When it comes to nutrition, there are several major differences between women and men. They are driven by the normal, monthly hormone fluctuations in a woman’s body and it’s crucial to understand them. Most of the sports science and nutritional advice online is based on and catered to men. Only when female athletes learn about the unique aspects of their physiology, they can achieve maximum performance, and more importantly, sustain robust long-term health.

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The first thing in sports nutrition for women is understanding hormonal changes. Hormone levels are relatively low during the first 14 days of a menstrual cycle. But the second half, also known as the luteal phase, is when levels of oestrogen and progesterone increase and change the way a body metabolizes nutrients and manages liquids. This series is focused on helping women understand how this affects their dietary needs and showing how to make the proper adjustments.

Better fat burning

One of the most significant changes that happen during the luteal phase is that women’s bodies burn more fat and decrease dependency on glycogen stores. Higher availability of stored fat as energy is beneficial for low intensity activities. But when it comes to training in higher intensities, it’s important to supply enough carbs via your meals. If you’re craving carbs in this phase of the cycle, don’t hesitate to temper your diet to match that.

More calories required

This phase is also marked by slightly higher calorie needs due to increased body temperature and several other factors. It raises the usual requirements by about 200 kcal, so this is where those extra carbs might come in handy. It’s vital to listen to your body and not under-eat, that would only backfire in the long-term. But don’t take this as a licence for 14 days of cakes and candy. Choose wholesome, nutritious sources of carbs like potatoes, root vegetables, rice, or squash.

Higher proportion of protein for proper recovery

The standard recovery recommendations encourage having a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. Again, this is not ideal for women in the high hormone phase since they don’t shift into the muscle rebuilding mode as easily. To help with muscle repair, make sure you get about 25 grams of protein within 30 minutes after finishing a hard exercise session. This can be in a form of a Greek yogurt, various nuts or seeds, or a high quality protein bar if no wholesome foods are readily available.

Next article will answer why women should have a very different fuelling strategy on the bike than men thanks to their better fat-burning abilities.

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