Women Athletes: How to Fuel to Maintain Your Menstrual Cycle

You are likely eating too few calories if you are hungry all the time and think about food too much. You can achieve energy balance by exercising a little less (add a rest day) and by eating a little more (add a healthy snack or two). Your goal is to consume about 15 calories per pound of body weight that you do not burn off with exercise. That means, if you weigh 100 pounds, you my need to eat ~1,500 calories to maintain your weight PLUS another 500 to 800 calories to replace the fuel you burned while training. That totals 2,000-2,300 calories for the entire day, a scary amount of food for some women.

More: Are You Eating Enough Carbs?

Tips for Resolving the Issue

If eating this much sounds overwhelming to you, the following tips may help you get "back on the healthy track."

Take a vacation from dieting:
If you cannot let go of your compulsion to lose weight, at least be less restrictive. Cut back on your eating by only 100 to 200 calories at the end of the day, not by 500 to 1,000 calories during the active part of your day. Small deficits can result in losing excess body fat and are far more sustainable than the food chaos that accompanies starving-stuffing patterns.

More: How to Replace Ineffective Dieting with Normal Eating

Throw away the bathroom scale:
Rather than striving for a certain number on the scale, let your body achieve a natural weight that is in keeping with your genetics.

Eat adequate protein:
When you under-eat, your body burns protein for energy. Some of the protein comes from your diet; for example, the protein in your omelet gets used for fuel instead of building and repairing muscle. Some of the protein comes from your muscles, hence, you experience muscle wasting and that can lead to weaker bones and stress fractures. A 120-pound athlete should target 60 to 90 g protein per day. If you think your diet might be low in protein, track your food intake at www.supertracker.usda.gov.

More: What Runners Should Know About Protein

Eat a calcium-rich food at each meal to help maintain bone density:
Exercise alone is not enough to keep bones strong. Enjoy milk on cereal, low fat cheese on a lunchtime sandwich, a decaf latte in the afternoon, and a yogurt after dinner.

Get adequate vitamin D to help with calcium absorption and bone health:
Sunlight on the skin helps make vitamin D. If you are an "indoor runner" (a "treadmill rat") who gets little sunshine, be sure to choose foods fortified with D (milk, some breakfast cereals), fatty fish like salmon, eggs, and mushrooms. In the winter months, you may need to take a vitamin supplement.

More: Why Is Vitamin D So Important?

Eat at least 20 percent of your calories from (healthful) fat: While excess calories from fat are easily fattening, a little fat at each meal (15 to 20 g fat per meal, or 45 to 60 g fat per day) is an important part of a sports diet. You won't "get fat" by eating fat. Your body uses fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K; these vitamins are important for good health. To boost your intake of healthy fats, sprinkle slivered almonds on cereal, snack on a banana spread with peanut butter, enjoy salmon for dinner, drizzle olive oil on steamed veggies, and add avocado to your turkey sandwich.

More: 3 Additional Reasons to Eat Healthy Fats

Is There Long-Term Damage?

Loss of bone density can be irreversible and lead to early osteoporosis. The younger you are, the better your chances of recovery. My advice: nip this problem in the bud now!

More: Your Preseason Nutrition Plan

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