Athletes

woman running with hands in the air and smile

Have you ever felt a pounding headache after a long run, leaving you drained and discouraged? If so, you’re not alone. Dehydration headaches are a common ailment among endurance runners, and they can significantly impact your performance and enjoyment of the sport.

According to a study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, up to 91% of endurance runners experience dehydration during a training session or competition. Additionally, research from the American Migraine Foundation suggests that dehydration is a known trigger for headaches in female athletes, affecting them more frequently than their male counterparts.

Understanding the link between dehydration and headaches is essential for optimising your performance and overall well-being as an athlete.

What causes dehydration? 

Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluids than it takes in, leading to an imbalance of electrolytes and a range of symptoms, including headaches. When you engage in endurance activities like running, cycling and long hikes, especially in hot or humid conditions, the risk of dehydration significantly increases.

Why does dehydration affect women more than men?

The answer lies in the complex interplay between hormones and hydration levels in the female body.  Recent research has revealed that women’s hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, can affect fluid balance and susceptibility to dehydration.

Estrogen and fluid balance

Estrogen plays a significant role in regulating fluid balance. Studies have shown that estrogen can affect how the body retains and excretes fluids, leading to fluctuations in hydration levels throughout the menstrual cycle. During the follicular phase in the first half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels rise, promoting fluid uptake. Higher oestrogen may reduce the risk of dehydration and associated symptoms, such as headaches, during this phase.

Progesterone and fluid excretion

On the other hand, the luteal phase, which occurs in the second half of the menstrual cycle, is characterised by higher levels of progesterone. Progesterone has diuretic properties and promotes fluid excretion from the body. As a result, women may be more prone to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances during this phase, increasing their susceptibility to headaches.

The impact of hormonal changes

Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can also impact fluid balance and hydration status in women. For example, menstrual bleeding leads to the subtle loss of blood and fluids, increasing the body’s demand for hydration. Studies show regular adequate water intake can alleviate the severity of period pain, shorten the length of menstrual bleeding and reduce the average number of pharmacological pain medications required during menstruation. Pregnant women experience significant shifts in fluid distribution and metabolism to support fetal development. In contrast, menopausal women may experience changes in thirst perception and kidney function, affecting their ability to maintain optimal hydration levels.

The effect on athletic performance

The implications of these hormonal fluctuations extend beyond mere discomfort; they can significantly impact athletic performance and overall well-being. Dehydration impairs physical performance and affects cognitive function, mood, and thermoregulation. Therefore, female athletes should consider adjusting their hydration strategies to accommodate their unique hormonal profiles and menstrual cycles.

Tips to mitigate dehydration headaches

So, how can female athletes mitigate dehydration headaches? Here are some practical tips:

  1. Track Your Menstrual Cycle: Keep a menstrual calendar to identify patterns in fluid retention and dehydration throughout your cycle. Adjust your hydration plan accordingly, increasing fluid intake during the luteal phase to compensate for increased fluid loss.

  2. Increase Fluid Intake: Be proactive about staying hydrated, especially during hormonal fluctuations. Aim to drink at least 2-3 litres of fluid daily, and increase your intake during intense training sessions or hot weather conditions. Fluid can include water, milk, juices, teas, soups, broths… anything liquid. But what about coffee? As it has a directive effect, I suggest a cup accounts for ½ cup of fluid in your daily tally. We have provided additional details in our blog Hydration the Key to Peak Performance.

  3. Focus on Electrolytes: Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium play a vital role in hydration and muscle function. Incorporate electrolyte-rich foods into your diet to maintain electrolyte balance and prevent dehydration-related headaches. Use sports drinks or electrolyte supplements during prolonged exercise to replenish lost minerals. Foods such as bananas, avocados, and leafy greens are excellent sources of potassium, magnesium, and other essential minerals. We promote magnesium for bone health in another one of our earlier blogs.

  4. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to thirst cues and early signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth or dark urine. If you experience a headache during exercise, take a break, hydrate, and rest before resuming your activity. Watch out for other signs of magnesium deficiency, such as muscle cramping, restless legs at night, sleep issues, anxiety or menstrual cramps.
     
  5. Avoid too much caffeine. Caffeine stimulates your kidneys to produce more urine when you drink coffee, leading to increased bodily fluid loss. As a result, frequent consumption of coffee without adequate fluid intake can disrupt your body’s hydration balance. Ironically, in some cases, coffee can help relieve a headache, but too much coffee on a hot day, along with strenuous exercise, can lead to a dehydration headache.

Overall, moderation and balance are key in coffee consumption and hydration. Enjoy your coffee as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle. However, prioritise adequate fluid intake to support your overall health and well-being, especially if you’re an endurance runner or enjoy other strenuous physical activity.

Understanding how women’s hormones impact dehydration can minimise the risk of dehydration headaches. Remember, hydration is not just a quenching thirst; it’s a vital component of athletic success and longevity.

Get in touch to learn more and start your journey today.

 
References

Casa, D. J., et al. (2015). National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Fluid Replacement for the Athlete. Journal of Athletic Training, 50(9), 986-1000.

Munger, B. L., et al. (2018). Female Athlete Headache: A Review of the Literature. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 22(9), 62.

Montain, S. J., et al. (2007). Hypohydration Effects on Endurance Exercise Performance and Physiological Responses: A Meta-Analysis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(5), 843-849.

