Photo of a female athlete kneeling down on the ground as she is exhausted.

Training fasted involves exercising without food and/or energy drinks for a period of time. The most common fast lasts for 8/12 hours or extended to 16 hours as an overnight fast. During this period, we tap into fat stores in the form of ketone bodies and stored glycogen.

Runners often train fasted unconsciously as a morning run or gym session before breakfast.

This practice has gained popularity due to its potential effects on fat loss, and overall performance. However, it also comes with its share of pros and cons and is not for everyone. Here’s a list of some of the potential pros and cons:

Pros of Training Fasted:

Weight management: Training fasted may increase the body’s reliance on using stored fat for energy. Over time this aids fat loss and contributes to the maintenance of lean muscle mass, beneficial body composition and weight management.

Weight management: Reduced body fat, contributes to the maintenance of lean muscle mass and beneficial body composition. This can be beneficial for athletes competing in weight categories or sports dependant on body composition such as body sculpting.

Insulin Sensitivity: It can improve insulin sensitivity. When you do eat after exercise, the body absorbs nutrients more efficiently, which is beneficial for overall health and weight management. This assists with blood sugar control, energy levels and management of insulin resistance and diabetes.

Hormonal Responses: Training fasted can lead to increases in human growth hormone (HGH) key to muscle growth. Muscle growth is important to athletes in strength and body sculpting related sports.

Metabolic Adaptation: Proponents will argue that training fasted makes them more efficient at using fat stores for energy. In recent times the belief has gained traction in the endurance running community (especially ultra running).

Cons of Training Fasted:

Performance Impairment: Fasting and then training can lead to decreased performance, especially for high-intensity workouts. Without readily available carbohydrates athletes experience lower energy levels during and post exercise. Recovery, strength, and endurance are also impaired.

A recent review of 46 studies concluded eating before exercise prolongs aerobic performance. The debate becomes clouded in practice as endurance athletes can feel ok during low-to-moderate intensity training when training fasted. A runner can feel good on an easy 6km recovery run but rubbish doing 1km reps.

Muscle Breakdown: Training fasted could potentially lead to increased muscle breakdown due to the lack of readily available energy sources. This is detrimental to muscle gain and repair.

Hydration and Electrolyte Imbalance: Fasting can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which can negatively impact workout performance and recovery.

Additional adrenal gland stress: It can increase adrenaline levels and cortisol levels. This is not a great scenario for those athletes with already high levels of stress.

Lower hormones: reduces male sex hormones (androgens) and negatively impacts libido and metabolic health. This is non-beneficial for men but beneficial for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Training fasted does not appear to have any effect on estrogen or prolactin levels in women.

Training fasted may also reduce thyroid hormones -thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and T3- active thyroid hormones. This may contribute further to thyroid hormone imbalances.

Risk of Overeating Post-Workout: Some individuals compensate by consuming larger meals after exercise. Sugar and carbohydrate cravings increase as the day progresses. Poor food choices and excessive sugar intake peaks towards the end of the day. This can then result in disturbed sleep and reduced energy levels the following day.

Lack of Nutrients for Recovery: After exercise, your body needs nutrients for muscle repair, glycogen replenishment, and overall recovery. Fasted training can limit the availability of these nutrients at a critical time and delay recovery.

Individual Responses: Fasted training might be suitable for some individuals but not for others. Factors like genetics, training goals, and personal preferences can greatly influence the effectiveness and comfort of training fasted.

Increased Perceived Effort: For some athletes, training on an empty stomach can make training sessions feel harder. This can impact motivation and adherence to the training routine.

In summary, training fasted can have potential benefits such as increased fat loss and improved insulin sensitivity. However, training fasted also comes with potential downsides like impaired performance and muscle loss. Athletes are also at risk of reduce hormone levels, dehydration and nutrient deficiencies with prolonged fasting.

Your training goals, preferences, and how your body responds to fasted training is important to observe. We always recommend seeking professional help from a sports naturopath or nutritionist to ensure training fasted aligns with your specific circumstances.


Aird, T. P., Davies, R. W., & Carson, B. P. (2018). Effects of fasted vs fed‐state exercise on performance and post‐exercise metabolism: A systematic review and meta‐analysisScandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports28(5), 1476-1493.

Cienfuegos, S., Corapi, S., Gabel, K., Ezpeleta, M., Kalam, F., Lin, S.,  & Varady, K. A. (2022). Effect of intermittent fasting on reproductive hormone levels in females and males: a review of human trials. Nutrients14(11), 2343.

Kim, B. H., Joo, Y., Kim, M. S., Choe, H. K., Tong, Q., & Kwon, O. (2021). Effects of intermittent fasting on the circulating levels and circadian rhythms of hormones. Endocrinology and Metabolism36(4), 745-756.

Hackett, D., & Hagstrom, A. D. (2017). Effect of overnight fasted exercise on weight loss and body composition: A systematic review and meta-analysisJournal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology2(4), 43.

