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Back to Symposium 2017

Nutrition considerations for women in sports and exercise

Elizabeth (Beth) Mansfield Elizabeth (Beth) Mansfield, PhD, MSc, RD, CSEP-CEP, CSSD

Registered Dietitian
CSEP-Certified Exercise Physiologist
Certified Specialist in Sport Dietetics

Women involved in exercise training for recreational or competitive sport have unique nutritional concerns, in particular those for whom energy balance is not the objective of their training. Some of these women may intentionally and rationally engage in mismanaged diet and exercise behaviours to change their body composition to achieve better performance; some may be struggling with eating disorders; others may simply fail to increase their energy intake when they notch up their level of training. In each of these situations, women are at risk of low energy availability (LEA), effecting both their health and performance. An EA below 30 kcal.kg-1 FFM.d-1 compromises the reproductive system, bone formation and immune system. The net result of this female athlete triad of interrelated conditions is impaired sports performance and sub-optimal health.

Assessing Low Energy Availability

It is paramount that nutrition education and clinical sport dietetics consider the health of the physiological systems that are compromised by low energy availability, and the potential for bone loss and menstrual disturbances. Assessment the energy intake of women involved in exercise training for recreational or competitive sport has to take into consideration the remaining energy available to support the body’s function after the cost of exercise is removed from energy intake. It seems reasonable to suggest an intake of 45 kcal.kg-1 of fat free mass (FFM).d-1to ensure sufficient energy is available to support the body’s physiological systems and ensure that they are functioning in a healthy manner.

Nutritional Strategies

An extensive daily timeline energy assessment will aid in the development of a within day energy availability plan. Nutritional strategies focus on improving energy availability by increasing daily caloric intake and focusing on nutrient timing of energy and protein dense snacks and beverages around training sessions and recovery periods. Ensuring calcium and Vitamin D needs are being met may require supplementation when dietary intake is insufficient.

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