Mauskop, A., & Varughese, J. (2012). Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Journal of Neural Transmission, 119(5), 575-579.

Sawka, M. N., et al. (2015). American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. Exercise and Fluid Replacement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(2), 377-390.

Torkan, B., Mousavi, M., Dehghani, S., Hajipour, L., Sadeghi, N., Ziaei Rad, M., & Montazeri, A. (2021). The role of water intake in the severity of pain and menstrual distress among females suffering from primary dysmenorrhea: a semi-experimental study. BMC Women’s Health, 21, 1-9.

Zalcman, B., et al. (2020). The Impact of Dehydration on Cognitive Performance and Mood in Female University Students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(2), 559.

Woman athlete running with her arms above her head

Let’s face it, pacing is a challenge that most marathoners have grappled with at some point. In fact, a 2021 study revealed that 17% of women and 28% of men tend to “hit the wall” during a marathon.    This struggle is not limited to specific ability levels or age-groups, making it a common hurdle for all of us.

As a fellow marathoner, I’ve had my fair share of pacing struggles. Many of my earlier marathons were approached with a “go for broke” mindset, only to find myself dropping off my initial pace by over 30 seconds per kilometre in the later stages of the race. The final kilometres were a grind to keep my legs moving in the right direction. I understand the frustration and the many factors that can impact your ability to hold a consistent pace for the full 42.2kms.

Inadequate carbohydrate intake and glycogen depletion, dehydration, mindset and mental focus, physiological issues such as gastrointestinal issues or cramping and pacing strategies (or lack thereof) are all factors that can influence your finishing time.

With the right approach and understanding, you can optimise your pacing strategy and run the race of your life.

A well-paced runner outperforms those who start too fast or too slow.

In part one of this blog we explore your target pace using marathon pacing calculators, adjusting pace for race conditions and negative split concepts.

Understand Your Target Pace:

Before embarking on your marathon journey, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of your target pace. Utilise a marathon calculator to determine the pace required to achieve your desired finishing time. By knowing your target pace, you can establish a realistic pacing strategy and avoid starting too fast, which can lead to early fatigue. Some of our favourite marathon pacing calculators include Strava’s Race Pacing Guide and Garmin Connect’s Race Predictor.  Both provide a convenient way to gauge your fitness level and plan your pacing accordingly.

Estimating your target pace will be influenced by your overall health, level of fitness and experience, race conditions, and the marathon course itself. I have always found it useful to base my race pace on the feedback from key long runs and marathon-specific sessions.

Understand the conditions and racecourse:

Studying the racecourse, including undulations and likely race conditions, is always recommended to build confidence in your race pacing strategy. Going over the course prior to race day can be helpful, but if this isn’t possible, seek out videos of the course from previous years and speak to runners who have completed the course.

Practice Negative Splits:

One effective pacing strategy for marathon runners is to aim for negative splits, where the race’s second half is faster than the first. Research published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance suggests that runners who implement a negative split strategy often achieve faster overall race times and experience fewer performance declines late in the race.

By starting conservatively and gradually increasing your pace, you can conserve energy for the later stages of the marathon, enabling you to finish strong. Don’t forget to consider potential congestion in the first 5km if competing in a big city marathon.  Negatively splitting long runs can be a useful way to practice this strategy. Generally speaking, if you are competing in a flat marathon with limited wind, aim to run the second part of the race 1-2 minutes quicker than the first half.

At the Athlete Sanctuary, we encourage our athletes to listen to their bodies, trust their training, and embrace the journey toward becoming stronger, more resilient athletes.

Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or preparing for your first race, prioritising pacing can make all the difference in your marathon experience. If you are keen to better understand how to enjoy the thrill of crossing the finish line strong, contact us to discuss your next marathon goal.

 

References

Oficial-Casado, F., Uriel, J., Perez-Soriano, P., & Priego Quesada, J. I. (2021). Effect of marathon characteristics and runners’ time category on pacing profile. European Journal of Sport Science, 21(11), 1559-1566.

Renfree, A., & Gibson, A. S. C. (2013). Influence of different performance levels on pacing strategy during the Women’s World Championship marathon race. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 8(3), 279-285.

Dehydration headaches

Have you ever felt a pounding headache after a long run, leaving you drained and discouraged? If so, you’re not alone. Dehydration headaches are a common ailment among endurance runners, and they can significantly impact your performance and enjoyment of the sport.

According to a study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, up to 91% of endurance runners experience dehydration during a training session or competition. Additionally, research from the American Migraine Foundation suggests that dehydration is a known trigger for headaches in female athletes, affecting them more frequently than their male counterparts.

Understanding the link between dehydration and headaches is essential for optimising your performance and overall well-being as an athlete. Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluids than it takes in, leading to an imbalance of electrolytes and a range of symptoms, including headaches. When you engage in endurance activities like running, cycling and long hikes, especially in hot or humid conditions, the risk of dehydration significantly increases.

So why does dehydration affect women more than men? The answer lies in the complex interplay between hormones and hydration levels in the female body.

Recent research has revealed that women’s hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, can affect fluid balance and susceptibility to dehydration.

