Increased activity requires increased energy intake, that’s common sense. But athletes often forget that hard training also raises the need for many micronutrients. Most of them should be covered by the simple fact that you’ll end up eating more, provided your diet is well-balanced and made up of wholesome real foods. However, especially for female athletes, some key nutrients, namely iron and calcium, require special attention. Let’s look at some effective ways that ensure you’ll get enough of them.

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Get more iron from liver, red meat, or legumes

Iron is the most commonly deficient mineral amongst endurance female athletes. Iron plays a key role in oxygen transport and energy production, which means that deficiencies can lead to impaired muscle function, reduction in performance, and later even health problems. Make sure you’re getting at least the recommended 14.8 mg every day, though you may need more if you are very active. The best sources are liver and red meat, but you can find iron also in legumes, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, fish, or cacao beans. You can cover your daily need by eating a small portion of chicken liver, or two big beef steaks, or three servings of cooked lentils.

Sardines and collard greens to have enough calcium

Calcium is essential for growth and maintenance of bones, and higher training loads increase requirements. Women are particularly at risk of low bone density; it is recommended that they consume at least 1000 mg a day. It’s also important to consider that calcium needs vitamin D and vitamin K2 to be absorbed and utilized. Vitamin D is most readily obtained from sunlight, but some calcium sources, like sardines, contain both calcium and vitamin D. You can cover your daily need of calcium by eating slightly more than 2 cans of sardines, which will also give you a daily dose of vitamin D. Other good sources are collard greens, like broccoli or cabbage, and various types of dairy.

Supplement to reduce cramping and fatigue

A well-formulated supplement mix can be a big help for female athletes. For example magnesium, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids before bedtime in the 5 days before a woman’s period starts will help counteract bloating and cramping. BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are also a great choice to help combat increased central nervous system fatigue and to increase muscle repair. Aim for about 5 – 8 g of BCAAs 30 minutes before exercise.

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Always try to get all you need from your diet, and turn to supplements only when you’re putting your body through an extra hard training or when you’re dealing with unusually high stress in your life. Having blood work done at least once or twice a year is also a great idea, even if you think you’re healthy. That way you can deal with issues before they become serious by choosing the right supplements for your situation.

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