Are athletic nutritional requirements the same for men and women?

By Monique Ryan, MS, RD

Is uni-sex nutrition advice really a help?
Dear Monique;
It seems that most nutrition plans I've seen are geared to the male athlete or are supposedly "generic" to both sexes. The problem is that they are geared to a heavier carbohydrate intake than is comfortable for me as woman athlete. What is the proper balance of carbohydrates to protein for a woman cyclist focused on endurance and cross-country mountain biking events, especially for woman in her mid-thirties? Thanks. --KG

Dear KG;
Fortunately there has been more recent research measuring the differences between men and women in regards to fuel utilization and nutritional requirements. The nutritional implications of gender differences may be especially important for ultra-endurance training and racing. It appears that women burn a higher amount of fat and a lower amount of carbohydrate at a given intensity. However, studies on carbohydrate loading and recovery nutrition have found no appreciable differences between men and women at this point. What I would recommend is that you tailor your daily carbohydrate intake to that day's training. What is too "generic" is eating the same amount of carbohydrate for both long endurance rides, and shorter high-intensity rides. What you can do is consider the following guidelines:

Training 3-6 hours at moderate to high intensity requires 4.5 to 5.5 gm carbohydrate per pound of weight.

Training over 90 minutes to 2 hours at moderate to high intensity requires 3.0 to 4.5 gm carbohydrate per pound of weight.

Training at moderate duration for less than one hour, or at low intensity for several hours requires 2.25 to 3 gm carbohydrate per pound of weight.

Heavy training days obviously require more fuel for recovery. Try not to follow these days with very low carbohydrate days, but allow yourself adequate recovery time. You can go easy on the lighter training days, and not feel that you are overdoing your carbohydrate intake.

Some days your carbohydrate intake may run at 60 percent of your calories, on lighter days it may run 50 percent. Keep in mind that percentages are all relative. What really matters is that the total grams of carbohydrate you consume match your training. Glycogen depletion may not happen overnight, but could progress slowly over a week's time, resulting in a sub-optimal workout. Protein requirements are also best considered as the amount of grams required per pound of weight. Most endurance athletes need from 0.6 to 0.8 gm per pound.

If you went on a high intensity ride for 90 minutes and weigh 135 lb. you would require about 400 gm of carbohydrate and 80 grams of protein for the day. --MR


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