Training and Nutrition for the Female Athlete: Part 2


In my last blog, I started by defining a female athlete, and I [hopefully] made it clear that when I am talking about female athletes, as long as you are female, I am talking to you!


Now, on to the nutrition piece. As discussed in my last blog, one of the key components to our nutrition is getting enough protein in our diets. I did want to clarify one thing from my last blog. I talked about the need to get 2g of protein for every kg of bodyweight. Although this is technically the optimal amount, getting 1.6-2g is the best range to stay within. When training loads are lighter, we can stay on the low end, and when training loads are higher, we should increase our intake to the high end, as well.


One additional note regarding protein is the source of protein. Like many things, all proteins are not created equal. In fact, according to Dr. Stacy Sims in her book, Roar, it takes 50g of soy protein to match the biological effect of 25g of whey protein. Because of this, soy protein is not a good source of protein to increase protein synthesis and encourage lean mass development.


The next part of the nutrition equation is carbohydrates. Of course, we all know that carbohydrates come in two basic forms: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are in their most basic form, sugar. Complex carbohydrates are made of lots of simple sugars strung together. Although there is a time and place for simple carbohydrates, for nutrition purposes, we want to focus on complex carbohydrates, which include starches, glycogen, and fibers.


It is important to also note that our brain and central nervous system require a minimum of 130g of carbohydrates, or the equivalent of 520 calories. Your brain alone requires approximately 60% of your body's resting glucose utilization.


Most of us know what carbohydrates are. The next questions are:

  • Why do we need them?

  • How many do we need?

  • Which ones are best for fuel?

Carbohydrates, like fats, are our friends when it comes to fuel. Carbohydrates are our primary source of fuel during exercise. Once carbohydrates are digested, they are stored as glycogen, but this supply is limited. In fact, fully stocked, we have about 10g of glycogen per kg of muscle tissue, which will sustain us for (depending on pace and effort) a 2-hour run. As female athletes, we should be getting between 40-50% of our diet from carbohydrates.


Carbohydrate choices are essential. Your best bet is to choose nutrient dense, complex carbohydrates. Try to eat more veggies or fruit for your carbohydrate choices. Women have a tendency to become more sensitive to carbohydrates as we age due to our decrease in estrogen levels, so staying away from pasta and bread is suggested. Instead, consume more starchy veggies such as sweet potatoes, yams, and winter squash, and root veggies including carrots, onions, and garlic.


Our next blog will include the dreaded fat discussion. Keep in mind, fat in our food does not make us fat, so stay tuned for Part 3!