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Nutrition Tips for Female Athletes

Woman on running track

It’s National Women’s Health Week! A smart sports nutrition program can help with top performance in athletes. Heidi Skolnik, sports nutritionist, provides the following tips on nutritional needs for female athletes:

1. Consume adequate calories: Not getting enough calories to support energy needs leads to an energy deficit, affecting hormonal production, bone health, mood, and nutritional status. Missed periods can be one sign of energy deficit. Often, prolonged energy deficit can lead to symptoms of overreaching and overtraining and can have life-long implications

2. Iron: Iron is the oxygen carrying component of the blood and part of many enzymes that is required for processes in the body. Causes of low iron levels include low dietary intake, losses through sweat and GI bleeding, loss through menstrual blood each month, and ruptured red blood cell from footstrike force (the running and pounding actually breaks down red blood cells). Iron from animal sources, or heme iron, is absorbed more readily than from non-heme or plant-based sources.

3. Calcium: 90% of bone mass is achieved by age 18, and growth stops by about age 30. However, all women need to maintain bone health, so calcium is important at every stage (along with vitamin D, magnesium, adequate protein, and appropriate exercise). Good sources of calcium include dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese); fortified products (orange juice, soy milk, cereals); fortified tofu and some dark leafy greens. Calcium supplements should be taken so that total calcium from food and supplements equals 1000-1200 mg per day.

4. Hydration: Pay attention to sweat rate, intensity of activity and weather conditions to find the right strategic plan for you. With practice and preparation, dehydration and all of the performance-limiting consequences can be avoided. Overhydrating, or consuming excessive water without adequate sodium, can lead to a dangerous condition known as hyponatriuma.

5. Timing with eating: Think about when you eat. Eating as little as 15-25 grams of carbohydrate before a training session (a few pretzels, an orange, banana or sports drink) can affect how hard you can work. Depending on the duration and effort of your workout, eating and drinking during the workout can make a great difference in how much energy you bring to the session. Consuming the appropriate recovery snack after your workout may help restore energy for your next workout as well as help with muscle repair and appetite regulation.

Topics: Nutrition
The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.