Nutritional Guide for Female Strength and Power Athletes

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In order to ensure they achieve the ‘perfect beach body’ many female athletes have turned to avoiding essential macronutrients such as carbohydrates and fats, but in doing so they directly limit the gains they are achieving from the hard work they are putting in on the track or in the gym.

This causes a counter-productive effect because limiting such macronutrients will affect their overall health status – distrubting menstrual cycles etc. It can also negatively affect their training and competition performances as they are restricting their muscles from fuel and recovery.

Female strength and power athletes need to increase their quality of protein and fat consumption and decrease the “high” carbohydrate intake. Timing of intake is also a point to be considered. After resistance exercise, energy levels are elevated for over 24 hours, which is an ideal time to increase food intake. Ultimately, this will improve their energy balance and training adaptations.

Carbohydrates are essential in sports performance. Muscles require energy for training and competitions. Carbohydrates fuel the muscles with muscle glycogen which they use for energy. If carbohydrate intake is reduced too much then the muscles will have depleted muscle glycogen stores therefore restricting energy levels leading to muscle fatigue. Recovery isalso affected if carbohydrates are reduced because glycogen stores will not be replenished after training which will delay muscle recovery leading to muscle stiffness. To ensure that female athletes are getting the most from their training they should be looking to:

  • Compared to males, females use significantly less glycogen during resistance training so high carbohydrate diets are not essential

  • Intake should be >8 g/kg/day

  • Females should be looking to obtain carbohydrate intake from: fruits, vegetables, brown rice, beans and sweet potatoes

 Protein is a vital macronutrient in the fact that it is needed for growth and repair. It is essential for recovery as it allows the muscle to recover from any damage that may have been induced whilst exercising. Without protein athletes will find it very hard to recover effectively, female athletes need to be aware of their protein intake:

  • Females protein re-synthesis rate is not as high, compared to males, after training so there is a greater need for protein to elicit the same anabolic effect

  • Protein is essential before and after exercise but also between meals to maintain energy levels and lean body mass

  • Females should be looking to obtain protein intake from: lean beef and pork, poultry, fish and eggs

  • Females can also supplement with whey and casein to ensure they are getting protein at the correct times

 Fat is the biggest fuel source in our bodies. However, for high intensity training carbohydrate is the main fuel source for muslces. Fat is used as an energy source when exercise is over a long period of time – distance runners. High-intensity exercise (sprint training) still utilise when training because it is needed to help the body access stored carbohydrate (muscle glycogen). Female athletes need to consider which fats to intake and how much but should not completely cut it from their diets:

  • Females reduce fat intake as they believe it will affect their body composition, however they need to be changing their fat intake from processed to unprocessed

  • Intake greater than 15% of their daily energy needs will prevent the female athlete triad and maintain energy balance

  • Females should be looking to obtain fat intake from: nuts and seeds, oily fish, avocados and egg yolks

 References:

VOLEK, J. S., FORSYTHE, C. E. and KRAEMER, W. J. (2006). Nutritional aspects of women strength athletes. British journal of sports medicine, 40 (9), 742-748.