What Female Athletes Really Need for Optimal Sports Performance

What Female Athletes Really Need for Optimal Sports Performance

Every single body is created unique and I am happy to see that society is beginning to embrace that fact and is moving towards a more body-positive culture.

This shift is also impacting the sports realm. All athletes – including women – have different body types that require unique nutritional needs.

Overcoming the cultural stereotype that women in sports should be skinny is important, not only from an ethical point of view but also from a nutritional one. Female athletes have particular nutrition needs, and it’s important to address them properly.

3 Essential Tips for Female Athletes

1. Avoid caloric restriction

Athletes spend great amounts of energy training and they need proper nutrition to fuel their workout and to recover after it. If athletes consume fewer calories than the ones they burn through exercise, it will affect their performance and overall health.

This is especially important for female athletes: if they restrict their caloric intake too much, it might lead to what is known as the Female Athlete Triad. In the Female Athlete Triad, we see low energy availability that can lead to other health issues, such as low bone mineral density and menstrual function disorders.

2. Taking adequate protein

Sometimes, female athletes skimp on protein intake for fear of getting big, bulky muscles. However, just consuming enough protein won’t lead to that. Unless women specifically train to bulk up, they will develop lean, strong muscles, but that still requires adequate protein.

For maximum benefit, female athletes should consume between 20 to 40 grams of high-quality protein within 30 to 45 minutes after a workout. A post-workout shake is a convenient way to get that protein in. It can be made from dairy (whey or casein) protein or from plant-based sources like soy.

3. Staying Properly Hydrated

During a vigorous workout, female athletes should drink lots of fluids with added electrolytes and carbohydrates. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, are lost through sweat and carbohydrates supply muscles with the glucose required to maintain peak performance.

Female Sports Performance

Women in Sports: Inspiration and Strength

At Herbalife Nutrition I support both male and female sponsored athletes around the world by creating personalized nutrition and sports performance programs based on their goals and unique needs.

The female athletes I work with are strong, empowered women who thrive by supporting each other. Take Heather Jackson, who just made the top five on Ironman 70.3 Oceanside and is such an inspiration: she really embodies what it means to be an athlete, a female, and a leader.

It’s inspiring to see how these female athletes interact with each other: they challenge and treat each other with a mix of respect and kindness, which I think is an example of the strength of women, especially females in sport.

Beyond Pink Bottles: Sports Nutrition for Women

Both consumers and the industry are starting to realize that you can’t just make a container pink or a smaller size and then brand it a female product.

While the majority of sports nutrition is the same for men and women, we lack adequate research on female sports nutrition. When I was doing my dissertation, I was advised not to use young women as subjects because of menstrual cycles, hormone fluctuations, and the variations these may represent in long-term research. Since this is a common approach, most sports nutrition studies end up focusing on male subjects and male athletes.

However, the industry is finding ways to work around it. Yes, it’s more challenging, but it is necessary if we aim to really understand the particular needs of female athletes. There are important questions that are finally being addressed.

Finding Your Inner Athlete

What I love is that sports nutrition is not limited to the elite or professional athletes. The work our independent distributors do with their customers mirrors what I do with professional athletes. We work on the same principles: a personalized approach to success. We help people to figure out what their goal is, determining the right path to achieve it, and then support them throughout the process.

Any sort of lifestyle change is complex and it will have its upside-downs. Having someone there whom you can reach out to is a really important part of that journey, regardless if you are a professional athlete or someone aiming for a more fit and active lifestyle.

Dana Ryan, PhD, M.A. – Director, Sport Performance and Education

Dana RyanPhD, M.A. – Director, Sport Performance and Education

Dana Ryan completed her doctorate in physical activity, nutrition and wellness at Arizona State University. Before joining Herbalife Nutrition, she taught exercise physiology and related courses at California State University Los Angeles (CSULA), and has conducted research at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) on the impact of community-based nutrition and physical activity programs on heart disease risk.