NUTRITIONAL DEMANDS OF FEMALE MIDLIFE ATHLETES

How does your nutritional demands change as you enter midlife? And how necessary are supplements to support your training and performance or is it all just marketing hype?

Pic credit: photo by Diana Polekhina,Unsplash

PROTEIN IS YOUR POWER SOURCE

40+ women need more protein to achieve the same training adaptations and to maintain healthy muscle mass. Aim for around 30 grams of protein per meal with an emphasis on foods rich in the amino acid leucine (essential in the building of muscle).

Good sources include lean meat and fish, legumes, seeds, nuts, leafy green vegetables and eggs. Ideally, you should try to consume protein within 30 minutes of training to help your muscles to repair.

‘It’s also important to remember that you should be eating a good source of protein with all your main meals, not just during training,’ adds GRTW head coach, Rachael Woolston.

You can get all the protein you need from nutritional sources, but if your life is busy it could be worth you supplementing with a protein shake, particularly after training.

What about carbs?

Carbs will fuel your activity, whatever your age. In midlife, shift to more high quality, low glycemic sources to reduce high spikes in blood sugar.

Studies suggests that postmenopausal women have higher blood sugar and insulin responses after eating than premenopausal women.

Switch white rice out for wild rice, opt for things like quinoa and wholegrains and lots of veggies and time your eating of carbohydrates around training to really make the most of the glycogen benefits.

Bone health and calcium

Age-related bone mineral loss means that calcium intake becomes increasingly important. Strength training and impact activities like running will help to reduce the loss of bone density but diet plays a key role.

50+ women have higher needs for specific nutrients related to optimal bone health including calcium, magnesium and vitamin D. The recommended dietary allowance for calcium climbs to 1,200mg/day once you are over fifty compared to 1,000mg/day for younger women. 

Ensuring healthy muscle mass and bone mineral density is vital for a female runner or triathlete as oestrogen levels begin to fall, not only to optimise physical performance, but to slow the decline that comes with ageing.

Melanie Dixon, Registered Nutritional Therapist DipION mBANT CNHC for Vitaminology

Iron Woman

Whilst you are still having periods, iron remains an essential mineral.

“Iron carries oxygen around the body and an iron deficiency can be common in female athletes as running can increase iron deficiency through sweating and the breakdown of red blood cells,” explains Melanie.

Well known sources of iron include red meat while plant based sources come from dried fruit, dark green leafy veg, beans and soy foods. Eat with vitamin C rich foods to aid absorption.

If you struggle to get enough iron through diet or are anemic, supplementation will be of benefit. Iron bisglycinate is a highly absorbable form of iron which is better tolerated for people with sensitive digestive systems.” suggests Melanie.

While iron requirements decrease after menopause, it becomes harder for the body to absorb other nutrients such as B vitamins which are essential for energy production.

Supplements that could be beneficial

  • Calcium; Dairy products, oily fish or dark green leafy veg like kale, spinach and broccoli. “Supplements can be taken in the form of calcium carbonate or citrate in combination with vitamin D to enhance absorption.” says Melanie
  • Vitamin D; Limited to fortified foods and oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) eggs and liver in the diet. All that training out in the sunshine is no longer enough to get an adequate dose of vitamin D as aging makes it more difficult for the skin to synthesise it from the sun.
  • B Vitamins; vital in supporting metabolism and energy production as well as growth, repair and maintenance of all body tissues. “Dietary sources include meat, poultry and fish, bananas, dark green leafy veg, black beans and pinto beans. Vegans could benefit from a B12 supplement as it is only available from animal-derived sources.” outlines Melanie.

While diet is important and will have an impact on your overall health, recovery and performance, it is worth remembering that food is still there to be enjoyed; that celebratory post-race slice of cake need not be off the table.

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