Cycling Nutrition For Women

24 October, 2017

When it comes to cycling and nutrition, food is often referred to as a source of fueling. I often think of fueling as nurturing my health and prepping for performance and recovery before, during, and after a ride. When researching women's sports nutrition, I found this information to be mostly about weight lost, diets, eating disorders among athletes, juice cleanses, and what calories and fats to avoid. This got me thinking... women's sport nutrition needs a new approach. Like most female cyclists, I feel stronger and weaker during certain phases of my menstrual cycle and wanted to develop a food plan of what foods I should be eating during these phases to help me get the most out of my training while feeling good on my bike all phases of the month.

With sports nutritionists like Lori Nedescu of Cadence Kitchen and brands like Osmo Nutrition, sports nutrition and products are highlighting the connections between a females overall health, menstrual health, and energy outputs to guide women in their own performance nutrition. While Lori wouldn't call herself a "women's specific" sports nutritionist, her knowledge and skill to help athletes goes beyond creating meal plans and recipes that can help facilitate performance and general wellness with real food through all seasons and cycles. Osmo Nutrition's founder Stacey Sim's brands the women's Osmo line with a theme in mind - women are not small men- and argues that women have been fueling themselves all wrong.

In another Bike Talk post I want to share a bit about how our cycles affects our riding but for now I want to share the basics about nutrition to facilitate your performance and wellness. While I don't claim to be an expert or specialist, I only want to share with you what I have learned from books, blogs, and research articles around the subject to guide you to the right resources. When it comes to nutrition and fueling, there are specific considerations we as women in cycling should know...

Consuming the right amount of calories is huge step towards ensuring women stay healthy and energized in general but it's often over looked in order to lose weight. Typically women need less calories than men but enough to fuel performance. Not eating enough on a day-to day basis or not eating after hard training sessions or endurance rides can lead to low energy availability that can affect health. For women, low energy availability impacts hormone secretion from the pituitary gland, which directly impacts regulation of ovulation and the ability to absorb minerals to keep bones healthy. We must also keep in mind that consuming too many calories, if not used, runs the risk of weight gain, it's fine balance.
To optimize health and cycling performance it is important to consume 3 macronutrients – Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat. Eliminating any of these food groups can have negative effects on immune function, recovery and also increase rick of injury. If certain healthy weight goals need to be achieved it is better to do it through the combination of smaller portions and the timing of your food consumption, as opposed to eliminating any of these whole food groups.

Carbohydrates: This is the primary macronutrient for energy metabolism. Although for women, carbohydrates seem to come with a bit of a bad rap, it is actually crucial if you want to get the most out of your training and rides. Carbohydrates are essential in providing your body with the muscle glycogen needed to sustain exercise, and allow you to train harder and therefore elicit better training adaptations than training in a depleted state. Generally, carbohydrate intake should be up to 50% of the calories calculated in your total energy requirement, or around 6-8g/kg/bw. It may be necessary to increase carbohydrate intake for those participating in ultra endurance events or during intense periods of endurance training. Remember, carbohydrates not only fuel our muscles but also our brains, staying alert can be pivotal in some sports to help avoid injury.

Protein: Research has found an elevated need for protein in most endurance and power athletes. However, research has also shown that female athletes don’t actually need as much protein as men due to lower oxidation rates during exercise. Saying that, protein is still essential to promote recovery and muscle adaptation and still remains an important part of the female athletes diet.  The average population’s protein intake is 0.8g/kg/bw but female endurance athletes require 1.3-1.5g/kg/bw.

Fat: Women have a greater capacity to use and transport fats than men during endurance exercise. It is the combination of high oxidation rates and higher fat stores that actually make women very suited to long distance events. With this in mind it is essential that women do not consume less than 20% of their total energy requirements from fat. Having 25-30% from healthy sources such as nuts, oil, fish and meat would be optimal. There is even evidence that supports women having a slightly higher fat content in their recovery meals to replenish the energy stores they have used. Not forgetting health, fat is also essential for a whole host of fat soluble vitamins our bodies need for immune function and recovery. Fat is not as bad as people think when consumed relative to total calorie intake.
Vitamins and Minerals
It is important that all female cyclists ensure they get the necessary daily intake of vitamins and minerals to aid health and particularly immune function. There is nothing more frustrating than missing key training sessions or rides because of an annoying cough or blocked nose. For the female cyclists there a few key vitamins and minerals that are worth drawing your attention to.

Iron: This is one of the most common deficiencies amongst female athletes, anaemia. Iron is key to oxygen carrying and energy production. Iron deficiencies can lead to impaired muscle function and a reduction in performance. Women are most at risk due to their menstrual cycle, especially those who are vegetarian. It is thought endurance athletes need 70% higher intake than the general population (18 mg per day). The easiest way to obtain iron is through the consumption of red meat.

B Vitamins: Similar to iron, lack of B Vitamins such as B12 and folate can cause anaemia, which in turn means an athlete may suffer from severe fatigue, it can also affect the size of red blood cells. Good sources of B Vitamins are animal derived foods such as milk and red meat. B vitamins can be mixed in a high vitamin or mineral blend such as a recovery drink such as a banana almond chocolate smoothie, adding even more benefits to having one post training.

Calcium: Female cyclists who reduce their total energy intake are more at risk of calcium deficiencies. Calcium is a key mineral essential for growth and the development and maintenance of bones. Women are particularly at risk of low bone density, however, one needs to consider that Calcium needs Vitamin D for it to be absorbed; Vitamin D is most readily obtained from sunlight. Having 3-4 servings of dairy products per day such as a glass of milk, yogurt, or a small block of cheese is a great way to ensure you obtain enough calcium in your diet. If you're lactose intolerant like myself, I find dark leafy greens, figs, greek yogurt, hard cheeses, canned salmon, and almonds are great sources of vitamin D and calcium that I often use in meals, snacks, and smoothies.

If you're wondering how to guide your eating habits while training for a marathon or cycling sportiv, I highly recommend Lori Nedescu's guidance of Cadence Kitchen's Recipe book and her blog posts to help guide before, during, and after fueling. I'm a big fan of hers and while fueling you're body is a science, Lori reminds us that it is important to experiment with real foods and recipes to find what makes you feel and perform well on and off the bike. I am also a big fan of Osmo Nutrition for Women. They claim their products are based on scientific studies conducted on women, addressing the needs of women's physiology to help them perform better during all phases of the month. I have been using them for a while now and find their products deliver my needs but that's another post. I hope this helps guide you to performing and eating well on and off the bike and please reach out if you have any questions about books, articles, or recipes!

Images: @CadenceKitchen
Hristo Yanev said...
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