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Takeaways: Sports nutrition for female athletes

Sports Nutrition for Female Athletes

The world is half female. At least half of the sporting world is female; however, most products are formulated for men or based on research conducted mostly on men.

Women are not small men. They are different anatomically, physiologically, biologically and biochemically. The biggest difference, and one of the primary reasons given for lack of female-specific sports nutrition research, is the menstrual cycle. During certain phases of their cycle, women can experience hormone fluctuations that affect muscles, energy and bone health.

There is tremendous opportunity for companies to capture part of this growing category, but it will require an approach that considers and respects the uniqueness of active females.

Research, Research, Research. It is up to brands and manufacturers to request, fund and support increased research on female athletes. Accept and account for challenges from menstrual cycle influences. “The inane idea that women are more difficult or more expensive to study is pure laziness, in my opinion,” said Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., owner of High Performance Nutrition LLC and nutritionist for many elite female sports teams.

For instance, researchers like Bill Campbell, Ph.D., associate professor of exercise science at the University of South Florida, purposefully does not plan trials around menstrual cycles. “The reason I do not consider the menstrual cycle in my studies is that I like to be able to extrapolate my results by saying that the outcomes were irrespective of the female’s menstrual cycle,” he explained.

More companies, such as sports nutrition brand Dymatize and ingredient supplier Bergstrom Nurition, are funding studies on females. Abbie Smith-Ryan, Ph.D., associate professor of exercise physiology and director of the Applied Physiology Lab at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who also conducts studies on females, reported NIH now requires researchers to justify why they are or are not including women in their research proposals.

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