Female Nutrition

General note -- it's not about counting calories -- it's about eating appropriately. I don't recommend counting calories. I don't ask for portion sizes when I do a nutritional analysis. In our hearts, many of us know the key areas where we can focus. What my nutritional tips seek to do is educate people on some of the falicies that our minds dream up (Nutrition 201 -- is important reading -- especially my tips on protein and fats).

Each of us will have different needs and one level will be OK for "A" while too much/too little for "B". So I recommend that you eat right and find your own way.

You have a concern that you might not be able to get enough energy. If an athlete's body weight is stable then they are likely getting enough energy (assuming that fasting has not driven their metabolism artificailly low). If we want to lose a bit of weight then we create a slight energy deficit. This is the only way for effective weight loss. Large water swings can be a sign of swings in the content of your diet -- fat-free highly processed snacks cause a lot of water retention in some of my athletes. For me, the key items are breads and cereals. I imagine that we will each have items that effect us.

A practical example:

  • Female basic requirement, say, 1600 cals per day (depends on athlete size, I'm about 2,000, male, 6-1, 165lbs)
  • Masters swim, 400 cal
  • Three-hour bike, avg watts 145, 1500 cal (decent ride for a female AG athlete)
Four hour solid training day, about 3,500 cals. Straightforward to get that while following the guidelines.

Low starch doesn't mean low CHO -- I posted about that on the Forum recently.

Nearly all the issues surrounding nutrition are emotionally driven. When we are in a good emotional place, it's easier for us to make the decisions required. With my own eating, deviations from strategy are nearly always a result of either over-doing-it (trying too hard) or something else in my life that has little to do with food.

By simply eating "real food" you'll get most of the benefits. My athletes that consistantly reduce processed foods and eat real food get results. With my female athletes over 30 (don't think I have any under 30), most require total compliance with my guidelines (see tips page) to make progress on the body composition front. As soon as the 'old' patterns return, progress stops.

People with superior commitment and execution (in any area) will see superior results. Kevin is an example of this (in many areas). The guidelines are simple, but require commitment at every meal.

In order to get the most out of our lives we need a strong emotional support network. The most stable place to build this network is from within. Not directly related to nutrition? My experience is that female athletes will only out-perform when they place themselves in a nurturing environment.



From the Female Perspective

For us endurance athletes - male or female - I believe it is difficult to go "true" paleo. Gordo's Key Three is basically the simplest and most effective way to go. At least that's been my experience.

A typical day in IM training land for me would something like today...

Three eggs scrambled with mushrooms, tomatoes and broccoli
One large orange

Five-hour bike up the mountains at easy to steady pace
Six bottles water, two bananas, two Clif Bars (normally I'd do all bananas, but forgot to buy more yesterday)

Post-workout Meal:
Turkey meat sauce with veggies and an apple
(an hour later) 1/2lb salmon filet with fresh tomato and cucumber slices

Two apples, bowl of red grapes

Salad with sliced buffalo tenderloin tossed in

On a lighter day, like tomorrow where I just have masters and lifting, I will have a couple pieces of fruit before masters (usually an apple and an orange), a banana immediately after the swim and another banana immediately after lifting on my way home. Then breakfast and pretty much the same as above. However, I limit the eggs to only a couple times a week. If its not eggs, its basically leftover dinner.

This has been working extremely well for me - I recover well from my workouts, avoid illness and have been losing weight steadily.

In addition, I have learned that the timing/quantity of your meals is extremely important. At least in my case. What really worked for me this summer was the fruit snack pre-masters/lifting followed by breakfast, fair-sized lunch (depending on workout) and eating a much lighter evening meal. Most nights dinner the huge tossed salad loaded with veggies and a fair size serving of protein as above.

Hope that helps.



Fruit and Cravings

Question from the Forum:
During the day I have been trying to keep a high fruit intake, but have been noticing a huge "craving" surge by the end of the day and end up searching for the bad stuff...any way to curb that?

Answer by Wy:
First thing I would suggest is beef-up your midday meals and lighten up your evening meals. Have "dinner" for lunch and then a light meal, like a salad or stir-fry veggies with protein for dinner.

This is basically what I do....