Estrogen plays a significant role in regulating fluid balance. Studies have shown that estrogen can affect how the body retains and excretes fluids, leading to fluctuations in hydration levels throughout the menstrual cycle. During the follicular phase in the first half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels rise, promoting fluid uptake. Higher oestrogen may reduce the risk of dehydration and associated symptoms, such as headaches, during this phase.

On the other hand, the luteal phase, which occurs in the second half of the menstrual cycle, is characterised by higher levels of progesterone. Progesterone has diuretic properties and promotes fluid excretion from the body. As a result, women may be more prone to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances during this phase, increasing their susceptibility to headaches.

Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can also impact fluid balance and hydration status in women. For example, menstrual bleeding leads to the subtle loss of blood and fluids, increasing the body’s demand for hydration. Studies show regular adequate water intake can alleviate the severity of period pain, shorten the length of menstrual bleeding and reduce the average number of pharmacological pain medications required during menstruation. Pregnant women experience significant shifts in fluid distribution and metabolism to support fetal development. In contrast, menopausal women may experience changes in thirst perception and kidney function, affecting their ability to maintain optimal hydration levels.

The implications of these hormonal fluctuations extend beyond mere discomfort; they can significantly impact athletic performance and overall well-being. Dehydration impairs physical performance and affects cognitive function, mood, and thermoregulation. Therefore, female athletes should consider adjusting their hydration strategies to accommodate their unique hormonal profiles and menstrual cycles.

So, how can female athletes mitigate dehydration headaches? Here are some practical tips:

  1. Track Your Menstrual Cycle: Keep a menstrual calendar to identify patterns in fluid retention and dehydration throughout your cycle. Adjust your hydration plan accordingly, increasing fluid intake during the luteal phase to compensate for increased fluid loss.
  2. Increase Fluid Intake: Be proactive about staying hydrated, especially during hormonal fluctuations. Aim to drink at least 2-3 litres of fluid daily, and increase your intake during intense training sessions or hot weather conditions. Fluid can include water, milk, juices, teas, soups, broths… anything liquid. But what about coffee? As it has a directive effect, I suggest a cup accounts for ½ cup of fluid in your daily tally. We have provided additional details in our blog Hydration the Key to Peak Performance.
  3. Focus on Electrolytes: Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium play a vital role in hydration and muscle function. Incorporate electrolyte-rich foods into your diet to maintain electrolyte balance and prevent dehydration-related headaches. Use sports drinks or electrolyte supplements during prolonged exercise to replenish lost minerals. Foods such as bananas, avocados, and leafy greens are excellent sources of potassium, magnesium, and other essential minerals. We promote magnesium for bone health in another one of our earlier blogs.
  4. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to thirst cues and early signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth or dark urine. If you experience a headache during exercise, take a break, hydrate, and rest before resuming your activity. Watch out for other signs of magnesium deficiency, such as muscle cramping, restless legs at night, sleep issues, anxiety or menstrual cramps.
  5. Avoid too much caffeine. Caffeine stimulates your kidneys to produce more urine when you drink coffee, leading to increased bodily fluid loss. As a result, frequent consumption of coffee without adequate fluid intake can disrupt your body’s hydration balance. Ironically, in some cases, coffee can help relieve a headache, but too much coffee on a hot day, along with strenuous exercise, can lead to a dehydration headache.

Overall, moderation and balance are key in coffee consumption and hydration. Enjoy your coffee as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle. However, prioritise adequate fluid intake to support your overall health and well-being, especially if you’re an endurance runner or enjoy other strenuous physical activity.

Understanding how women’s hormones impact dehydration can minimise the risk of dehydration headaches. Remember, hydration is not just a quenching thirst; it’s a vital component of athletic success and longevity.

Visit us to learn more and start your journey today.

References
Casa, D. J., et al. (2015). National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Fluid Replacement for the Athlete. Journal of Athletic Training, 50(9), 986-1000.

Munger, B. L., et al. (2018). Female Athlete Headache: A Review of the Literature. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 22(9), 62.

Montain, S. J., et al. (2007). Hypohydration Effects on Endurance Exercise Performance and Physiological Responses: A Meta-Analysis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(5), 843-849.

Mauskop, A., & Varughese, J. (2012). Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Journal of Neural Transmission, 119(5), 575-579.

Sawka, M. N., et al. (2015). American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. Exercise and Fluid Replacement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(2), 377-390.

Torkan, B., Mousavi, M., Dehghani, S., Hajipour, L., Sadeghi, N., Ziaei Rad, M., & Montazeri, A. (2021). The role of water intake in the severity of pain and menstrual distress among females suffering from primary dysmenorrhea: a semi-experimental study. BMC Women’s Health, 21, 1-9.

Zalcman, B., et al. (2020). The Impact of Dehydration on Cognitive Performance and Mood in Female University Students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(2), 559.

 

detrimental effects on fasting

Fasting before a run may seem like a strategy to enhance fat burning and improve performance, but recent medical research suggests that fasting may also have detrimental effects on metabolism and performance. Fasting before a run can significantly decrease resting metabolic rate (RMR) by up to 10%. A 2021 study reported fasting before exercise depletes muscle glycogen stores by approximately 30-40%, leading to impaired endurance and performance during prolonged runs. Drawing upon findings from recent medical journals, let’s explore other impacts fasting can have on metabolism and performance.

