Inadequate nutritional intake is more common in female athletes than in their male counterparts. Proper diet is paramount for active individuals to maintain adequate energy during physical activity and for post activity recovery.
Carbohydrates – are necessary to meet energy needs, more so in endurance athletes than in strength athletes. Carbohydrate needs are commonly based on the athlete’s body size and activity level. Individuals engaged in moderate-duration, low-intensity exercise require 5-7g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight. By contrast, those participating in long-duration and high-intensity exercise require -12g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight. (fruits, vegetables, brown rice, whole grain breads, whole grain cereal, rolled oats, beans, legumes, sweet potatoes, etc…)
Protein – Active individuals have a higher protein requirement because of their higher percentage of lean muscle mass that needs to be supported. They need protein to repair muscle tissue that is damaged during exercise and require additional protein for energy during exercise. The amount needed depends on the type of activity being performed. Researchers recommend 1.2-1.4g for those participating in endurance sports and 1.6-1.8g for those involved in anaerobic activities. (lean pork and beef, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, tofu and low fat dairy products)
The benefits of carbohydrates with protein include the following:enhanced weight loss, reduction in midriff adipose tissue, optimal maintenance of blood glucose levels and improved lipid profile.
Fat – Fat provides the most energy per gram of all the macronutrients and can help in achieving a positive energy balance. Fat is an essential element for the cell membranes and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Essential fatty acids aids in regulation of blood clotting, blood pressure, heart rate and immune response. Fat should account for 25-30% of a person’s energy intake. Limit saturated and trans-fats, while providing adequate amounts of essential fatty acids – linoleic and alpha-linoleic acid. (naturally lean protein, nuts, seeds, nut butter, fatty fish (salmon, tuna), fish oil supplements, flaxseed, avocados, egg yolks.
LOW FAT DIETS ARE NOT RECOMMENDED FOR ACTIVE INDIVIDUALS! It will decrease energy and nutrient intake, reduce exercise performance and decrease oxidation of body fat stores.
Fluids and Electrolytes – Dehydration impairs performance. Adequate fluid intake is approximately 2.2L for women 19-30 yrs. and increased drinking is required for active individuals or those in hot environments. Athletes should consume 400-600mL of fluid 2 hours before exercising, 150-350 mL during exercise. If exercising more than 1 hour or in heated environments your drink should contain carbohydrates and electrolytes. Post exercise meals should include fluids and foods containing sodium, to avoid dieresis which occurs with the ingestion of plain water.
Vitamins and Minerals – Female athletes are at increased risk for iron, calcium, vitamin B and zinc deficiencies. These nutrients are vital for building bone, muscle and for energy production.