Fueling for Females
Trail Runner|Summer 2021
Here’s how female runners can use recent research findings for performance breakthroughs
By Kylee Van Horn, RDN

As we all know, what you eat (or don’t eat) before, during and after training can affect your ability to recover, train and perform. But how much different are the needs between male and female athletes? Quite a bit, as research has shown. Some of the takeaways below may surprise you.

Overall Energy Intake (Calories)

The biggest challenge female endurance athletes face is underfueling. Poor energy intake is usually shown to be a result of purposeful energy restriction, injury, illness or loss of appetite from high training volume or from restrictive dietary patterns. Long-term energy deficiency can lead to a higher risk of decreased bone mass, menstrual irregularities, increased injury risk, hormonal imbalance and decreased running performance. Eating enough should be the top priority for female runners.

Active female athletes exercising six to 10 hours per week need at least 2,500 calories or more per day—anything less risks macro- and micronutrient deficiencies. Throughout the menstrual cycle, daily energy needs may vary, with some studies showing that athletes need 2.5 percent to 11.5 percent more during the second half of their cycles, called the luteal phase. Age also plays a role in dictating energy needs. For post-menopausal runners, metabolism might decrease due to loss of muscle mass with aging and should be taken into consideration when estimating calorie needs.

Micronutrients of Concern

FOR FEMALE ENDURANCE ATHLETES, SPECIFIC VITAMIN AND MINERAL DEFICIENCIES MATTER MORE THAN IN THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS BECAUSE OF MENSTRUAL-CYCLE FLUCTUATIONS AND HORMONAL CHANGES WITH AGING.

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