You ride your bike and you wear your kit, specially designed for women, so why not have a diet that is specially designed for women as well?
When it comes to cycling nutrition men and women are not exactly equal, which is not to say that one is better or worse, just that knowing where the little differences lie can help you master your nutrition intake and boost your ride performance and recovery.
Men and women have different hormone levels, muscle strength and fat storage areas, and while these differences can be small, knowing how to use them to your advantage can have big benefits.
What type of fuel do you run on best? According to a study conducted by the University of Toronto in 2003 women are able to process carbohydrates more efficiently than men, specifically through energy drinks. The study showed that women drinking an energy drink after cycling were able to process the carbs 25% more effectively than the men. That means you can use carb drinks to help aid your performance.
For men, carb loading was more effective than for women due to ladies having a lower ability to store glycogen. For best energy results have a healthy diet that includes a range of different carbs that remains consistent regardless of your event calendar. On a long ride you are better to top up with carbs as you need them, rather than rely on the carb loading storage you had last night. Having said that, if you find card loading works really well for you, stick with it!
That isn’t to say carbs aren’t beneficial, you still need to take energy on board before you ride, just don’t feel you have to go overboard or change your carb load before an event. If you find you are running out of energy on a long ride, it might help explain things.
Before heading out on a short training ride have a small handful of nuts or a banana.
Before heading out on a long morning ride have a healthy breakfast with a lot of wholegrains as healthy carbs, like porridge with a natural sweetener like honey plus wholegrain toast with either a nut butter or eggs, plus some fruit.
Before heading out in a long afternoon ride include some starchy carbs with your lunch, like pasta, rice, sweet potato, whole grain bread or quinoa.
We might not like it but the fact stands that women have a higher body fat percentage than men. A fit athletic male will have between 5 and 12 percent body fat while a fit athletic woman may have 10 to 20 percent body fat. This is because men burn fat for their muscle fuel without getting a chance to store it, while women have better fat storage ability thanks to higher levels of oestrogen.
A study in South Wales 2009 concluded that men’s bodies when fit are best at quick acceleration and fast sprints, while the female body was able to use those extra fat stores to have consistent energy over longer distances, helping them to outperform men in long distance events. RunRepeat studies show that on average women perform almost 19 percent better than men over long-distance running events.
There is a danger here though that female cyclist can often be well below this lean fat percentage. Being lightweight can help increase climbing performance so ladies are motivated to keep the weight off. Some women cyclist fall under the 10 percent fat marker in a deliberate attempt to gain speed in the hills. The consequence for this is not just the possibility of lower performance on long distance rides but also skipping periods or even ceasing periods altogether which can mean your calcium stores are depleted, making bones fragile and lengthen the amount of time it takes for your body to heal and recover.
Eat enough carbs to fuel your ride safely and be okay with that little bit of extra body fat, it can help you reach deeper levels when you need to finish strong.
Iron is responsible for helping your red blood cells carry oxygen through your body. Oxygen when you are on an endurance ride or sprint is essential for speed and clear thinking. For women, the minimum iron intake is said to be 15mg a day, although you may need more if you are training or competing. This is higher than the recommended intake for men because ladies will lose nutrients in their blood during menstruation. To help maintain a healthy iron store it’s important to have a range of iron rich foods in your diet, no matter the time of the month.
Foods naturally rich in iron
- Red meat
- Dried fruits like apricots and figs
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Cashew nuts
The best way to replenish muscle glycogen used when riding is through protein. This is true for both men and women. The recommended amount of protein for muscle recovery for ladies is 20g.
Try these protein recovery foods
- Greek yogurt and fruit
- Cheese with seeds and nuts (esp. walnuts)
- Smoothie made with milk, fruit and nut butter
- Egg fried rice with chicken
- tofu and some vegetables
Always remember to trial any new diet or change in your foods when you are not racing or participating in endurance events. You don’t want to be introducing anything new when you are asking a lot of your performance.
Fuelling yourself well for a great ride ahead? That’s freedom!