What's Missing From the Female Athlete's Diet, Part 1: Calories

March 27, 2013 | Kate Knappenberger

Must See Nutrition Videos

Typically, when athletes lack results despite increasing their training intensity, we label it a performance plateau. This isn't always the case. Sometimes the problem is that something important is missing from their diet.

Serious female athletes have a reputation for being meticulous with their diets. But research has shown that this cautious approach is not necessarily a safeguard. Many female athletes lack essential nutrients, holding them back from reaching their full athletic potential. In this series, we will look at each of the most common missing nutrients.

In this first article, we'll discuss the fuel for our engines and the wood for our fires—calories. Without adequate calories, we cannot get where we want to go or do what we want to do. Yet female athletes often lack calories, for both unintentional and intentional reasons.

To achieve a specific body size or weight

When someone is calorie-deficient, body image is usually the first culprit. The common belief that a lighter athlete is a faster athlete is false, yet it affects runners, cyclists, swimmers, gymnasts, ski jumpers and lightweight rowers.

Weight loss can lead to performance gains only if someone has excess body fat. Normal or underweight females who restrict calories in attempts to lose weight increase their risk for injury, illness, and a host of nutrient deficiencies. They also often lose the muscle mass they need to perform at their best. Remember, muscle weighs more than fat, so a "heavier" athlete may be able to generate more power than a lighter athlete.

In severe cases, females can develop disordered eating behaviors and the female athlete triad. (See Are you at risk for an eating disorder?)

Many females fail to see accurate reflections of their bodies when they look in the mirror. You can't determine body fat just by looking. If you believe you have excess body fat, consider visiting a health care professional to analyze your body composition. If a health care professional determines that you can safely lose weight, go slow. Aim for about one pound per week to ensure that you do not lose muscle mass. If a health care professional determines that you do not have excess weight to lose, listen to their advice.

Not consuming enough calories to cover those burned during exercise

Unfortunately, some athletes unknowingly deprive themselves of needed calories. Hunger is not always a good indication that you need to eat. One research study revealed that when female runners increased their calorie burn by 20% during a 40-week marathon training program, they failed to eat significantly more food. (Ask the Experts: How Many Calories Should I Eat?)

Signs that you're not eating enough calories to support your training include:

  • Fatigue
  • Inability to finish workouts
  • Increased time needed to fully recover from workouts
  • Feeling irritable
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Weight loss

Athletes who inadvertently limit calories face the same health consequences as athletes who limit them on purpose. In order to avoid injury and illness, you need to stay in energy balance. This means you must eat as many calories as you burn. To do this right, you may need to see a sports dietitian to calculate your exact calorie needs, or you may need to pay closer attention to your hunger cues and energy levels during training. Don't be afraid to add a snack to your day if you are experiencing increased fatigue during your workout or throughout the day. Something simple like a peanut butter and banana sandwich, a bag of homemade trail mix, or a fruit and yogurt parfait can increase energy levels and lead to huge performance gains.

When it comes to performing at your best, the focus should not be on your bathroom scale. We know that restricting calories to lose weight does not always have a positive outcome. The ultimate goal is to win, right? Eating enough calories to completely fuel your toughest training sessions will allow you to train harder and compete harder—and keep you one step ahead of your competition.

Stay tuned for the next installment of "What's Missing from the Female Athlete's Diet?"

Source

The Endurance Paradox: Bone Health for the Endurance Athlete, by Thomas Whipple and Robert Eckhardt.

Photo: nutritious-n-delicious.blogspot.com

Kate Knappenberger
- Kate Knappenberger, RD, CSSD, ATC, is an assistant professor and athletic trainer at Daytona State College (Daytona Beach, Fla.). She earned her master's degree in...
Kate Knappenberger
- Kate Knappenberger, RD, CSSD, ATC, is an assistant professor and athletic trainer at Daytona State College (Daytona Beach, Fla.). She earned her master's degree in...

Featured Videos

Tim Tebow's NFL Off-Season Workout Tim Tebow's NFL Off-Season Workout Views: 152,830
Path to the Pros 2015: Trae Waynes Path to the Pros 2015: Trae Waynes Views: 80,325
Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Views: 1,268,862
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 43,536,765
Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied
Views: 12,117,693
Colin Kaepernick's Core Workout Colin Kaepernick's Core Workout
Views: 896,437
Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill
Views: 6,866,240
Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill
Views: 9,501,332

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

How to Eat Healthy at a Dingy Sports Bar

How to Eat Healthy at a Dingy Sports Bar

5 Simple Food Swaps That Make Eating Out Healthier

5 Simple Food Swaps That Make Eating Out Healthier

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

What to Eat If You Hate Bananas

What to Eat If You Hate Bananas

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

Cookout Commandments: What to Eat (and Avoid) at Your Summer BBQ

Cookout Commandments: What to Eat (and Avoid) at Your Summer BBQ

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

Why You Should Say No to Diet Foods

Why You Should Say No to Diet Foods

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

Registered Dietitians Reveal Their Favorite Ways to Eat Fruit

Registered Dietitians Reveal Their Favorite Ways to Eat Fruit

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

How Marc Gasol Got Better by Overhauling His Diet

How Marc Gasol Got Better by Overhauling His Diet

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

10 Athlete-Approved High-Protein Cereals

10 Athlete-Approved High-Protein Cereals

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight

The Boston Cannons' ‘Keep It Real’ Eating Plan

The Boston Cannons' 'Keep It Real' Eating Plan

Binge Eating Disorder and Athletes

Binge Eating Disorder and Athletes

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

9 Foods to Eat When You Want to Lose Fat

9 Foods to Eat When You Want to Lose Fat

YardBarker