Running has evolved over the past few decades. It has transformed from a male-dominated sport to one where, in 2013, 43% of all marathoners were women compared to only 10% in 1980. Running USA also reports that female runners now comprise the majority of participants in U.S. road races.
We have many inspirational women to thank for this, from the everyday woman who decided she wanted to run in a few miles for exercise to the amazing Katherine Switzer, who was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry in 1967. Race organizers tried to physically pull her off the course, but she fought through them and finished the race—inspiring the world as she crossed the finish line.Since that time and because of women like Switzer, the opportunity to become a runner and endurance athlete such as a triathlete or cyclist is thankfully available to both men and women.
Despite our able to to hit the pavement, hop on our bikes, swim through the lakes, and participate in organized races/events, men and women train, fuel, and perform in their sports differently based on our natural physiological differences. For instance, women have been shown to be better at maintaining a consistent pace during distance races than men, and shine in endurance sports due to smaller bodies! Women are also less susceptible to both overheating and to muscle glycogen depletion. On the other hand, men are generally less prone to certain major running injuries, and move oxygen better throughout their bodies due to cardiovascular system development.
This shows us that we need to train differently, taking into account the factors that make our bodies perform differently in races. And as women, we have to stop comparing ourselves to men. If you want to run/bike/swim like a girl, then train like a girl!
In fact, here are some other perks of the female athlete:
- An American study found that female runners cut their risk of developing uterine and breast cancer in half due to producing a less potent form of estrogen. Additionally, female runners have 2/3 less risk of developing diabetes!
- Running helps your skin by stimulating circulation and flushing out waste products. A reduction in subcutaneous fat helps make skin more clear and helps to make your cheekbones stand out more. Who needs makeup?!
- Running will often alleviate cramping pain due to endorphins being released during the run. Speedwork is a great way to get more endorphins, so get out there and exercise.
Here are some training tips catered to the female athlete:
What we eat and what our bodies need to function during endurance sports is crucial to our performance. Women must meet their nutritional needs with fewer calories than men, so we need to be extra careful about eating empty calories (like candy and soda) since we have less calories per day to play around with. Female endurance athletes should ideally aim to eat quality protein through lean meats, low-fat dairy, fish, and beans, in addition to whole grains, and fruits/vegetables. Pre-race, women should eat higher carbohydrates through beans, fruits, and whole grains—about 450 grams daily. Men naturally have more glycogen stores than women, so taking in the appropriate amount of healthy carbohydrates is crucial for women.
Contrary to popular belief, eating less food and running more won’t necessarily help you lose the extra fat. Yes, you need to cut calories to lose weight, but this combination of strict reduction in intake often forces your body to store more calories/fat. The best way to lose fat is to increase food intake in the mornings to fuel your training, and eat lighter––reasonable and wholesome––meals as the day goes on. (By the way, running is one of the best exercises you can do to lose weight/fat and also keep it off.)
Vitamins, Minerals, and the “Other” Stuff
Women need to pay most attention to maintaining appropriate levels of iron and calcium. Calcium is crucial for women, especially women who are at a higher risk of osteoporosis, but it can also help athletes avoid bone injuries such as stress fractures. You can get calcium via dairy and dark leafy vegetables, and supplements like Cal-EZ are another great way to ensure you get your daily recommended amount of calcium.
Women should also be aware of iron deficiency. Due to loss of blood during menstruation and a high number of female athletes who eat meatless diets, appropriate levels of iron are crucial. Foods with higher levels of Vitamin C can also help boost iron absorption, so eat your oranges, berries, and peppers!
Don’t be afraid of strength training! Endurance athletes tend to overlook this, but it’s necessary to crosstrain and strength train consistently. Not only does it decrease your risk of injury, but studies show it improves overall athletic performance. Strength training also decreases your risk of osteoporosis by increasing bone density!
In addition to lifting weights (like barbells), some other strength-training exercises that are great include squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, rows, body resistance exercises, and kettlebell workouts. And when it comes to endurance, it’s important to practice your craft but include some variety. For female runners, intervals, hill repeats, and fartlek training runs have been shown to improve speed and strength similar to gains shown by steroid users––naturally and without all the negative side effects. High intensity anaerobic running stimulates human growth hormone which plays a role in muscle development and performance. So mix up your workouts!
Due to changes in hormones, women are more likely than men to have issues with sleep. Elevated cortisol levels and inflammatory responses from hard training can also impact sleep, which then impacts recovery. So be sure to put extra emphasis on getting a good night’s rest, giving your body enough time to recover overnight.
So to all you women reading this, remember: we are amazing and we can do anything we put our minds to. Nothing can hold us back!
Disclosure: Cal-EZ has compensated me for this post, but all opinions are my own and always will be my own. I use Cal-EZ daily not because I was asked to or have to, but because I love it. I am happy to be able to share it with you!