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Strategies for the Fit Female

As a fit female, you work smart, play hard, have fun challenging your body and recognize that nutrition is important. When it comes to exercise, you may be contemplating your first or fifth physical challenge whether it's a 5K, three-day walk to support a cause or an Ironman you are discovering and cultivating your inner athlete. Similar to how you live your life, you strive to find balance. Each day you weigh your options to achieve your nutrient needs, meet the demands of your workouts and nourish your soul. Here are three ways to help you fuel your inner athlete while maintaining that fine balance. 



1. Variety is the Spice of Life
As a fit female, you recognize that food is fuel. Food provides the nutrients necessary to get you through your workout, support your nutritional needs and supply your day with energy.(1) That said, you might also realize that food should be enjoyed and really, a variety of food is the spice of life. By consuming a varied diet, you will accomplish all of these goals.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages us to build a healthy eating pattern by consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, eating whole grains, choosing fat-free and low-fat dairy, enjoying an array of protein foods, such as seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, nuts and soy products, and focusing on better fats, like polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.(2) Consider these tips to add variety to your diet and life:

Venture into unchartered territories... in the supermarket. Pick up a food that you haven't cooked with before and find a recipe to create a quick and easy meal with it. For example, if you rarely prepare parsnips, buy one and find a new recipe online to serve it up!

'Tis the season. Shop for foods in season. Don't say no. Avoid eliminating entire food groups from your meal plan. If you don't drink milk, don't say no to yogurt or low-fat cheese!

Switch your protein. Swap steak for seafood, try lean ground turkey instead of ground beef, top a grain with unsalted nuts or beans instead of meat, see what you can do with tofu or even complement greens with a poached egg. Mix and match your foods with alternate protein sources.

Have good taste. Healthy food doesn't need to be bland. Try adding fresh herbs and spices to add zing to a vegetable stew, flavor a brown rice dish with parsley and mint, use mustard seed on chicken breast or chop fresh basil for a tasty tomato sauce.

2. Mind your Vitamins and Minerals
There are several nutrients that are especially important to athletic women. Achieving an adequate intake of iron, calcium and B vitamins will help the fit female maintain her performance and a healthy body. Because these nutrients are so important, you'll find food options that support a women's healthy lifestyle. Here's why these nutrients are remarkable:

Iron: Low iron stores is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies seen in athletes, especially women.(1) Iron helps carry oxygen around the body and to working muscles. If you have insufficient iron stores, it can cause fatigue and negatively impact performance during your workouts and your day.

Calcium: Most women understand that calcium is important for bone health. Without adequate calcium and vitamin D, there is an increased risk for low bone mineral density and stress fractures. Calcium also plays a role in muscle contraction, nerve activity and blood clotting.(1)

B Vitamins: B vitamins help convert food to energy. Adequate intake of B vitamins is important to ensure optimum energy production and the building and repair of muscle tissue.(1)

3. Eat for your Exercise
Running on empty will likely lead to a short, slow jog. The experts assert that a pre-exercise meal will improve your performance.(1) Before you tie your laces, clip-in or start an exercise class, give your body the fuel it needs to get you through your workout. Choose foods that are moderate in protein, low in fat and fiber to minimize gastric distress, and focus on foods that are high in carbohydrate to provide you lasting energy. It can be as simple as an energy bar, peanut butter and jelly sandwich or fruit and low-fat yogurt a couple of hours before your exercise bout. Include hydration in your pre-exercise plan as well: have 14-20 fluid ounces about 2-3 hours before you get started.(1)

By making nutrition part of your plan to lead a healthier lifestyle, your finish-line dreams and fitness goals can be realized and enjoyed with good health.

Fueling Strategies for the Fit Female
By: Jenna A. Bell, PhD, RD
Registered Dietitian & Board Certified Specialist

References:
1. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009; 41(3):709731.

2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 Policy Report. Last Accessed 2/10/11: http://www.dietaryguidelines.gov.