Female athletes have different nutritional requirements than male athletes. Stacy Sims, PhD has put together the most comprehensive source of information on how female athletes should dial in their nutrition surrounding their menstrual cycle and monthly hormone fluxes in her book ROAR, How to match your food and fitness to your female physiology for optimum performance, great health, and a strong, lean body for life.
Most of the scientific research on the physiological effect of diets and training regiments has been done in young men (a.k.a. college students who volunteer for studies) or in morbidly obese individuals who have many comorbdities (i.e., diabetes, heart disease). If you are a female athlete, you should not be basing dietary choices and training plans on data from two populations that are absolutely distinct from you. In addition, many of the “women specific” nutrition products on the market have simply been constructed based on nutritional guidelines for men, but the number of calories have been reduced, some minerals may have been added (calcium) and it has been put in a small pink package. This does not take into consideration the specific needs that a woman has for training during all phases of the menstrual cycle and women shouldn’t be eating and training like men.
“Women are not small men” -Dr. Sims
Dr. Sims’s book is the only comprehensive source on female-specific nutrition and training and she cuts through a lot of diet myths that are widespread and that thousands of people are acting on.
For instance, here are some things that may surprise you:
- Low carbohydrate diets increase cortisol release in women and result in fat gain.
- The first day of your menstrual period may be the best time to push yourself hard on the race course or in the training room due to hormone levels.
- In the high hormone phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle, roughly 10 days before menstrual period, women are closer to hyponatremia and should take in key electrolytes to improve fluid balance.
- Estrogen changes the ability of a woman’s body to utilize carbohydrates and fatty acids, which means that your nutrition should be synced with your menstrual cycle for optimum performance.
For a preview of some more of the information that is covered in ROAR, check out the interview of Dr. Sims by Kelly Starrett, cross-fit pioneer and training expert.