You take time to train because you know it will make you a better athlete, reduce stress and keep you energized. However, too many female athletes enter their workouts under-fueled, the result of poor meal and time management or lack of understanding of the importance of pre-workout nutrition.
For female athletes, under-fueling is detrimental to performance. Whether you are working out or running a race, you have no chance of pushing yourself to a new personal record if your body does not have the fuel it needs to perform at its peak. And if you don’t fuel right after a workout, your body won’t be able to recover, build muscle and prepare for the next workout.
The key to pre-workout fueling is carbohydrates, because the body is best able to use energy from this readily-available fuel source. If your carbohydrate intake is inadequate, you might experience fatigue, loss of mental focus, general feeling of weakness and muscle mass loss.
Female athletes need five to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight (your weight in pounds divided by 2.2). Where you fall in this range depends on the type, intensity and duration of your exercise. For example, if you are running a cross country race, you need between seven and 10 grams of carbs per kilogram. A light practice before game day requires only five to seven grams of carbs per kilogram.
If you plan to exercise or practice early in the morning, you should consume a carb-heavy pre-workout snack that contains 100 to 200 calories. Excellent choices include three or four Fig Newtons, a slice of raisin toast and half a banana, a small energy bar or a sports drink.
If you exercise later in the day, optimize your energy by consuming a carb-heavy, 300- to 400-calorie meal about two hours beforehand (here are a few great meal ideas). Then have a small, 100-calorie, carb-filled snack 15 minutes before exercise. Great options include a banana, granola or a pre-workout sports drink (try Gatorade Prime 01). To prevent digestive issues, avoid high-fat and high protein meals.
In addition to fueling, make sure you are properly hydrated before your workouts. Poor hydration makes everything you do feel more difficult, and it also leads to weakness, fatigue and muscle cramping. In general, women should consume six to eight ounces of water or sports drink before a workout and four to six ounces every 15 minutes during the workout. However, the amount you need varies in relation to your workout type, intensity and duration, as well as to environmental factors. As a basic guideline, if you are thirsty, you are not consuming enough fluids.
Melinda Wells Valliant, Ph.D., R.D., CSSD, LD, is an assistant professor of nutrition at The University of Mississippi and the consultant sports dietitian for Ole Miss Athletics, a position she’s held for nine years. In addition, she works with Premier Health Education to provide multidisciplinary health-related seminars to PTs, ATCs, strength coaches and athletes. She has educated a wide variety of athletes, many of whom have advanced to the professional rank in their sport.