  • snack - 1-2 apples
  • am workout - masters and/or weights
  • breakfast - scrambled eggs w/veggies or bucket of fruit w/piece protein or protein & veggies
  • snack - fruit
  • light lunch #1 - protein & veggies (leftover dinner)
  • snack - fruit/protein
  • light lunch #2 - protein & veggies
  • snack - fruit/protein
  • pm workout - run and/or ride
  • light dinner - salad w/protein or stir-fry veggies w/protein
  • snack - fruit (if hungry)
Next thing I would suggest is work on gradually eliminating the processed foods (turkey slices/cheese/etc). I don't eat nuts, but you could add a small serving of almonds for variety.

Justin had some good tips: Make gradual and long term changes. Anyone that eats a healthy diet has had to make (many) changes over time. Do what you can and over time you will find yourself eating (and wanting) better foods.

When do you time your meals and snacks? When I worked full-time I had a workout before work, again at lunch, and again after. I would have a breakfast after the am workout, a snack or two, then a light lunch before my midday workout. Followed that with a snack and another light lunch late afternoon. Then after work a snack, workout and light dinner.

One of the best things I learned this summer was meal size/timing. Went a long way towards my composition goals.



Nutrition Q&A with Wy and Lisa L

How often are you eating?
Answer by Wy:
I eat something every two to three hours. Small, frequent snacks and meals. Helps keep the metabolism burning along nicely.
Answer by Lisa:
I say every 3-4 hours is optimal.

What are your protein sizes? I know G recommends .8g/lb of bodyweight.
Answer by Wy:
I don't count cals or grams, just try to eat something at each meal. That may be a 1/2lb fillet of salmon, 1/2 a dozen chicken thighs, 1-2 chicken breasts, 1/2lb or so of beef, 2-3 eggs. And yes, G got me back on beef - I hadn't eaten red meat for about seven years until this past Feb. Also, some of my snacks throughout the day might be an apple and a piece of chicken.
Answer by Lisa:
I would be over 1g/lb of body weight per day. I've never personally met a female who I would say eats too much protein. If you are looking to increase your protein intake, start slowly....every meal yes. But I would think it takes a little time for digestive enzymes to adapt to the carnivore menu.

What are your sources for fats?
Answer by Wy:
A little avocado, natural fish/meat fats and olive/canola oils in cooking. That's it. I very rarely have nuts or nut butters - they either put weight on me or slow down my losing it.
Answer by Lisa:
Flax seed oil. Alvocados. Almonds. Walnuts. Sunflower seeds. (all raw). Nut butters. Olive and canola oils for stir fries and salad dressings.

When you say meal size and timing does that mean eating before and after a workout and keeping the other meals smaller?
Answer by Wy:
Meal size/timing is a piece of fruit before an AM workout then a moderate-sized breakfast. Post-second-workout is another moderate-sized meal. Snacks throughout the day are quite light and dinner is always light. If its a huge training day, or week, I may have another small sized meal late afternoon. I keep starchy carbs to an absolute minimum and when I do have them, its never after 4pm. That was a tip I gleaned from Siri Lindley. It works for me.
    The light snack, mod breakfast, mod lunch, light dinner has worked very well for me. Took me over two years to figure out what really works... for me. Post workouts I always have a quality meal ready to go - I very rarely, if ever, have fruit smoothies.
    I never eat to the point of being "full" and I never wait until the point of "starvation" to eat. Keep the engine rolling.
Answer by Lisa:
Big Big breakfast. (you have to train yourself to eat more at this time of day but it does make a big difference). Frequent meals through day. Smaller dinner. Refuel after every workout with smoothie.


Q&A Follow-up with Lisa and Gordo

It was interesting to see the differences in the way Wy and I have taken the paleo approach and adapted it to our own situations. I think that's what you really need to find -- and learn for yourself. Like G says we are all entirely unique and it is best to find our own way. Note that we are always changing so even our own needs are subtly changing. The key is to stay in tune with what our needs are.

I wanted to add further comment on some of the differences with what Wy says works for her and what works for me. I only speak from my own experience.

RE: eating frequency. If I were to advise someone, especially someone starting out with paleo approach or looking for weight loss, I would lean more toward what Wy is doing. (ie eating every couple hours) My best training sessions in the evening I've usually been eating all day regularly. Every 3-4 hours is more like the longest desired time without food. Some of the women I coach seem to have difficulty with regular frequent eating due to the nature of their jobs. I think this really inhibits their weight loss goals. Personally if I've had to go more than 4 hours without a meal or snack, I know it spells overeating at the next meal. This rarely happens for me. Plus given that I am eating more than 5 pounds of food a day in higher training periods, I've got to take it in pieces.