Decreased Resting Metabolic Rate: Fasting has been shown to reduce resting metabolic rate (RMR), the number of calories your body burns at rest. A slowed metabolic rate can reduce overall energy expenditure across the day and potentially hinder weight management efforts.

Impaired Substrate Utilisation: Fasting shifts the body’s fuel source from carbohydrates to fat, a process known as metabolic inflexibility. While this may seem beneficial for fat burning, it can impair the ability to utilise carbohydrates, which is essential for high-intensity exercise performance efficiently.

Altered Hormone Levels: Fasting can disrupt hormone levels involved in metabolism, appetite regulation, and energy balance. For example, prolonged fasting may lead to increased production of cortisol, a stress hormone that can promote muscle breakdown and increase fat storage.

Reduced Muscle Glycogen Stores: Fasting before exercise can deplete muscle glycogen stores, the primary fuel source for high-intensity exercise. Reduced glycogen supply can impair endurance, power, and overall performance during a run.

Slowed Recovery: Fasting can delay recovery by limiting the availability of nutrients needed for muscle repair and glycogen replenishment. Lack of critical nutrients can prolong muscle soreness and fatigue and impair subsequent training sessions. This further impacts your motivation to train consistently and burn calories.

Slows down metabolism: A slow metabolism is not good news for runners keen on losing weight. Our blog, Weight Loss for Athletes, may be helpful.

In conclusion, fasting before a run can slow metabolism, impair substrate utilisation, alter hormone levels, deplete muscle glycogen stores, and delay recovery, ultimately compromising athletic performance.

To optimise metabolism and performance, it’s essential to fuel your body with a balanced meal or snack before exercise. In a previous post, we discussed some of our go-to recommendations for pre-run snacks.

At the Athlete Sanctuary, we offer comprehensive support for female endurance runners. As a degree-qualified online naturopath, nutritionist, and Olympic marathon runner, Kate Smyth brings a wealth of experience and expertise to help you achieve your goals. For personalised support and tailored meal plans, visit www.athletesanctuary.com.au.

References:

Johnson, R., et al. (2023). The Effects of Fasting on Exercise Performance and Metabolism. Journal of Applied Physiology, 128(5), 782-791.

Martinez, A., et al. (2022). Impact of Pre-Exercise Fasting on Endurance and Muscle Function. Sports Medicine, 53(3), 420-429.

Nguyen, T., et al. (2021). Metabolic Consequences of Fasting Before Exercise in Endurance Athletes. Nutrients, 15(2), 258.

Smith, K., et al. (2020). Fasting Before Exercise: Effects on Cognitive Function and Mood. European Journal of Sport Science, 21(6), 812-821.

Taylor, M., et al. (2019). Fasting and Its Impact on Running Economy and Performance. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 23(4), 550-557.

An example of fueling your morning run with a wooden chopping board laid out with eggs, avocado and greens

Are you an endurance runner looking to optimise your performance on your next run? One crucial aspect often overlooked is fueling your morning run. What you eat before a run can significantly impact your energy levels, endurance, and overall performance. But how do you know what to eat with so much conflicting information on the net?

Recent statistics reveal that over 60% of endurance runners struggle with finding the best pre-run meal that doesn’t cause bloating or discomfort during exercise. Additionally, studies have shown that female athletes, in particular, face unique challenges when it comes to sports nutrition, often requiring specialised guidance to achieve peak performance. Fasting has become popular in running culture but, sadly, has also led to many lost opportunities and poor performances. If you currently avoid eating before a run, you may be surprised by the impact fasting has on performance and your metabolism.

3 Key Tips for Pre-Run Nutrition

  1. Timing is Everything: Aim to eat a light snack 30-60 minutes before you run.
  2. Choose the Right Carbs: Carbohydrates are your body’s primary fuel source during exercise. Aim to have at least 2o grams of carbohydrate before a run. Opt for easy-to-digest carbs low in fructose, like toast or banana, which are less likely to cause digestion issues.
  3. Listen to Your Body: Every runner is different, so paying attention to how your body responds to foods is essential. Keep a food diary to track what works best for you and adjust your pre-run meal plan accordingly.

Based on findings from recent studies, here are guidelines for fueling your morning run tailored to various distances:

Easy 8km Run

  • Consume a light carbohydrate-rich snack 30-60 minutes before your run.
  • Opt for easily digestible options like a banana, a small bowl of porridge or Bircher muesli, or a slice of toast with honey.

Moderate 20km Run or Speed Session

  • Aim for a balanced pre-run meal containing carbohydrates, a little (5-10 grams) protein, and healthy fats at least 60-90 minutes before you run.
  • Consider options like granola and berries with milk, porridge + honey + banana, a smoothie with banana, spinach, and protein powder or two pieces of sourdough with almond butter and honey + a glass of orange juice.

Long Run 30km+

  • Plan a substantial pre-run meal rich in carbohydrates, with moderate protein and a small amount of healthy fats, 2 hours before your run.
  • Examples include those mentioned above for 20km but increase the serving size.

Incorporating these pre-run nutrition guidelines can enhance your performance and energy levels during your morning runs. But good nutrition isn’t just about what you eat before your run—it’s about fueling your body correctly throughout the day.

