Proper nutrition is one of the cornerstones to improving sports performance and maintaining physical health. Most of the essential nutrients can be obtained from our everyday foods. However, with significant physiological differences between males and females, our needs subsequently differ. In this article, we will be exploring and analyzing the top 3 key nutrients for women runners, which are: iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Iron plays an important role in our body as it is a crucial element required to form haemoglobin, a compound that transports oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body in the blood. This supports our energy levels and enhances muscle strength which affects the breathing and physical motion for running. However, women require more iron than men in order to make up for the amount of iron lost during their menstrual period, and even more so during pregnancy. While men require approximately 8 mg of iron in their daily diet, women need more than twice than that of men (18 mg, or 27 mg if pregnant).
As such, iron deficiency occurs more frequently among women as compared to men. Some symptoms of low-level iron include feelings of fatigue and depression and in the long run, insufficient iron can lead to anaemia. In order to make up for the loss of iron, women are encouraged to increase their intake of these dietary iron sources such as red meat, chicken and fish, leafy green vegetables, legumes and nuts, as well as fortified cereals.
Adequate iron intake can assist with faster post-workout recovery especially during periods of regular intensive workouts. It can also keep feelings of depression and lethargy at bay, making you a happy and motivated runner!
Being the most abundant mineral in the body and a mineral necessary for life, about 99% of the calcium in our body is found in our bones and teeth. This mineral is essential in maintaining strong bones and healthy blood vessels by inducing necessary blood clots, sending nerve messages, and muscle contractions. It may come as a surprise to many that calcium can be lost daily through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, feces and urine. Calcium deficiency affects more women than men because the low level of estrogen production in women during early menopausal stages increases bone resorption and decrease calcium absorption, so women should take special care to meet the daily requirements.
Osteoporosis is a disease that results increased risk of sudden and unexpected fractures due to weakening of bones. Our bones are not static structures, but undergo continuous remodeling, through resorption and deposition of calcium into new bones. When bone breakdown exceeds bone formation, the drop in bone mineral density mass increases the risk of developing osteoporosis over time. Weight-bearing sports like running can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, but this is only the case when one is not calcium-deficient.
As such, women are advised to maintain a good level of Calcium from young and it can be found in many natural sources in both dairy and non-dairy foods. Calcium-rich dairy products include Milk, yogurt, and cheese, while non-dairy products such as Chinese cabbage, kale, and broccoli provide this mineral as well. In addition. fruit juices, tofu, and cereals are also alternative food sources fortified with Calcium. Besides reducing the risk of osteoporosis, a research conducted concluded that taking a calcium supplement of up to 1,000 mg per day may help women live longer.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A lot of women shun fats in fear of weight gain, but there is one type of fat to bring back into your diet. A polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids are essential for numerous body functions including cell membrane construction in the brain, reduction of cellular inflammation, blood clotting.
Besides provides protection against heart disease and possibly stroke, this fatty acid has been included in many diets that aim to promote healthy weight-loss. Moreover, studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may aid to increase calcium levels and improve bone density, hence reducing risks of osteoporosis. The fact that our bodies are unable to product omega-3 fats naturally, the only way to get them is through the food we eat.
Omega-3 fatty acids exists in 2 main types in our diets: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in some vegetable oils made from soybean, canola and flaxseed, some green vegetables such as kale and spinach and walnuts. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, which converts to DHA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are longer chains of omega-3s present in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardine, bluefish and anchovies. Omega-3’s primary interest for runners is the proven reduction of joint inflammation in the joints, and a better alternative to painkillers.
Try making these modifications to your diet today, and see if you feel the difference!