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International Women's Day: Nutritional Considerations

As we celebrate International Women's Day, let's review the current nutritional considerations for female athletes. Keep in mind, everyone's nutritional needs are highly individualized. You should work with your registered dietitian to ensure you are adequately fueling your body to not only optimize performance but to maintain overall good health.

#1 Maintain overall energy availability that meets physiological needs.

One of the primary nutritional concerns for female athletes is maintaining adequate energy availability to support their training and performance. Women who consistently consume fewer calories than they expend may experience a condition known as low energy availability (LEA), which can lead to hormonal imbalances, menstrual irregularities, and decreased bone density. A common symptom of LEA is the loss of period; however, note that oral contraceptives can mask early signs of chronic underfueling. This is because the spotting that occurs is known as a withdrawal bleed and is NOT considered your actual period. Learn more here!

#2 Focus on adequate carbohydrates and protein.

Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy during exercise, making them essential for female athletes. Glucose-related metabolic pathways fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle. However, there's not enough strong evidence to suggest a general recommendation regarding carbohydrate intake around one's menstrual cycle. Currently, best practices are to consume a high carbohydrate snack 3-4 hours before training, especially during the luteal phase where performance decrements are shown to be more prevalent.

Additionally, protein plays a crucial role in muscle repair and recovery, making it important for female athletes to include protein-rich foods in their diet to support muscle growth and repair. General recommendation for athletes is 1.6-2.2g/kg/d and peri/post menopausal athletes should aim for the upper end of this range.

Ex. 2.2g x 64 kg of body weight = ~141g/d of high quality protein.

#3 High importance on being well hydrated.

Proper hydration is key for female athletes as the risk for exercise-associated hyponatremia is greater compared to males. This is likely due to differences in body weight and size, sweat rate, excess water ingestion, and training intensity. Additionally, females have less absolute and relative fluid available to lose in general so excess water loss can have greater negative effects. Staying well-hydrated before, during, and after workouts is vital! Female athletes should pay close attention to their fluid intake and adjust based on individual needs.

#4 Consider evidence-based supplements that are specifically useful for females.

While a well-rounded diet should be the primary focus for all athletes, there are some supplements that may be especially beneficial for enhancing performance and recovery in females. Supplements such as iron, calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids are commonly recommended. Caffeine, iron, and creatine have the most evidence for use in females. Iron deficiency is highly prevalent in the female athlete population; however, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian before adding an iron supplement to your routine.

#5 Consider physiological changes during menstrual cycle.

The menstrual cycle can have a significant impact on a female athlete's performance. Hormonal fluctuations throughout the cycle can affect energy levels, motivation, and recovery. Understanding these changes and adjusting nutrition and training strategies accordingly can help female athletes optimize their performance throughout the month. During the follicular phase (days 1-14), replenish iron stores lost from bleeding by consuming iron-rich foods such as meat, lentils, beans, and leafy vegetables. Pair vitamin C rich foods in order to increase iron absorption. During the luteal phase ( days 15-28), add a small, protein-dense snack as RMR can increase anywhere from 2-11.5%. Additionally, adding magnesium can help mitigate PMS symptoms. Nuts and seeds have lots of magnesium!

In conclusion, proper nutrition is essential for female athletes to perform at their best and support overall health and well-being. By focusing on maintaining energy availability, consuming adequate carbohydrates and protein, staying hydrated, considering evidence-based supplements, and understanding physiological changes during the menstrual cycle, female athletes can optimize their performance and achieve their goals.

About the Author

Jourdan Delacruz is a P&G athlete, 2020 Olympian, and registered dietitian student. Jourdan is pursuing the 2024 Olympic qualification procedures and her bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. Jourdan created the brand, Herathlete as a way of providing community-led support to female athletes through evidence-based education in nutrition and performance.

Socials @jourdannn_14 @herathlete


Lodge, M. T., Ward-Ritacco, C. L., & Melanson, K. J. (2023). Considerations of Low Carbohydrate Availability (LCA) to Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) in Female Endurance Athletes: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 15(20), 4457.

Sims,S.T., Kerksick,C.M., Smith-Ryan,A.E., JansedeJonge,X.A.K., Hirsch,K. R., Arent, S. M., ... Antonio, J. (2023). International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutritional concerns of the female athlete. Journal of the

International Society of Sports Nutrition, 20(1).


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