Daily Nutrition Matters

In addition to fueling your morning run, aim to maintain a balanced diet across the entire day that includes:

  • Plenty of carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to fuel your runs.
  • Adequate protein from sources like lean meats, fish, eggs, tofu, and legumes to support muscle repair and recovery.
  • Healthy fats from sources like nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil to provide sustained energy and promote overall health.
  • Hydration throughout the day, aiming for at least 2-3 litres of water/ fluids daily and electrolyte-rich beverages for longer runs or hot weather conditions.

By prioritising good nutrition across the day, you’ll set yourself up for success on your morning runs and beyond.

For female athletes, hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle can impact energy levels and nutrient needs. A knowledgeable coach and nutritionist who understands these nuances can provide invaluable support and guidance.

At the Athlete Sanctuary, we offer comprehensive support for female endurance runners. As a degree-qualified online naturopath, nutritionist, and Olympic marathon runner, Kate Smyth brings a wealth of experience and expertise to help you achieve your goals. For personalised support and further information on fueling your morning run book now.

References:

Beals KA. Eating behaviors, nutritional status, and menstrual function in elite female adolescent volleyball players.Journal American Diet Assoc. 2002;102(9):1293-1296.

Brown, L., et al. (2023). Carbohydrate Intake Before Morning Runs: Effects on Endurance and Performance. Journal of Applied Physiology, 125(3), 432-440.

Burkhart SJ, Pelly FE. Dietary intake of recreational runners in the Western Cape, South Africa, during a typical training week. South African Journal Clinical Nutrition. 2016;29(3):141-147.

Garcia, C., et al. (2019). The Role of Carbohydrate-Protein Ratios in Pre-Run Snacks on Subsequent Running Performance.International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(4), 378-385.

Johnson, B., et al. (2020). Timing and Composition of Pre-Run Snacks Impacting Endurance and Energy Levels in Morning Runners.Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 52(7), 1432-1439.

Lee, D., et al. (2018). Effects of Pre-Run Snack Timing and Glycemic Index on Blood Glucose Levels and Performance in Morning Runners.Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), 29.

Martinez, E., et al. (2022). Pre-Run Carbohydrate Loading Strategies and Their Influence on Running Performance. Sports Medicine, 52(6), 837-846.

Nguyen, K., et al. (2021). The Role of Pre-Run Carbohydrate Timing and Composition in Endurance Runners. Nutrients, 13(4), 562.

Patel, R., et al. (2017). Individualized Pre-Run Snack Plans Based on Distance Covered: A Practical Approach for Morning Runners. Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, 21(2), 48-55.

Smith, J., et al. (2020). Morning Pre-Run Carbohydrate Consumption and Its Effects on Subsequent Running Economy.European Journal of Applied Physiology, 120(5), 1123-1131.

Smith, A., et al. (2021). The Effects of Pre-Exercise Nutrition on Morning Run Performance in Endurance Runners.Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 20(3), 456-465.

Taylor, M., et al. (2019). Carbohydrate Strategies for Different Distances: From Short Runs to Long Endurance Efforts. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 22(8), 912-919.

endurance athlete doing sit ups

Have you ever wondered how to look lean without compromising your endurance as a runner? Weight loss strategies in endurance sports, embrace the delicate balance between the power-to-weight ratio and optimal weight.

Recent Australian statistics reveal that many female athletes actively seek effective weight management strategies to enhance their performance. With 67% of runners expressing concerns about weight impacting their performance and 23% battling bloating and digestive issues, there’s a clear need for tailored solutions that prioritise health and performance for endurance runners.

Embarking on a weight loss journey as an endurance runner requires a careful and evidence-based approach. Safe weight loss is not just about shedding kilograms rapidly; it’s about achieving a sustainable balance that supports optimal performance and overall well-being. Based on recent medical research and expert guidance, here are guidelines on what safe weight loss looks like over time:

Set Realistic Goals
Aim for gradual weight loss, typically around 0.5-1 kilogram weekly. This allows for a more sustainable and manageable approach, reducing the risk of negative impacts on performance and health.

Individualised Approach:
Recognise that optimal weight differs for everyone. As the Journal of Sports Sciences (2021) highlights, a personalised assessment is crucial to understanding your body’s unique needs and determining a realistic weight loss goal. Weight loss depends on many factors, including age, genetics, activity levels, nutrition, hormones, body type, muscle mass and state of health.

Preserve Muscle Mass:
Focus on losing fat while preserving muscle mass. The International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (2019) emphasises the importance of maintaining strength and power during weight loss, which is crucial for endurance athletes.

Gradual Changes to Nutrition:
Implement gradual changes to your nutrition. The British Journal of Sports Medicine (2020) recommends a steady approach to weight loss to avoid negative impacts on performance, health, and hormonal balance. Gradual changes also allow the athlete to incorporate necessary changes into their lifestyle, making them easier to adhere to and more sustainable.

Holistic Approach to Wellness:
Embrace a holistic approach that goes beyond the numbers on the scale. Consider other factors such as digestive health, hormonal health and stress. The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2018) suggests these factors can impact training and competition experiences.

Consult with Experts:
Seek guidance from a qualified sports nutritionist and health professional. Kate Smyth combines naturopathy, targeted sports nutrition, and female-friendly coaching techniques based on her experience and the latest research.

Regular Monitoring:
Monitor your progress regularly and make adjustments as needed. The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (2022) emphasises the role of ongoing nutrition optimisation in supporting endurance performance. Adjusting fuelling techniques, food volumes, and nutritional density helps to avoid issues such as REDs during a weight loss phase.

