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Sports Nutrition for Women with Kristen Arnold

As a coach, I've always been mindful of the unique challenges female athletes face when it comes to nutrition. Recently, I had the chance to dive deep into this topic with sports dietitian Kristen Arnold. Her insights have been invaluable, and I wanted to share some key takeaways that could benefit both coaches and athletes alike.

Understanding Nutritional Differences

Female athletes have distinct nutritional needs compared to their male counterparts. Historically, nutrition recommendations were generic, but in the past two decades, about 800 studies have focused on women athletes. Key differences include the difficulty women face in maintaining and building lean mass, especially as they age, and their higher proportion of fat to carbs burned at any intensity during endurance activities.

Carbohydrate Intake for Women

Carbohydrate intake recommendations for women have evolved. While recent research indicates that female athletes might have an upper limit of around 60 grams of carbs per hour, more studies are needed. Tolerance and gut training are crucial for optimizing carbohydrate intake. If a female athlete is comfortable with 60 grams per hour and it’s working for them, it’s best to stick with that rather than pushing higher amounts that might cause gastrointestinal distress.

The Role of the Menstrual Cycle

Tracking the menstrual cycle is essential for female athletes. Hormonal fluctuations throughout the month can significantly impact performance and recovery. Prioritizing hydration and heat management, especially in the 10-14 days before menstruation, when core body temperature and plasma volume changes can affect performance, is critical. Incorporating these practices can help optimize performance and recovery during different phases of the menstrual cycle.

Protein Needs

Standard protein recommendations for athletes are 1.4 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. For peri- and postmenopausal women, this increases to 1.6 to 2.2 grams to support lean mass maintenance. Incorporating complex carbohydrates and focusing on nutrient timing can help manage insulin sensitivity and maintain optimal body composition.

Perimenopause and Post-menopause Nutrition

Perimenopause, defined by irregular or missed periods, can last from six months to ten years, typically occurring in late 30s to early 40s. Menopause is the point at which a woman hasn't had a period for 12 months, transitioning her to postmenopause. During these phases, maintaining protein intake and incorporating anti-inflammatory and calcium-rich foods are vital for bone density and overall health.

Coaching Female Athletes

Flexibility in training plans is crucial when working with female athletes, especially those in perimenopause or postmenopause. Coaches should prioritize open communication and adapt training based on the athlete's feedback and energy levels. Ensuring adequate energy availability is also critical to prevent performance decline and health issues. Keep an eye out for signs of low energy availability, such as frequent illness, injuries, and lack of progress.

Resources for Further Learning

For those looking to expand their knowledge, Kristen recommends resources like Asker Jeukendrup's My Sports Science, Feisty Performance, Stacey Sims, and Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Kristen also offers an e-course on sports nutrition for women, which is an excellent resource for both coaches and athletes. Use code Kaizen to get $50 off of the course


Energy availability is a critical factor in athletic performance. Female athletes, in particular, need to ensure they are fueling adequately to support their training and health. Coaches should be vigilant for signs of low energy availability and work closely with their athletes to ensure they are meeting their nutritional needs.

For more information and personalized advice, you can reach out to Kristen through her website at Stay fueled, stay strong, and keep pushing the limits of what we can achieve in cycling and beyond!

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