There’s a lot of fuelling advice for endurance on the internet. The problem is the vast majority is only valid for men. Women have a different body composition and do not handle carbs and fats the same way. If they follow advice tailored to men, they will never reach their full potential in terms of performance and health. That’s why it’s important to take these specifics into account and make a few changes!
Better use of energy from sports drinks
Scientists studied 14 athletes, men and women, to measure how well they utilize carbs from sports drinks on the bike. The athletes fasted overnight, then were given a breakfast, and rode for 90 minutes at moderate intensity (about 60 % of their VO2 max). As the exercise session progressed the female riders were using proportionally more of the carbohydrate provided by the sports drink than their male counterparts. In the end the female riders were processing 25 % more carbs from the sports drink than the men. This shows that men are better at using stored glycogen, while women are better at utilizing external fuel during exercise.
More energy from stored fats
Women, on average, have about 6 – 11 % more body fat than men. This is a result of higher oestrogen levels that help women store more calories from food. This also allows women to burn a higher proportion of fat then men during exercise, at any intensity.
Carb-loading is a waste of time
Women utilize more fat than men and are better at using external fuel. This means they are not as good at storing glycogen as men. That’s why studies on female athletes show less performance improvement from carbo-loading than men. Overall, evidence suggests that for women who eat a healthy diet with sufficient carbohydrates and top up their glycogen stores during a ride should have the best chance to reach optimal performance.
How to do it right?
1. Carrying external fuel for training sessions and races is your top priority!
2. To aid performance, eat or drink carbs every 30 to 45 minutes.
3. Do not carb-load heavily before races – the added benefit isn’t worth the effort.
4. Ensure regular carbohydrate meals balanced with good protein sources and healthy fats in your regular diet.