Our third episode is about fuelling the female athlete. Tune in here. This blog post brings you the key takeaways that you can implement to achieve your goals!
Our guests on this week’s podcast are Jordan Nobbs, a professional footballer for Arsenal and England, and Dr Kirsty Elliott-Sale, a professor, researcher and expert in Female Physiology.
Eat more. Jordan’s focus is 70% on nutrition and 30% on training. “It is amazing how much food your body can handle when you are running and training a lot!” Before a game, Jordan starts the day with a protein smoothie, continues with a second breakfast and has a bowl of spaghetti bolognese for lunch. She also consumes two to three energy gels as well as food on game day.
Another crucial reason to fuel your body well is managing the risk of injury – not eating enough (especially carbohydrates) can make athletes more prone to injury and impact their performance negatively.
Be considerate of how you feel during your menstrual cycle. Your period will not necessarily slow you down. Training during this time might make you feel better, or you may experience some low-energy days during the month. Jordan’s main concern while menstruating is feeling tired, but eating more helps!
Track your cycle. England football players use an app to track their cycles and symptoms. Both Dr Kirsty and James recommend putting pen to paper even if you do not use an app and emphasise how valuable this kind of data is. It is incredibly helpful to have insights into the rhythm of your body’s behaviour and needs throughout the month. You will be able to nourish your body, perform better and feel better when you pay attention to the patterns during your cycle and you can lower your risk of injury.
Listen to your body and stress less. If you are tired, rest. If you are hungry, eat something nutritious. If you are injured, feeling unwell or lethargic, it will be more beneficial to recover at home before returning to training than struggling through a session. Eat well and try to avoid unhelpful cravings such as an excess of sugar.
Believe in yourself and surround yourself with support. A consistent piece of advice in our podcast is that you will perform best with a support system – teammates and coaches who believe in you. Believing in herself helped Jordan the most when she was recovering from a significant injury. Staying mentally strong and accepting support from others helped her to get back on the pitch. Keep believing in yourself when you are fit again!
Sports nutrition is about fuelling performance and reducing injury risk, not body composition. Food can make you faster and stronger. Focus on how food makes you feel and how it can improve your performance. Fuel is your friend!
Give yourself new goals. Your inner chimp likes taking on new goals and challenges, especially if you have been injured or set back.
There is no one-size-fits-all rule. Every athlete is different when it comes to their menstrual cycle. You might be pregnant, postnatal, experiencing puberty or a menstrual irregularity, or using hormonal contraception. You can be symptomatic or non-symptomatic. If you suspect you could have a nutrient deficiency, Dr Kirsty recommends having a blood test to be sure.
Coaches: Support athletes with education. Work with experts and with information to support athletes rather than asking them probing questions. Treat data about the symptoms of menstruation as you would treat data from a heart monitor.
Don’t be embarrassed to talk about the menstrual cycle. Talking about it will bring it to the forefront of the minds of sportspeople and scientists, where it needs to be. Support young athletes and help them feel comfortable – girls and boys should be part of these conversations.
Coaches: Be considerate. Work with athletes to assess what type of training is appropriate throughout the month. It might not be necessary for an athlete to sit out on a training session – help them adjust their training. Paying attention to athletes’ nutrition remains paramount, supporting them whether they are training more, less or in a different way to high-energy days.