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Updated nutritional recommendations for female athletes

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Females nowadays constitute half of sports participants, but only a small fraction of sports medicine studies involve female athletes. This leaves these athletes, their trainers, and physicians uncertain on how best to care for females in terms of health and performance. Alliance leader Kate Ackerman combats this gap through a recent comprehensive review where she provides up-to-date recommendations for fueling female athletes and highlights related areas, including hydration, that require further exploration. 

Ackerman, together with colleague Bryan Holtzman, have carefully pieced together the few female-based studies, some with as few as 10 athletes, to arrive at their recommendations. They describe how nutritional needs, such as protein requirements, change with the menstrual cycle. Because of the links between menstrual cycle, health, and performance, they caution interpretation of many of the existing studies of female athletes, where misinterpretations may arise due to the use of hormonal contraceptives. The authors also address long-debated topics like the role of fat in athlete’s diets, recommending that at least 20% of calories come from fat as decreased fat intake is correlated with higher rates of injury in female runners. 

The article proposes a useful pyramidal model, a hierarchy of nutritional needs for female athletes that has energy availability, hydration, macro- and micro- nutrients at its foundation and individualization at the top. Ackerman will continue this impactful work as she leads the Female Athlete Program to study larger, more diverse cohorts and openly share findings to improve performance for all.

Read the full scientific article in Sports Medicine

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