5 Foods that Every Female Athlete Should Eat: Part 1

I often get asked a lot about supplements:

“What should I be taking?”

“What is the best one to take?”

“Do I REALLY need to be taking this?”

Each practitioner is likely to have their own approach and own opinion on supplements and supplemental protocols. One also needs to be cautious as certain industry professionals (no names mentioned) may be looking to sell inferior quality products with their financial gain in interest, not your performance or health.

My approach to supplements is to be as minimal as possible. When I work with clients on a one to one level I will take an hour long healthy history, advise on testing and based on the information gathered from both of these, recommend supplements as appropriate.

However, whenever there is an option to get something from food, I would usually choose this. There are a few reasons:

  1. It free’s up finances for things that can only be taken in supplemental form or may allow the budget to stretch to further testing which gives more information about the case
  2. Many clients do not comply with actually taking supplements, food can often be easier, we all need to eat
  3. Many clients take your supplement advice and then buy inferior quality products from a high street pharmacy or health store and therefore are not reaching the full potential any way

So where female athletes are concerned, these are the 5 top foods that will add value to your diet and maybe cut back on supplement expenses.

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Number 1: Liver

Most women of child bearing age lose blood every month. Many women suffer from heavy periods (the root cause of which should ideally be addressed), loss of large amounts of blood in child birth, and eat a diet which is low in red meat.

Many women who compete in sports where weight is of importance (gymnastics, cycling, Olympic Lifting, Martial Arts and Boxing) or just women who are trying to lose weight, often eat a low calorie diet. I meet some women who are subsisting on as little as 1000 calories a day.

Even with the most nutrient dense diet in the world, 1000 calories is only going to give your body 50% of the nutrient needs that a 2000 calorie diet can. Add the increased nutrient demand from the stress of exercise, not to mention everyday life, and this creates a platform for nutrient deficiencies.

Iron, found in liver, is an important mineral used to make haemoglobin, a transporter of oxygen around the body. Oxygen is a vital part of fat oxidation and therefore energy production. This is one of the reasons why iron deficiency anemia is associated with  fatigue. For athletes, delivering oxygen to muscle tissue is vital to create energy for movement.

According to the world health organisation, menstruating women should have 2.38mg of iron per day, this works out 16.66mg per week, the equivalent of 200g of liver or 500g of red meat.

 

Why choose liver over red meat?

Quite simply, the nutrient density is so much greater. Not only does 200g of liver give us the same amount of iron as half a kilogram of red meat, but it also gives us more vitamin D and vitamin C (not present in red meat) and greater amounts of B vitamins. For this reason, liver is often described as nature’s multivitamin.

Additionally, liver is one of the best sources of vitamin A in the form of retinol. Many associated vitamin A with orange coloured vegetables in the form of beta carotene. Carotenes must be converted in the body to retinol. It was found that 50% of women were unable to do this effectively and therefore they were simply not getting enough vitamin A.

Vitamin A has an incredibly important role in the immune system, which, as athletes, we know that sick days are days off training which are days when you are going backwards and not forwards.

 

What if you don’t like the taste of liver?

This is something I get a lot. I think liver can be one of those “either love it or hate it” type of foods. The clients that love it just go to town. But what about those that don’t?

I often find that some will eat pate but not liver itself. It doesn’t matter what form it comes in as long as you are eating it.

Personally I like to blend up raw liver in a food processor and stir it into bolognaise mince. This could work equally well for other mince based dishes, such as Shepherds pie. I find it adds a lovely rich flavour to the dish.

If you really are struggling then start with a very small amount and gently build up over time.

 

Optimising Absorption

Of course it is not just about “getting it in you” but you also need to make what goes in your body can be digested and absorbed.

For those with digestive issues, SIBO or intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Absorption can be compromised.

Vitamin C taken alongside iron containing foods can facilitate absorption. So be adding some peppers, berries, citrus fruits (duck liver and orange pate anyone!?), leafy greens, kiwi fruit and broccoli alongside your liver infused dish.

Certain supplements, like zinc, can compromise iron absorption so you would want to avoid taking zinc supplements with an iron based meal.

(If you are supplementing zinc generally I would recommend a larger dose once a week instead of daily doses that would compromise absorption of other minerals).

If digestion is severely compromised I would take it back to basics and address digestion first and move on from there.  Which leads us on to part 2…

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