I recently put a few thoughts to video blog about the female athlete. Having worked with some incredible women athletes, young women athletes, and also women coaches I felt a need to touch briefly on how it is important to remember that the body of a woman is very different to that of a man, and especially in regard to training. Whether you are an elite or Olympic athlete or someone more normal like me; it is important to remember that your body is not a machine; it is more like the rhythmical ocean of life.
The body of a woman is quite simply different.
And to perform to her optimal physically a woman must honour, respect, and work with these differences.
The scientific literature has done research (but still has a long way to go) in regards to answering some questions about the cyclic nature of woman’s body in relation to training response and performance outcome. We all know that we have fluctuations in energy, strength, endurance and our need for rest and sleep. However things go even further than this notably when we look at metabolic adaptations, the hormonal regulation of fuel partitioning, the hormonal association to energy requirements, blood sugar balance, glycogen loading and fat oxidation, what training is best done when, which phases of the cycle require more sleep and rest, and so on.
I do see a dearth of coaches tailoring training plans in response the specific needs of the female athlete with the result that health problems are very common in the female athlete. I also would wonder do female athletes feel adequately supported in response to their individual needs. I don’t believe that a training block for women should be the same as that for a man; women are not small men, and men have their own unique needs. As a very basic the training macro-cycle should be somewhat synced with the female menstrual cycle and a coach open to feedback about the weekly fluctuations regarding how the female athlete feels.
Fluid and flexible training according to the menstrual cycle should be taught to female athletes at a young age so that there is no shame about having a body who’s cycle creates rhythms that may at times feel a little overwhelming and misunderstood. We must empower young women to honour and listen to their bodies such that they become highly attuned to the bodies needs; and hence optimise their training outcome.
The following problems are not a given for the intensely training female athlete and require some attention and tweaks to be made to the training load, nutrition (and ? supplements), and recommendations for adjusting energy intake, sleep, rest and recovery:
- Menstrual cycle problems: amenorrhoea, oligimenorrhoea
- Stress fractures
- Frequent injuries
- Large weight fluctuations
- Poor recovery, lethargy and depression or other mood problems
- Sleep issues and often night sweats
The tricky thing is that no one athlete is the same and the beauty is that no one athlete is the same!
Please do bounce us an email should you like to explore your health, diet and functional nutrition needs further in relation to your sport.