Should Female Athletes Be Getting Different Nutrition?
Female athletes are at risk for nutrient deficiencies for a host of reasons. Some may be cutting back on calories for weight loss, while others are vegetarians and may be missing key nutrients. And most female athletes may find themselves lacking in nutrients because of their menstrual cycle. To avoid the complications that come with nutritional deficiencies, it is important to make sure that you are getting the right combination of vitamins and minerals to fuel your rigorous swim training and keep you on track to gaining that competitive edge.
Female swimmers are especially at risk for iron deficiencies. This insufficiency is one of the most prevalent among women athletes because of menstrual losses. Low iron intake will result in lowered immune function and increased fatigue, which could sabotage your training sessions. Maintain healthy iron levels by eating food sources like spinach, lean red meat and turkey, fortified cereals, and beans. Beans can be paired with foods like kale, bell pepper, broccoli, and cauliflower, which are all high in vitamin C, a nutrient that helps with the absorption of non-heme iron in the body.
Another beneficial dietary element that female athletes are often lacking in is protein. This is because a disproportionate number of female athletes are vegetarians, or reduce protein intake to reduce weight loss. As noted in a previous post, protein is critical for swimmers since it repairs muscle tissue that is damaged during swim training, and it helps with providing energy during exercise. Female swimmers need approximately 1.2-1.4 g of protein per kilogram of weight per day to keep up with intense training schedules. Healthy food sources of protein are lean beef, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, tofu, and low-fat dairy products. Additionally, protein levels can be maintained with the Performace shake, which is a great idea before bedtime to aid in recovery.
Calcium intake is another area where female athletes fall short of the guidelines. Since many women avoid dairy products and do not replace them with other calcium-rich foods, they are at risk for many of the problems associated with low calcium levels. Beyond putting yourself at risk for osteoporosis with low calcium levels, females also risk increased symptoms of PMS. Consuming calcium daily seems to significantly reduce mood swings, bloating, food cravings, and pain, which could all prevent you from having a productive training session at the pool. To make sure you're getting enough calcium, consume low-fat dairy products, kale, and broccoli.
Women, in general, tend to shy away from carbs because of fear of weight gain and bulking up. But carbohydrates are a critical part of a female swimmers diet. Carbs are necessary for swimmers because they make up the majority of your fuel source and will help you power through intense swim sessions. Making healthy meal choices from fruit, vegetables, brown rice, enriched whole-grain breads, rolled oats, and sweet potatoes will ensure that you maintain a good ratio of healthy carbs, protein, and the other essential vitamins and nutrients on your plate.
Overall, female swimmers need to be vigilant about their nutritional intake and make sure that they are eating a balanced diet. Using these guidelines, and the recommendations from your coach and trainer, you will be on the path to health, both inside and out!