The numbers of women taking part in endurance sports has dramatically increased over the past few years. Many women are inexperienced, and new to the area of endurance sports and this has lead to an increase in the number of health problems being experienced in this area.
These health problems can be serious and can have irreversible effects if not treated quickly so it is important that female athletes know what to look out for.
Weight loss needs to be controlled
Women who are new to endurance sports experience a rapid body weight loss in a short amount of time. This is often the aim of women who mistakenly believe that dropping a lot of weight quickly will make them lighter, and therefore faster. While this is a good long-term aim, you should aim to lose weight slowly, and in a controlled manner while keeping your body’s nutrient intake at a healthy level.
The consequences of not managing a careful diet can have negative healthy impacts and can actually set your performance back and even prevent you from running. At a basic level the risk comes when the number of calories you burn is greater than your caloric intake from food. Many women who are new to endurance sports make the mistake of not altering their diet to match their exercise levels. High levels of exercise combined with inadequate nutrition can lead to health issues for women such as menstrual irregularity, low energy levels, fertility difficulties, osteoporosis and stress fractures. There has been a huge increase in the number of women taking part in marathons and triathlons especially in recent years. Some of these women use these sports as a way of losing weight as well as improving fitness levels. This is fine to a certain extent but many do not appreciate the strain they are putting their bodies under, and the nutrients needed by the body to maintain a healthy balance.
- Try to eat lots of carbohydrates. Consume carbohydrates two hours before exercising and immediately after a training session or event.
- Include lots of calcium in your diet. Many women make the mistake of thinking that regular multivitamin pills will do the trick, but they don’t contain enough. Pre-menopausal women should have 1,000 – 1,200mg of calcium a day, and postmenopausal women should consume 1,500mg in 500 mg doses as well as magnesium and vitamin D to help with absorption.
- Instead of eating one large meal a day try to have small and well-balanced meals regularly. Aim to eat every three to four hours to keep your energy levels up, which should better support your training patterns.
- The most important aspect to consider is your caloric intake. As a rough guide it is recommended that you should eat 30 calories per kilogram of weight daily and then adjust this based on exertion levels. So use 30 calories per kilogram of weight as a basis and then add to it depending on the level of exercise you are doing at the time.
The medical term for the problems experienced by women as a result of extreme exercise levels with an inadequate diet is referred to as Female Athlete Triad. The condition is characterized by irregular periods, extreme fatigue, osteoporosis, feeling cold, brittle hair and nails and bone fractures.
Treatment for the condition includes medical, psychological and nutritional counseling. Sufferers will also often be instructed to stay off running for up to a year while they regain their weight.
Harm caused by Female Athlete Triad is reversible if recognized early enough and the calorific intake and exercise levels are adjusted rapidly. Bone loss can be permanent. If the symptoms are ignored the damage will be permanent and will often end a budding sporting career before it has the chance to blossom.
The best of both worlds
A careful approach to your exercise regime combined with a well-planned diet will keep your body healthy and will help you to maximize your performance. If you are serious about endurance sports then it is vital you look at the big picture and think about your future in the sport as opposed to trying to achieve quick wins which will damage your body in the long run.
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