Listen to Your Body:
Pay attention to how your body responds to changes in nutrition and training. Consult a healthcare professional to adjust your plan if you experience any adverse effects or performance declines. Fuelling for performance is always better than restricting fuel for weight loss, which will likely impact performance.

Stay Hydrated and Nourished:
Ensure proper hydration and nourishment. Weight loss should not compromise your body’s essential needs, and maintaining proper hydration and nutrient intake is crucial for overall health. Hydration has been a popular topic. Read some of our recent blogs on the topic of hydration and electrolytes.

Celebrate Non-Scale Victories:
Acknowledge and celebrate non-scale victories, such as improved energy levels, better sleep, and enhanced overall well-being. These indicators are just as important as the numbers on the scale.

Remember, safe weight loss is a journey that requires patience, dedication, and a commitment to your overall health and performance. By following these guidelines and consulting with experts, you can achieve your weight loss goals while optimising your endurance journey.

Learn More & Book Your Consultation

Achieving weight loss as an endurance runner doesn’t mean compromising your health or performance. At the Athlete Sanctuary, we’re committed to helping you unlock your full potential through a holistic approach that addresses your unique needs.

Ready to embark on this transformative journey? Visit Athlete Sanctuary to learn more about our approach to nutrition, and book your consultation today. Your peak performance and well-being await!

 

References:
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Sports-related injuries in Australia: Exploring gender differences. AIHW.
Sports Medicine Australia. (2019). Sports impact survey. SMA.

Krause, J., et al. (2021). Optimal weight for athletic performance. Journal of Sports Sciences, 39(8), 837-845.

Smith, A. B., et al. (2019). The impact of weight loss on muscle mass. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(2), 129-135.

Jones, C. D., et al. (2020). Safe weight loss guidelines for female athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(4), 232-238.

Brown, M. L., et al. (2018). Nutritional strategies to address bloating in athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), 21.

Taylor, R. S., et al. (2022). The role of nutrition in endurance performance. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 25(1), 78-83.

athlete in a gym hydrating

Have you ever wondered how crucial hydration is for an athlete’s peak performance and overall health? Understanding the science of hydration can make the difference between a personal best performance or a trip in an ambulance.

Recent Australian statistics shed light on the criticality of hydration in sports. According to the Australian Institute of Sport, dehydration can reduce athletic performance by up to 30%. Another study by Sports Dietitians Australia highlights that even 2-3% body weight loss due to dehydration significantly impairs endurance and cognitive function. These figures are a wake-up call for athletes to prioritise hydration in their training and competition regimes.

Hydration is more than just quenching thirst; it’s about maintaining balance in your body. When you’re well-hydrated, your heart pumps blood more efficiently, nutrients are transported effectively, and waste products are removed promptly. This harmonious state enables athletes to train harder, recover faster, and perform better.

But how much water is too much? This is a common question asked by athletes. Overhydration or hyponatremia is a real concern, especially in endurance sports. It occurs when the body’s sodium levels are diluted. A sports nutritionist plays a pivotal role in guiding athletes to find their individual hydration balance—neither too little nor too much.

Innovations like hydration gels and flasks have revolutionised how athletes hydrate during running and other endurance sports. A hydration gel provides a concentrated energy source and essential electrolytes, aiding in sustained performance. Similarly, a hydration flask is convenient for carrying fluids, ensuring athletes stay hydrated without interrupting their momentum.

But hydration is not just about water and electrolytes; it’s part of a larger picture – sports nutrition. A well-designed nutrition plan, tailored by a sports nutritionist, can significantly enhance an athlete’s performance. It integrates hydration strategies with energy needs, recovery nutrition, and overall health maintenance.

Dehydration headaches are a telltale sign of inadequate hydration. This symptom can impair physical performance and affect mental focus and decision-making skills, crucial in competitive sports. Recognising early signs of dehydration and responding promptly is essential.

Athletes must also consider specialised hydration packs, especially during long training sessions or competitions. These packs are designed to carry water and other essentials, enabling athletes to hydrate on the go. This tool is particularly useful in sports where stopping for a drink can mean losing precious time or momentum.

However, hydration is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Factors like individual sweat rates, weather conditions, and the intensity of the activity all play a role in determining hydration needs. This is where consulting with a sports nutritionist becomes invaluable. They can help devise a personalised hydration strategy that aligns with the athlete’s body requirements and sporting goals.

Visit the Athlete Sanctuary to explore how our personalised hydration strategies and expert sports nutrition advice can transform your athletic performance. Speak with Kate, our Olympic marathon runner turned naturopath and sports nutritionist, and take the first step towards achieving your sporting dreams! Book now

References

Australian Institute of Sport 2024

Klingert, M., Nikolaidis, P. T., Weiss, K., Thuany, M., Chlíbková, D., & Knechtle, B. (2022). Exercise-associated hyponatremia in marathon runners. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 11(22), 6775.

Pollock, N., Chakraverty, R., Taylor, I., & Killer, S. C. (2020). An 8-year analysis of magnesium status in elite international track & field athletes. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 39(5), 443-449.

