Female Endurance Athletes have Unique Nutritional Needs
The purpose of this article is to (i) educate women on their unique nutritional needs and (ii) help female endurance athletes improve their health and athletic performance through optimum natural nutrition!
Inadequate nutrition is common among endurance athletes in general and very common among women endurance athletes in particular. If you are a women engaged in Marathon or Ultra Running, Ironman Triathlons, competitive Distance Cycling or Distance or Open Water Swimming, the chances are your nutritional intake is deficient for your general health and for your peak athletic performance. In particular, women endurance athletes have unique calcium and iron needs and also tend to be Iron and Calcium deficient.
Key Function of Iron and the Risks of Iron Deficiency in Female Endurance Athletes
Iron is the main component of Red Blood Cells. The body contains more Red Blood Cells than any other type of cell. As each Red Blood Cell has a life span of about 120 days, Red Blood Cells must be continually replaced. On average, in every second of human life, 3 million red blood cells die and need to be replaced by 3 million new ones. Iron is essential to continually replenish Red Blood Cells. Excluding water, red blood cells are made of of about 97% Hemoglobin.
Iron is a key component of Hemoglobin which binds with oxygen molecules to deliver oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body.
The primary purpose of Red Blood Cells is to deliver oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body to generate energy. Our body's ability to delivery oxygen to the cells throughout our body efficiently as demands require determines our aerobic capacity. Maintaining a diet sufficient in natural sources of Iron is essential to produce Red Blood Cells needed to maintain optimum aerobic capacity for endurance athletes.
Women athletes of child bearing age have added need for Iron. Iron insufficiency is one of the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies among the female endurance athletes because of menstrual losses.
Iron deficiency can cause short and long term fatigue, impaired concentration and athletic performance and an impaired immune system.
Role of Calcium and Increased Need for Calcium in Women Edurance Athletes
Calcium is the most plentiful mineral in the body and plays an important role in building stronger, denser bones early in life and keeping bones strong and healthy later in life. Approximately ninety-nine percent of the body's calcium is stored in the bones and teeth. Calcium plays other important key roles, especially important for the peak performance and health of endurance athletes, including:
Calcium deficiency in woman can lead to osteoporosis, in which the bone deteriorates and there is an increased risk of fractures. Women endurance athletes, due to the added demands for calcium that go with training and racing, have significant risks of osteoporosis caused by prolonged periods of inadequate calcium intake while training.
Vitamin K is also essential for bone formation and repair. It improves bone density and facilitates the absorption of calcium. See Natural Sources of Vitamin K.
Natural Foods Sources of Iron
Natural sources of Iron are preferred. There are two main types of Iron.
Heme Iron and Nonheme Iron. Iron is found in both animal and plant foods, but in different forms. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells and is found in beef and turkey. Nonheme Iron is found in plant foods such as lentils and beans and has a different chemical structure than heme Iron. Heme Iron is absorbed better than nonheme Iron.
Food Sources of HEME IRON from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
Food Sources of NONHEME IRON from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
Natural Food Sources of Calcium
For a list of natural dairy and non dairy sources of Calcium see Natural Foods Sources of Calcium<-- back to top
Women's Health Articles
Nutrition for the Female Athlete, Luis E Palacio, MD, Director of Primary Care Sports Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, Medscape