Training and Nutrition for the Female Athlete: Part 1

Just the title opens up a can of worms. Before you stop reading because you don’t believe you fit into the "female" or the "athlete" category, humor me and hang in there for a few paragraphs.

First of all, what constitutes a female athlete? Well, the first is easy — female. Or is it that easy? Females come in all ages, shapes, and varied body types. There are also varied gender types that include female. So, although we can differentiate between female and male, there are many other considerations. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to simplify my life and only differentiate male versus female.

Onto the idea of an athlete. I know that many of you right now are thinking...

“I only walk, so I am not an athlete.”

“I don’t compete, so I am not an athlete.”

"I love yoga, but I am not an athlete.”

Please stop yourselves! I believe we are all athletes, regardless of what you are currently doing or not doing. We are humans that move (even if it is less than you think you should). In my book, we are all athletes and should treat our bodies as such.

So now that we are all on the same page as far as what a female athlete is, let’s get into this a bit further.

Training considerations will obviously include the what we are training for. As a coach, this is my number 1 question. If your answer is “life”, that is a perfect event, and our goal is to allow you to have the best physical life you can. Where do we go from there? Of course there are people that prefer to train for other events like 5k races, triathlons, XC ski races, etc. For those individuals, we look at a specific race schedule.

Before we get to training, we also have to consider things like age of the athlete, prior experience, life stresses, injuries, etc. Even if I have 2 athletes training for the same event, it does not mean that the plan looks the same. All of this goes beyond our event due to the variables in each person’s life. If I have a 22-year-old college athlete, they definitely have a different stress load and recovery period than my 44-year-old mother of 4 with a full time job. For an optimal outcome, all of these things need to be taken into consideration. Although the college athlete has stresses, they [typically] recover a bit faster from load than the 44-year-old (with or without the stress of 4 kids). Age does this to us. So what I am saying is, training load and intensity must change with each individual.

Then we get onto nutrition. If you think the idea of training is complicated given the variables, nutrition becomes even more complicated. We have females that have menstrual cycles that must be treated nutritionally different than our female athletes that are in menopause or perimenopause. Again, a can of worms, and I will be the first to tell you that this gets incredibly complicated!

What I can tell you is, no matter your age, no matter your gender, the things that are important to our training are: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, and yes, in that order. One thing I find with most female athletes is we don’t eat enough protein. Do you know you should have between 25 and 40 grams of protein with every meal? As female athletes, we should also have a total of 2 grams of protein/kg of bodyweight every day! Why? We need protein to help our muscles recover. Besides that, proteins are the only way we get certain nutrients naturally (like Vitamin B12).

There is so much more to all of this, so I will continue on with a Part 2, 3, and maybe 4, but your homework now is to start paying attention to your protein intake. Come on gals — let’s get strong together in 2021!

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