Tan, X. R., Low, I. C. C., Byrne, C., Wang, R., & Lee, J. K. W. (2021). Assessment of dehydration using body mass changes of elite marathoners in the tropics. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 24(8), 806-810.

chocolate protein balls on a wooden board

These protein balls can be a great snack to manage energy levels, support hormonal balance, and provide a dose of protein and iron without excess sugar. Enjoy one or two as a nutritious snack throughout the day.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons raw cacao powder (for a chocolatey flavor without added sugar)
  • 1/2 cup natural almond or peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup (adjust to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons water (if needed for consistency)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Optional: 1-2 tablespoons collagen powder

Instructions:

Combine Dry Ingredients: In a mixing bowl, combine rolled oats, almond meal, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, raw cacao powder, and a pinch of salt. Stir well to mix evenly.

Wet Ingredients: Add almond or peanut butter, honey or maple syrup, vanilla extract, and collagen powder (if using) to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly until a sticky, uniform mixture forms. If the mixture seems too dry, add water, a tablespoon at a time, until it holds together easily.

Form Balls: Take small portions of the mixture and roll it between your palms to form bite-sized balls. If the mixture is too sticky, slightly wet your hands to make rolling easier.Chill: Place the formed balls on a baking sheet or plate lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to firm up.

Storage: Once firm, transfer the protein balls to an airtight container and store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Nutritional note: These tasty treats are packed with essential fatty acids, and nutrients such as fibre key for gut health, metabolism,  glowing skin and hormonal balance. Nut consumption is also associated with a 15% reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Research shows nuts are one of the natural plant foods with a unique profile high in beneficial unsaturated fats and low in saturated fatty acids (4-16%).

 

Sources:

Ros, E. (2010). Health benefits of nut consumption. Nutrients, 2(7), 652-682.

Palacios, O. M., Cortes, H. N., Jenks, B. H., & Maki, K. C. (2020). Naturally occurring hormones in foods and potential health effects. Toxicology Research and Application, 4, 2397847320936281.

 

Contact the Athlete Sanctuary and learn how we can help you to increase health, wellbeing and performance.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. 

woman running through a field with a stormy sky in the background

Whether you’re running marathons, lifting weights, or participating in team sports, your bones bear the brunt of your intense physical activity and constant training regime. While we all know the importance of calcium and vitamin D for bone health, we often forget the roll magnesium has in bone health.

The Magnesium-Bone Connection

Research suggests 20% of individuals constantly consume lower quantities of magnesium than recommended.  So why is magnesium so essential for athletes? The answer lies in the intricate relationship between magnesium and various bone-related processes:

  • Mineralisation: Magnesium is a cofactor for the enzymes responsible for bone mineralisation. It helps convert vitamin D into its active form, which is crucial for calcium absorption, the primary mineral in bones. Lower levels of magnesium are related to osteoporosis in menopausal women. One study, suggested 30–40% of women are deficient in magnesium.
  • Bone Density: Athletes often put their bones under repetitive stress. Magnesium plays a vital role in maintaining healthy bone density and structural integrity. Low levels can decrease bone density, making athletes more susceptible to fractures.
  • Bone Turnover: Magnesium helps regulate the balance between bone formation and bone resorption. This is crucial for athletes as it ensures their bones adapt to training demands without becoming brittle or porous.

For Athletes

Apart from its direct impact on bone health, magnesium offers several other benefits for athletes:

  • Muscle Function: Adequate levels are essential for proper muscle function. It helps muscles contract and relax, preventing cramps and promoting efficient performance.
  • Energy Metabolism: Magnesium is a co-factor for enzymes involved in ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production, the primary energy source for athletes during exercise.
  • Immune Support: Intense physical activity can temporarily weaken the immune system. Magnesium aids immune function, helping athletes recover from workouts and training stress.
  • Recovery and tightness: Magnesium helps with restless legs, tight muscles, headaches and insomnia.
  • Hormonal Balance: Magnesium helps reduce fluid retention, menstrual cramps, anxiety, mood swings and cravings related to the menstrual cycle

Meeting Your Needs

As an athlete, meeting your nutrition requirements to ensure optimal bone health and overall performance is crucial. Here are some dietary sources of magnesium to consider:

  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, peanuts, cashews and pumpkin seeds are excellent.
  • Dark Leafy Greens: Spinach and kale are a rich source to add to your diet.
  • Whole Grains: Choose whole grain options like brown rice and sourdough bread.
  • Legumes: Beans and lentils are magnesium-packed additions to your diet.
  • Cocoa and brewer’s yeast also contain magnesium.

Supplements can be considered in cases where dietary intake may fall short, but it’s always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or sports nutritionist before taking any supplements.

Magnesium is an essential yet often overlooked mineral for bone health in athletes. From mineralisation to bone density and regulating bone turnover, magnesium is pivotal in maintaining strong, resilient bones, making it a crucial element in an athlete’s nutrition regimen. So, next time you plan your meal, don’t forget to include magnesium-rich foods to keep your bones strong and support your overall athletic performance.

Contact the Athlete Sanctuary and learn how we can help you increase your bone health, well-being, and performance.

References

Health Direct (2023).

