When it comes to healthy eating, UAMS has a wealth of information available to you; the employee. This article, about Women’s and Nutrition,
was written for you by Lindsay Goddard RDN, LD. She graduated from University of South Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Biology and a Master’s degree from Florida International University in Clinical Nutrition. Lindsay is currently working as a Dietitian for The Kidney Transplant Program and Adult Genetics Clinic at UAMS.
Nutrition for Women
Nutrition is not always one-size-fits-all because of the intricate nature of the human body and different activity levels. However, the research on nutrition for women who exercise is well established, and has created useful guidelines. The goal of your diet should be to nourish your body so it can perform at its best. Try not to get hung up on numbers. A good strategy is to pay attention to labels until you get an idea of how many nutrients you are getting on a daily basis and then see if you need to improve. It does not have to be exact. Remember these are just estimates. Always listen to your body and be aware of what it needs.
Being properly hydrated is arguably the most important part of keeping your body healthy. Even being slightly dehydrated causes major changes in the body and in performance. Although heavily dependent on how much you sweat, weather, and activity level, the recommendation is 1 milliliter of fluid for every calorie you consume. So for someone who is on a 1,500-calorie diet, they should be drinking 1,500 milliliters (or 50 ounces) of fluids per day.
During exercise, 6-8 ounces of cold water or electrolyte-enhanced beverage (ex: coconut water) every 5-15 minutes during the activity should be consumed. This should increase in severe heat/humid environments. When exercising lasts more than one hour, you should drink a beverage with sugar and electrolytes (ex: Gatorade) to help give the muscles continued energy in addition to preventing dehydration.
You should not depend on thirst to tell you to drink. By that time the body is likely already dehydrated.
Carbohydrates are the quickest energy source for the body, and despite the bad rap they have at the moment, they do help with muscle performance and recovery. Whether you are using your muscles to lift or do cardio, they are using carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen and glucose) to move and contract. At the end of your workout, when your muscles are rebuilding, they need protein, but they also need carbohydrates to help them restore the energy they used. So do you need carbohydrates? Yes. Do you need a lot? Not really. You need what your body will use, so how much is that? Three to five grams per kilogram per day is recommended for the average person who exercises 30-60 minutes. If the training is more intense (two to three hours per day, five to six times per week), it increases to five to eight grams per kilogram per day.
Use the formula below to calculate your needs:
_______Weight in Pounds ÷ 2.2 = ____ Weight in Kilograms
Weight in Kilograms x 3 = _______ grams Weight in Kilograms x 5 = _________ grams
The two numbers in grams are your range. So, for example, a 150-pound (68.2 kilograms) woman’s carbohydrate range would be 200-340 grams per day. Although that is a large range, a good rule of thumb is that if you work out harder on one day, use the higher number, and if you work out less on another day, use the lower number.
The type of carbohydrate does matter. Complex carbohydrates (e.g. oatmeal, whole grains, vegetables, fruits) are the best choices.
Protein helps the body with growth and repair. For women who are active, it helps ensure muscle gain instead of muscle loss. A growing muscle helps increase strength, boosts metabolism, and is a way to feel more energetic and limber.
Protein needs are different for people based on the type of exercise they are doing and how often, but in general 1.4 – 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is recommended for individuals who exercise regularly. Use the formula below to calculate your needs:
_______Weight in Pounds ÷ 2.2 = ____ Weight in Kilograms
Weight in Kilograms x 1.4 = _______ grams Weight in Kilograms x 2 = _________ grams
The two numbers in grams are your range. So, for example, a 150-pound women (68.2 kilograms) woman’s protein range should be 95–135 grams of protein per day. Again, this is a large range, and the same rule can be used here. The more intense a workout, the more you need, and vice versa.
The best sources of protein are fish, light skinless chicken, eggs, and milk. If these do not appeal to you, you can also utilize nutrition supplements such as; whey, pea, casein, or egg protein powder.
Fat has a bad rap, but they are truly essential for everyone (hence the name “essential fatty acids”). Some of the main reasons we need fat: hormone production (and this is especially important for women); transportation and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E, and K); good hair and skin; and proper brain function.
It is recommended for women who exercise regularly to consume 30 percent of their caloric intake from fat. However, if fat on the body is extremely excessive, then 1 gram per kilogram per day could be used.
For example, if you are on a 1,500-calorie diet, your fat intake should be 450 calories (30 percent) from fat. Fat is 9 calories/gram, so 450/9= 50 grams per day.
Some fat choices are better than others. Nuts and nut-butters; fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, herring, trout); sunflower; sesame; or pumpkin seeds; flax seed; avocados; and olives are better choices over processed snacks or baked goods and fried foods.
Before and After Workout Nutrition
When it comes to eating, timing can be just as important as quantity. Getting the right nutrition before an exercise optimizes performance, while the right post-workout meal can optimize recovery and muscle gain.
Before your workout (about 30-60 minutes), a snack should consist of light simple carbohydrates (50 grams or less) and a small amount of protein (5-10 grams). This will help with energy throughout the exercise and prevent the breakdown of too much muscle. It is also important to eat four to six hours before the actual exercise. As for fat, the research has shown it does not appear harmful to ingest before exercise, and may help with blood sugar responses during exercise.
A good example of a pre-workout snack would be a banana or an apple with 2 tsp of almond butter.
After your workout, consuming adequate protein (0.5 gram per kilogram) and carbohydrates (1 gram per kilogram) should help lessen soreness and promote healing. This should be done no later than 1 hour after your workout, when the body will be doing its best absorption.
One of the best things you can consume right after a workout is chocolate milk. It has the perfect ratio of carbohydrates and protein you will need.
Giving yourself the proper nutrition will allow you to reap the benefits of exercise and feel better overall. Consuming all three macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate) in the right amounts should help you get closer to optimal performance.
Kreider et al. ISSN exercise and sport nutrition review: research and recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2010. 7:7.