Nutritional Concerns of the Female Athlete

Nutritional Concerns of the Female Athlete

From recreational activities to professional competitions, female athletes are making strides and achieving remarkable feats. As their involvement intensifies, it becomes crucial for female athletes to prioritize their nutrition to support optimal performance, recovery, and overall well-being. In this blog, I will explore some essential nutritional considerations that can help female athletes reach their full potential.


Key recommendations for energy intake and availability

-Maintain energy availability levels that meet requirements for individual training and performance demands.

-Consider increasing energy intake during luteal phase (pre-menstruating) due to increased energy needs.

-Oral contraceptive use can mask early signs of low energy availability, reducing the opportunity to identify it early and prevent further implications.

-Nutrient timing may help reduce time in a catabolic state, therefore improving health, performance, and training adaptations even in times of caloric deficit.

-Athletes and coaches must understand repercussions on neuroendocrine response to low energy and nutrient intake if in calorie deficits in certain training cycles.

-Monitoring biomarkers across training blocks and seasons can provide further individualized insight.


Cycles, hormones, and carbohydrate metabolism

-After normal endurance training, females utilize less carbohydrate, more fat, and less of the amino acid leucine both at rest and during low-moderate intensity exercise, compared to males.

-Due to increased progesterone in the mid-luteal phase (about a week before menstruating) and increases glycogen storage in endometrium, carbohydrate loading may be less effective at this time.

-Oral contraceptives with higher hormone content may increase insulin resistance and inflammatory response, increasing oxidative stress.

-Females on oral contraceptives demonstrate a slightly lower reliance on carbohydrate intake during exercise as compared to non-COC users.

-Females exhibit slower gastric emptying than males, possibly increasing the risk of GI stress during high intensity / long duration exercise. It may be worse during early-follicular (menstruating) and late-luteal (pre-menstruating) phases.


General carbohydrate recommendations

-Females should eat enough energy with a focus on carbohydrate to support overall health as well as duration, intensity, and environmental factors of performance, especially during follicular phase.

-Females on oral contraceptives should also consume adequate carbohydrate across all phases of the active pill cycle to reduce hormone-lined oxidative stress.

-Female athletes should track menstrual cycle status to identify times of GI issues across the cycle and if intra-workout carbohydrate intake near 60g/h might affect GI tolerance.

-30-60g carbohydrate per hour during exercise is recommended to offset menstrual cycle effects on metabolism and limit potential GI distress, immune disturbance, and protein breakdown.

-Replenishing glycogen stores after high volume / multiple sessions in a 24h period.

-Rapid intake of at least 1/2kg/kg of carbohydrate should follow prolonged exercise to restore glycogen.


General protein recommendations

-Daily protein intake for female athletes should fall within an upper range of current sports nutrition guidelines: 1.8-2.2g/kg of body weight per day.

-0.32-0.38g/kg of protein per body weight should be consume right after exercise.

-Consider increasing protein by 12% in the luteal phase (pre-menstruation) to offset protein breakdown effects of progesterone.

-Meal dosing should be moderate in protein (0.3g/kg) every 3h to maximize muscle repair and remodeling during prolonged recovery periods (>24h).

-Pre-sleep protein intake has not been found beneficial for female athletes who eat adequate calories, however those in a low energy availability state may benefit from pre-sleep protein and energy.


Nutrition plays a pivotal role in the success of female athletes. Fueling the body with the right balance of macronutrients, micronutrients, and fluids supports optimal performance, recovery, and overall health. I help you get a personalized approach that considers your own energy requirements, menstrual health, and specific sport demands. By prioritizing proper nutrition, your can enhance your athletic abilities, reduce the risk of injuries, and lay the foundation for a long and successful sporting career. Remember, a well-nourished athlete is a thriving athlete!