrophy. My favorite is 2 scoops of Truth Vegan BCAA powder.
- ALL women, regardless of hormonal status, need daily protein intake to be at the upper end of current RDA guidelines. In weeks 3-4 of your cycle and during peri/post menopause, we must be at the very high end of this range. When in doubt- eat more protein.
- Hormones affect hydration. In weeks 3-4 of your cycle, it is easier to be overhydrated because when progesterone increases, we are slower to excrete the extra water. Try an electrolyte drink daily if you feel bloated.
- There is minimal quality research for female specific supplements. Supplementation that does have good research support in active women: Caffeine, Iron and Creatine. Do you think of big meathead men lifting the biggest dumbbells in the gym when you think of creatine? Well, I’m here to report that you can toss that image aside. Research shows women do exceptionally well adding 3-5g of creatine to their daily routine. We know it helps regulate our carbohydrate stores, and decreases inflammation. Post menopausal ladies- it even supports bone health, mental health AND maintaining muscle size and function!
It takes 17 years for research to become practice. We are beating this statistic! Your body is designed to feel strong, powerful and healthy for a lifetime. Let’s start working with your physiology, not against it, and watch what happens!