Hansen, D., De Strijcker, D., & Calders, P. (2017). Impact of endurance exercise training in the fasted state on muscle biochemistry and metabolism in healthy subjects: can these effects be of particular clinical benefit to type 2 diabetes mellitus and insulin-resistant patients?. Sports Medicine47, 415-428.

Vieira, A. F., Costa, R. R., Macedo, R. C. O., Coconcelli, L., & Kruel, L. F. M. (2016). Effects of aerobic exercise performed in fasted v. fed state on fat and carbohydrate metabolism in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition, 116(7), 1153-1164.

Zouhal, H., Saeidi, A., Salhi, A., Li, H., Essop, M. F., Laher, I.,   & Ben Abderrahman, A. (2020). Exercise training and fasting: current insightsOpen access Journal of sports medicine, 1-28.

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.

Photo of a female athlete wearing a hoody on a dark gloomy day

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression or seasonal mood disorder, can have many impacts to your way of life, including your athletic performance. While SAD’s prevalence in Australia may differ from other regions, it is still important to explore the experiences of female athletes living with SADs. In this blog post, we will delve into the symptoms and unique challenges faced by female athletes in relation to SAD, and strategies to navigate through it.


It’s vital for female athletes to recognise the intersection between their mental health and athletic performance, and acknowledge that working on mental health can positively impact their overall performance and condition.

SAD is suggested to be linked to the circadian rhythms (‘body clock’) adjustments at certain times of the year and in response to variations in exposure to sunlight. This is thought to impact the hormones melatonin and serotonin, which affect sleep and mood.

Those most at risk are younger females, those with a family history of depression, bipolar disorder, or SAD. The risk increases the further away from the equator. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to SAD and people with SAD may produce less Vitamin D. As Vitamin D plays a role in serotonin activity, Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency have been associated with depressive symptoms.

SAD frequently co-occurs with other disorders including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), addiction, and eating disorders.


Awareness of Seasonal Patterns
Athletes experiencing SAD may notice seasonal patterns to their moods.

Common observations over winter include:

  • Decline in mood, sadness and depression
  • Fatigue without explanation
  • Reduced motivation
  • Hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Overeating and carbohydrate cravings
  • Excessive sleeping

In summer SAD may look more like sleep issues, not feeling hungry, losing weight and feeling agitated and anxious.

By recognising these patterns and symptoms, athletes can better anticipate and prepare for the potential impact on training and performance.


Athletes and coaches may need to modify training schedules to accommodate SAD symptoms. This could mean adjusting the timing of workouts to coincide with optimal sunlight exposure in the middle of the day, incorporating more indoor training during the darker months, or allowing for flexibility in training intensity to accommodate fluctuations in mood and energy levels.


Openly communicate with coaches, supporters, friends and family about your experiences with SAD. By sharing your challenges and seeking understanding, you can foster a supportive environment that promotes positive mental health and helps alleviate the burden of SAD symptoms.

Seek Out a Mental Health Professional
Support from a mental health professional who specialises in sports psychology can be incredibly valuable. These professionals can provide tailored strategies to manage SAD symptoms, including cognitive-behavioural techniques, mindfulness practices and stress management tools.

In some cases your doctor may recommend light therapy.


Sunlight Exposure
Spend time outdoors during daylight hours, as sunlight exposure has a positive impact on vitamin D levels, sleep, mood and energy levels. Including outdoor activities, such as training sessions, walks and other outdoor hobbies, can help combat the effects of SAD.

Rest and Recovery
Prioritise sufficient sleep and establish consistent sleep routines to support your mental health and physical wellbeing.

Stress Reduction
Implementing stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or taking time with hobbies, people etc that bring joy, can help to alleviate SAD symptoms and promote overall mental wellbeing.

Vitamin D
We recommend athletes who suffer from SAD check their vitamin D levels every 6 months. Maintaining regular sunlight exposure and intake of vitamin D rich foods is essential to the prevention of deficiency. In many cases vitamin D supplementation is required.

Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder requires a comprehensive approach that integrates mental health and performance considerations. By recognising the unique challenges you face and implementing strategies such as adjusting training schedules, tapping into support networks and prioritising self-care, you can affectively navigate SAD while maintaining fitness 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 our website.


