The Best Foods for Female Athletes

Whether it's to lose weight, tone up or boost performance, women today want to look good and feel great. Many women think skipping meals is the best way to reach their goal, but you're causing more harm than good.

The key to reach your goal is to eat. Plain and simple, eat healthy, nutrient-rich meals.

Women who spend many hours at the gym, running or training for a major event need to pay extra attention to the nutrition they eat to avoid any menstrual irregularities and weak bone health.

Women need to pay close attention to how much calcium, iron and lean proteins they consume.

A proper diet that includes calcium, iron and lean protein goes a long way. It not only keeps the body healthy, it gives you the energy needed to to finish a long run, bike ride or strength training session. Over the long term, it can improve your athletic performance and recovery time.

More: To Eat or Not Eat Before a Run?

Calcium

Most of the calcium we take in is spent maintaining our teeth and bones. But it also plays a vital role in muscle contraction and relaxation. Without it, muscles can't function properly. If a woman's diet is too low in calcium, the bones may become weak and break over time.

Suzanne Nelson-Steen, a sports nutritionist for the University of Washington, recommends that female athletes consume 1,300 mg of calcium per day. Try the following:

Low-fat milk
1 cup = 290 mg

Yogurt
6 oz container = 258 mg

Calcium-fortified orange juice
1 cup = 350 mg

12-inch Cheese pizza
2 slices = 300 mg

More: 3 Recipes Using Greek Yogurt

Iron

Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, a protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and to muscles, according to the National Institute of Health. Too little iron can leave you feeling tired and weak. Menstruating women with heavy periods are especially at risk for low iron. By adding iron to your diet, you can see significant boosts in energy in as little as one week. Here are some options:

Tofu
1 cup (firm) = 126 grams

Dark chocolate
1 square = 29 grams

Spinach
1 cup cooked = 180 grams

Quinoa
1 cup = 185 grams

More: Healthy Mason Jar Recipes

Lean Proteins

If you're logging a low-calorie diet while working out intensely, chances are you'll lose some serious steam. In general, your calorie intake is your bodyweight times 10.

For example: 150 pounds x 10 = 1,500 calories. One way to increase your calorie intake healthily is through lean proteins. They help maintain the lean muscle mass you already have. A good place to start is for 40 percent of your daily calories to come from protein. Load your plate with these:

Hamburger patty
4 oz = 28 grams

Steak
6 oz = 42 grams

Chicken breast
3.5 oz = 30 grams

Tuna
6 oz = 40 grams

More: Quick Pasta With Pumpkin Marinara

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About the Author

Suzanne Corey

Suzanne Corey is a journalist and athlete. She competes in events around the country, including a marathon in Hawaii, a sprint triathlon in California, a rockin' half-marathon in Tennessee, and a century ride through Vermont and New Hampshire. When she's not training, Suzanne is raising two daughters and dreaming of a half-ironman. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Suzanne Corey is a journalist and athlete. She competes in events around the country, including a marathon in Hawaii, a sprint triathlon in California, a rockin' half-marathon in Tennessee, and a century ride through Vermont and New Hampshire. When she's not training, Suzanne is raising two daughters and dreaming of a half-ironman. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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