If your athletic performance isn’t up to par or you feel sluggish during your workouts, evaluate your diet to make sure it’s adequate to meet your needs. Female athletes have specific calorie and nutrition needs, different from men and sedentary women. According to a 2008 issue of the “Journal of Sports and Recreation,” malnourished female athletes may experience brittle hair and nails, dry skin, absence of menstruation, lightheadedness, bone loss, stress fractures, cold intolerance and problems with their reproductive system.
Your calorie intake determines whether you feel energized or sluggish during your workouts. Energy needs of active woman are 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. More specifically, Harvard Medical School suggests active women need 18 calories per pound of body weight each day, or about 2,430 calories per day for a 135-pound female athlete.
Female athletes need extra protein to maintain their muscular physique. According to a 2007 edition of the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,” physically active women need 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 0.64 to 0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day. Based on that, a 135-pound female athlete would need 86 to 123 grams of protein each day. You can get all the protein you need from a well-balanced diet; high-protein foods include poultry, lean meats, seafood, soy products, eggs, low-fat dairy foods, seitan, legumes, nuts and seeds.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, women of childbearing age and those with heavy menstrual cycles are at risk for developing iron deficiency anemia and have the greatest need for iron; women athletes are no exception. In fact, since feeling tired and weak are symptoms of an iron deficiency, consuming too little iron can severely inhibit a woman’s athletic performance. According to the Institute of Medicine, women ages 19 to 50 need 18 milligrams of iron, women over 50 require 8 milligrams and pregnant women need at least 27 milligrams of iron each day. Iron-rich foods include red meat, dark-meat chicken, seafood, iron-fortified cereals, soybeans and other legumes, such as kidney beans.
Carbohydrates are actually a female athlete’s main source of energy. In fact, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests athletes consume 60 to 70 percent of their daily calories from carbs. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that athletes need 2.3 to 5.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight each day, which is 311 to 743 grams of carbs for a 135-pound female athlete. Individualized needs depend on training duration and intensity. You can get your carbs from a variety of healthy foods including whole grains, legumes, milk, yogurt, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Harvard Medical School: Good Nutrition: Should Guidelines Differ for Men and Women?
- Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine: Official Journal of the Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine: Evaluation of Nutritional Intake in Canadian High-Performance Athletes
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Iron
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Sports Nutrition
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Eat Right for Endurance
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.