RE: Fat sources. The reasons for me adding in more almonds and nuts is the same reason Wy very rarely eats them. It slows down losing weight. I'm at about 12% body fat and didn't want to get much lower so the nuts were good snacks to prevent me from losing too much weight too fast. Gradual changes are better I believe.

RE: meal size. When I say "Big Big breakfast" it is all relative. It's probably still small to some of the pro IM guys. But its much larger than my athletes who struggle to eat in the morning. Some show up for workouts not eating anything, some maybe a PBar and Starbucks, others follow closer to my advice and have hot cereal, and maybe peanut butter and toast. I don't think I've converted anyone to eat protein in the morning. I probably intake about 60g of protein for my "breakfast". I put that in quotes because when I think breakfast, I refer to what I might eat in the morning sometimes over a 1 or 2 hour period. (ie when I first get up, after shower or stretching, on my way to "work" or a workout, and while at "work"). I never stuff myself. I need to take my "breakfast" in stages. It's definitely over 1000 cal on most days. A light snack before a morning workout wouldn't work for me as I'd be hungry during the workout since I ate a smaller dinner meal. I think I'm also unsual in that I can put a good deal of food in my system and then almost immediately go out and train at almost any intensity. My rowing teammates were amazed at what I could eat 15 min before z5 sessions.

RE: starchy carbs. I'm probably incorporating a lot more intensity into my program than Wy (and knowing that G advises her on her training I'd be very confident to say that would be the case) so I think that would be another reason for my need for more starchies. If your training is lower intensity then going without starchies is likely the way go.

Lisa - row4gold@hotmail.com

Glycogen Depletion and Intensity

Thanks for this. I'd like to add...

While starch isn't linked to intensity per se, glycogen depletion + high intensity is a common marker in overtrained athletes. So the risks of glycogen depletion are far greater for the high intensity athlete than the long course triathlete.

General point -- 12% female body fat is roughly equivalent to 6-8% male body fat. That's ripped to shreds, though sometimes we can't see that in ourselves.

While I seem to be OK to race at the bottom end of the 6-8% range -- I have found it risky for me to train when very lean. This is likely related to the first paragraph --- the very lean athlete has little room for nutritional errors.

Another thing to remember is that a fit athlete can completely torch themselves very quickly. By the time you realize it's happened, it's too late to recover. I did this to myself in April 2002 when preparing for Kona Half IM (very lean for a hot race, high intensity LT/VO2 max work designed to sharpen fitness that was already outstanding -- for the record, Molina tried in vain to slow me down!). The best training sessions of my life. The worst race performance, relative to fitness of my life. The depth of the nuking (it was deep and prolnged) was masked by very low volume through the summer due to work commitments. I bet that I had to motivation to work that much because it was more appealing than training. I'm sure many of us have been in this position before. We let work protect us from the fact that we are too whipped to train.



Cycle Food - For the Ladies

Unlike our male counterparts, there is an issue women deal with regularly that has the potential to wreak havoc on diet discipline and negate all that we’ve worked so hard to achieve in the three weeks previous. That issue is PMS. The week preceding our cycles can be a tough one not only mentally, and physically for some, but also nutritionally as well. I have noticed a bit of trend with many of the women I talk with – including myself. The week before, many of us crave starchy carbs and have serious munchie attacks. Add to that a nice twist of hormones, a swing in moods, and our minds don’t much care for “sticking to the plan”.

I have learned a few ways to combat this time of the month and hopefully by sharing them, can help a few of you out there get through easier, too.

  1. Keep track of your cycle, know when “that” week leading in is going to hit and prepare yourself mentally. This sets a strong mind and makes it easier to combat the cravings, knowing where they are coming from.

  2. Have a healthy snack food on hand for the munchies. Red grapes are like candy to me and I have been known to demolish two pounds worth in one sitting. Grapes, cherries, strawberries, or just about any berry fruit, is very low in calories and they are “munchie-satisfying” foods. Don’t limit the amount you eat. Its better for your mind and you’ll get full naturally. For reference, a cup of cherries is all of 26 calories while a single piece of chocolate cake is worth 388.

  3. Increase the good fats. During this week, I’ll add some avocado to my salads and stir-fried veggies.
A few more tips from Shanelle (elite ITU NZ triathlete):
  1. Have good food in the house before you need it. If you have to shop while you’re craving carbs or having a munchie attack, you will come out of the store with something less than healthy.

  2. Brush your teeth to signal end of a meal. This can help going back for a second helping.

  3. Like adding avocado, have your favourite healthy meal prepared to eat.
Hope that helps. Good luck.


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