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Many Female Athletes Need to Eat More

Too little food can diminish athletic performance in women.

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For the most part, sports nutrition science is bro-science. That’s because the vast majority of studies to date have focused on men, leaving active women to assume the same results apply to them. But that is slowly changing.

Case in point: A report in the Strength and Conditioning Journal calls out the dangers to female athletes of low energy availability (LEA) when calorie intake is too low to support training. LEA can lead to poor recovery and performance, changes in hormone levels, and, potentially, loss of menstruation.

The study findings show a reported prevalence of LEA ranging from 2% among regular gym-goers to 77% in professional ballet dancers. Causes include intended calorie restriction for performance or aesthetic reasons, increased training loads, changes in appetite across a menstrual cycle, and a lack of knowledge on how to properly fuel a body in motion.

Trainers need to become better aware of the signs of LEA and then work with female athletes to implement effective fueling strategies for training and performance.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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