A Common-sense Guide to Women's Nutrition

"I think male athletes are more likely than females to emphasize protein in their diets, but everybody needs it to build muscle," she says.

Even a strictly vegetarian diet can provide adequate protein, but Moore worries that women aren't choosing enough alternative protein. Sources include meat, legumes, nuts and soy products.

Iron

The trend of eating less red meat may also result in increased rates of iron-deficiency anemia, Moore says. Women already have an increased risk for iron deficiency because they lose this mineral in their menstrual blood. Twenty percent of women are iron deficient, compared to a scant three percent of men.

Anemia can lead to fatigue, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath, even with mild exertion.

"Obviously, this would be of concern to athletes," Sipiora says, "but you should only take iron supplements if a blood test, administered by a doctor, shows a deficiency. If taken in high amounts, iron can be toxic. It's not one of those nutrients that you pee out the excess and it's gone."

Sources include red meat, egg yolks, beans, and fortified bread and cereal. Iron from red meat is more readily absorbed by the body, Moore says, but foods that contain vitamin C can be taken with non-meat iron sources to aid in absorption.

Folic acid and B vitamins

Folic acid -- a B vitamin -- reduces the risk of serious birth defects to the spine and brain, but only in the earliest stages of pregnancy.

In addition to folic acid, other B vitamins -- such as niacin, riboflavin, B-6 and B-12 -- are of concern to women, whose oral contraceptives deplete them from the body, Sipiora says. According to the American Dietetic Association, studies from around the world suggest that getting enough B-6 and B-12 can help prevent heart attacks and strokes. Beef, fortified grain products, and fruits and vegetables are all good sources.

Conclusion

Common sense is key. "It sounds so dull because it's the same stuff your kindergarten teacher always told you," Marts says. "Eat a balanced diet. Drink plenty of water. Don't eat too many sweets, and so on."

If you're concerned about your intake of iron or other nutrients, Marts recommends seeing your doctor and having some blood work done. She also recommends keeping a food journal and using it, with the help of a licensed dietitian, to calculate your daily nutrient intake and create a personalized nutrition plan.

"The most important things to remember are to pay close attention to what you're eating, and to listen to your body," she says. "My rule of thumb is this: If I really want a particular food, I wait a half an hour. If I still want it, it's not just an impulse. It's a legitimate craving."


Reprinted, courtesy of Competitor Magazine. For more articles and information for Competitor Magazine, please visit www.competitor.com.

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