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protein needs of women athletes

by Sandy Todd Webster on Sep 29, 2010

Food for Thought

In 2008, David Rowlands, PhD, senior lecturer with the Institute of Food, Nutrition, and Human Health at Massey University in New Zealand, published a study showing that male cyclists who ingested protein and carbohydrates between intense training bouts gained distinct performance and postexercise recovery advantages over men who fueled only with carbohydrates (Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33 [1], 39–51).

When the study came out, women cyclists contacted him asking to be included in any further research. The results of his follow-up study were published online in May in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and are a good reminder that what’s good for Adam isn’t always good for Eve.

Rowlands and a colleague set out to determine whether there was a meaningful difference between high- versus low-protein recovery diets on subsequent performance in well-trained female cyclists. Surprisingly, the findings were directly opposite those of the male study.

The female subjects not only did not benefit from protein during recovery, but they rated their leg fatigue and soreness as more intense than those of the women who ingested only carbohydrate. In addition, and unlike the men, they could not ride longer or with more intensity than the carb-only group. In the high-protein condition, plasma-glucose concentrations were lower during recovery, and plasma-lactate concentrations were lower during the sprints.

Yet another interesting finding was that the effects on circulating creatine-kinase (a biochemical marker of muscle tissue trauma) activity were trivial, which suggests that muscle damage was kept to a minimum. In the original study the males showed higher creatine-kinase activity during the hard intervals.

Rowlands concluded that “in contrast with previous findings in males, we observed no clear influence of dietary protein quantity on subsequent performance in females. The nitrogen balance findings suggest that female cyclists training intensely have daily protein requirements approximately 1.6 times the recommended daily allowance, but 0.65 times that of males.” Since the study was one-of-a-kind, it will need to be replicated.

Read the abstract of this study at

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.