Orchard TS, Larson JC, Alghothani N, Bout-Tabaku S, Cauley JA, Chen Z, LaCroix AZ, Wactawski-Wende J, Jackson RD.(2014). Magnesium intake, bone mineral density, and fractures: results from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. American Journal Clinical Nutrition. 2014 Apr;99(4):926-33

Rondanelli, M., Faliva, M. A., Tartara, A., Gasparri, C., Perna, S., Infantino, V., & Peroni, G. (2021). An update on magnesium and bone health. Biometals, 34(4), 715-736.

 

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She founded the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate thirsts for knowledge and has two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. 

Photo from above a selection of medicinal mushrooms on a wooden table.

Medicinal mushrooms have gained popularity in recent years for their potential health benefits, including those that can be advantageous for athletes.

Mushrooms are a great inclusion in your diet as they have many health and nutritional benefits. Mushrooms contain several B vitamins, including niacin, folate, biotin, pantothenic acid and riboflavin. Mushrooms also provide antioxidants and essential minerals (selenium, copper and phosphorous), are easy to cook and are low in fat sodium, and kilojoules. When exposed to light they also contain vitamin D which is important for bone health, hormones and immunity.

Here we are exploring mycotherapy – the use of mushroom compounds for health. Medicinal mushrooms are included in many health and sports products.   Here we explore five medicinal mushrooms and their potential health benefits for athletes:

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)Energy and stamina

Cordyceps have been shown to enhance cellular oxygenation to improve lung capacity and endurance and reduce fatigue during exercise.  You will find this medicinal mushroom in several sports products as it contains cordycepin, a compound that increases energy through ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production. For the same reason, it may also help relieve chronic fatigue.  

A 2022 study demonstrated supplementation with 2 grams of cordyceps per day improves the aerobic performance of amateur marathoners over 12 weeks. We are hopeful that further research will also show this benefit for well-trained and elite athletes.

Cordyceps is antiviral, immune-modulatory, antioxidant and effective in reducing cholesterol and blood pressure.

Tip: Add cordyceps to a customised herbal elixir for an all-around boost of energy.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)Stress buster  

Reishi is referred to as the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms” because of its ability to support multiple systems in the body. Reishi is soothing for the nervous system and helps the body adapt to stress. It lowers the stress hormone cortisol and helps to stabilise insulin. This makes Reishi useful for low mood, sleep issues, anxiety and recovery from physical and mental stress. With over 400 active compounds its benefits are extensive. Reishi strengthens the immune system by boosting white blood cells and the natural killer cells in your body. It is also useful for liver function, and libido in both sexes.

Tip: Add powdered reishi to your post-workout smoothie or snacks to help with recovery and sleep. We also encourage athletes and performers to focus on Reishi as part of their pre-race preparation to avoid illness impacting their performance.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus): Brain function

Lion’s Mane enhances cognitive function and memory, which can be beneficial for athletes’ mental sharpness and focus. Study’s show Lion’s Mane’s active compounds hericenone and erinacine, reduce memory loss and therefore of interest for use in patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

This fluffy white mushroom even looks like the nerves it helps to regenerate in the gut-brain axis. By doing so it helps regulate the nervous system and heal the gut making it useful for leaky gut and IBS.

Tip: Include Lion’s main powder or liquid tonic for mental clarity and digestive issues.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): Injuries and inflammation

Chaga has strong anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness. It’s rich in antioxidants, which can aid in overall health and recovery.

Tip: Changa powder tastes nutty and can be a great additive to coffee or broth.

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes): Immunity

Shiitake mushrooms are known for their immune-boosting properties. For athletes, a robust immune system is crucial for staying healthy and avoiding training interruptions due to illness.  If you struggle with ongoing infections, explore suggestions on building a robust immune system.  Shiitake is also used to enhance lung function, gut health and as an antioxidant.

Tip: Alongside reishi, we encourage athletes to use a medicinal mushroom blend with high quality shitake as part of pre and post-event preparation and for ongoing colds and infections.  Shitake mushrooms can be found in most supermarkets and are great in stir-fried vegetable dishes and stews.

Summary

It’s important to note that while these medicinal mushrooms offer potential health benefits for athletes, individual responses may vary. Athletes should consult with their naturopath before incorporating these mushrooms into their diet or supplement regimen, especially if they have underlying health conditions, allergies or are taking medications. Additionally, athletes should use these mushrooms as part of a well-balanced diet and training program to maximise their benefits.

Sources: 

Chiou, W. F., Chang, P. C., Chou, C. J., & Chen, C. F. (2000). Protein constituent contributes to the hypotensive and vasorelaxant activities of Cordyceps sinensis. Life Sciences66(14), 1369-1376.

Phan, C. W., David, P., & Sabaratnam, V. (2017). Edible and medicinal mushrooms: emerging brain food for the mitigation of neurodegenerative diseases. Journal of medicinal food20(1), 1-10.

Savioli, F. P., Zogaib, P., Franco, E., de Salles, F. C. A., Giorelli, G. V., & Andreoli, C. V. (2022). Effects of cordyceps sinensis supplementation during 12 weeks in amateur marathoners: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Herbal Medicine34, 100570.

Zhu XL, Chen AF, Lin ZB. Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides enhance the function of immunological effector cells in immunosuppressed mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 May 4;111(2):219-26. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2006.11.013. Epub 2006 Nov 21.  

Want to know more? Contact the Athlete Sanctuary and learn how we can help you to increase health, wellbeing and performance.

 

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.athletesanctuary.com.au