Being a Registered Dietitian and a runner with an addictive and competitive personality, it’s no surprise that I’ve spent hours looking into how a female runner can achieve optimal nutrition. Now I’m here to share my knowledge with you!

Due to the stress of the sport and eating habits, there are a number of nutrients that runners need to pay extra attention to. A 2007 study measured the nutritional profiles of 24 adventure racers and reported low levels of various nutrients, including calcium, potassium, zinc, and magnesium.

Being at risk for lacking certain nutrients makes female runners prone to nutrition-related conditions such as anemia and osteoporosis. November is actually Osteoporosis Month, so it is especially important to teach all women runners how to keep their bones strong and healthy!

  1. Foods for Bone Health

Running is a weight bearing sport that helps strengthen the bones, but it is also a sport with a high incidence of stress fractures. However, osteoporosis and stress fractures can be easily prevented with the proper diet.

Bone mineral density diminishes slowly after age 40, but bone losses increase greatly in women after age 50 (usually 1-2% per year). Peak bone mass and bone mineral density are related to appropriate intake of calories and proper nutrients.

What to Eat:
Calcium-rich foods including soy is important, as well, new research shows that eating just one daily serving of about five prunes (40g) helps slow bone loss in post-menopausal women. The beneficial effects of prunes on bone health may be in part due to the high levels of phenolic compounds present in the fruit. Prunes are also rich in other important bone building nutrients, including potassium, magnesium and vitamin K.

  1. Red-Blood-Cell Forming Foods

    Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to working muscles. Runners are more susceptible to low iron status, as they lose trace amounts of the mineral through foot strike, which damages red blood cells in the feet, leading to iron loss.

    B-12 also assists with forming new red blood cells and a deficiency can lead to anemia.

    What to Eat:
    Females should be aiming for at least 18 mg, while males need at least 8 mg. Yes, iron is found in red meat, however plant-based iron-rich sources include legumes, especially lentils, and blackstrap molasses.

    Aim for 2.4 mcg of B12 daily. You get B12 through animal-based foods, however you can also get it though fortified plant-sources, such as nutritional yeast and fortified plant beverages.

  2. Omega 3 Rich Foods

    Most of the population lacks omega 3. Omega 3s have been shown to reduce inflammation after a run, which can improve tissue repair and reduce muscle pain. I personally supplement with omega 3 daily, as studies have shown that omega 3 can prevent exercise-induced asthma(something that I have struggled with my whole life)

    What to Eat:
    Supplement with 1000 mg daily and eat Omega-3 rich foods often. These include fatty fish, but also plant-based sources such as chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts.

  1. Complex Carbohydrates

    Carbohydrates are especially important for endurance athletes, such as runners, as they are needed to restore muscle glycogen stores. I’ve seen a number of runners cut too many good carbohydrates out of their diet, for the purpose of watching their waistline. Unfortunately, this can lead to ‘hitting the wall’ as carbohydrates are the main fuel source for when you run.

    What to Eat:
    Great natural sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, beans, fruits and veggies. Individual carbohydrate requirements vary.

  1. Magnesium Rich Foods

    Magnesium is important for many reasons, including playing a large role in muscle contraction and relaxation, along with energy metabolism. In addition, magnesium plays a role in bone health. A large amount of the North American population is low in magnesium – 70% of the population consumes insufficient magnesium.
In particular with athletes, there is emerging evidence that magnesium requirements are significantly elevated, due to be loss through sweat.

    What to Eat:
    Aim for ~ 400 mg daily. You can consume pumpkin seeds, legumes or swiss chard to get your magnesium quota. You can supplement as well! Magnesium is usually better when supplemented at night.

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