1. Armstrong, S. L., & McVeigh, D. (2019). A systematic review of athletes’ experiences with self-talk. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1518.
2. Fenton, G., McPherson, A., & Kinnafick, F. (2019). Qualitative inquiry into the lived experiences and coping strategies of female athletes with eating disorders. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 42, 100-108.
3. Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K. M., & Christensen, H. (2012). Perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking in young people: A systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 12.
4. Pargman, D., & Wiese-Bjornstal, D. M. (2003). Examining links between emotional states and physical activity among individuals with high physical activity levels. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 15(4), 300-317.
5. Melrose S. Seasonal Affective Disorder(2015): An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depress Res Treat. doi: 10.1155/2015/178564.
6. Murray, G. (2004). How common is seasonal affective disorder in temperate Australia? A comparison of BDI and SPAQ estimates. Journal of affective disorders, 81(1), 23-28.
7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
8. https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.seasonal.html
9. https://wayahead.org.au/get-the-facts/seasonal-affective-disorder/
10. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/seasonal-affective-disorder


Many women suffer from period pain and other PMS symptoms.  But what most women fail to realise is that it is NOT normal to have severe period pain, heavy bleeding, breast tenderness or discharge, debilitating drops in energy or significant mood swings as part of premenstraul symptoms. A healthy balanced woman can observe her period without experiencing symptoms that impact her quality of life and ability to function.  Pain is just one of the many issues women experience around their monthly cycle, however, it tends to be what prevents us from enjoying life the most.

In naturopathic medicine the overuse of NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatories) for menstrual cramping or period pain (dysmenorrhea) is cautioned as it may contribute to the erosion of the gut lining and contribute to a digestive condition called leaky gut where the tight junctions within the gut lumen come apart.

Commonly used NSAIDS such as Ibuprofen may provide temporary relief,  but they may also suppress some of the compounds that look after your gut lining. Once damaged, the tight junctions in your gut start to drift apart creating a “leaky gut”. This then allows toxins and larger particles to enter the bloodstream and trigger an immune response, inflammation and gastrointestinal distress. This may go on to contribute to a whole range of systemic issues such as food intolerances, skin issues and immune dysfunction. The good news is that there are lots of great natural solutions for period pain.

Ultimately getting your hormones balanced will assist with the symptoms, but while you are doing that here are a few options to make you more comfortable:

  • Athletes who are competing in their premenstrual phase may consider magnesium, zinc and fish oil at therapeutic doses for at least 5 days before their period is anticipated to reduce cramping and lower abdomen and back pain
  • A hot water bottle or heat pack on your abdomen and/ or lower back
  • Herbs such as cramp bark, turmeric and Black Cohosh may reduce PMS symptoms due to their anti-inflammatory actions and calming action on the uterus.
  • Consume more anti-inflammatory foods like cherries, blueberries, avocado and chia seeds. Fish such as salmon, cod, mackerel, sardines, bream, snapper or flathead high in omega-3 fatty acids, are also healthy choices. Consume more calcium-rich beans, almonds, and dark leafy greens. These foods contain compounds that combat inflammation.
  • Reduce coffee, refined foods and high sugar intake, bread, pasta and anything processed high in trans-fatty acids. These foods may contribute to inflammation and encourage period pain and tender breasts.
  • Sipping chamomile tea may inhibit the pain-causing prostaglandins associated with PMS without the side effects on your gut.
  • Seed cycling can help your body maintain a subtle balance and transition throughout your natural cycle.
  • Ginger and cinnamon are our favourite remedies for period pain. Studies demonstrated these two natural wonders provide the equivalent pain relief as ibuprofen when taken at therapeutic doses.
  • Fennel- Fennel extract can assist with severe menstrual cramps.
  • A combination of both 100mg of vitamin B1 and 500mgs of fish oil daily for 2 months has been shown to significantly reduced period pain.
  • Exercising-Most women find that exercising helps relieve menstrual cramps. Some women find yoga and tai chi are gentler forms of exercise that are more comfortable during the premenstrual phase.

As women, we need to consider our periods as the scorecard for our greater health. If you would like to understand how you can balance your hormones through practical nutrition, and natural medicines we welcome the conversation.


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.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

contraception options

We aim to equip women with a balanced perspective so they can make an informed choice about contraception options and what they put into their bodies. We in no way suggest women should come off their medications without due consideration. We also don’t shy away from the fact that there is a dark side to artificial hormones. It is important to consider all the pros and cons of any medication.

The most widely used contraceptive medications include the combined oral contraceptive pill (OCP) (containing synthetic estrogens and progesterone) such as Yasmin or Estelle, or injections, patch and vaginal ring. Progestin-only contraception includes the mini-pill (e.g. Noriday 28), implanon (progestogen) and hormonal IUDs (Mirena). Intrauterine devices such as the copper IUD are also a preferred option for some women.

Although contraceptive medications have similar names and molecular structures to female hormones, they have very different functions in the body. Artificial hormones mimic our natural hormone responses by “approximately” fitting into our hormone receptors but provide a different response. For example, progestin used in medications prevents pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, changing cervical mucus making it unfriendly to sperm and by reducing the proliferation of uterine lining to inhibit implantation. Natural progesterone, on the other hand, thickens the uterus lining and helps with the implantation of an embryo. Contraceptives are metabolised differently between individuals due to the type, concentration, duration and timing of medication used. Although generally relied upon as contraceptives, they may also be used to manage issues such as acne, period pain, endometriosis and heavy bleeding.

Albeit highly effective as contraceptives, there is a dark side to long-term use of these pharmaceuticals such as toxicity and nutrient depletion through their impact on gut and vaginal microbiomes, liver function, oxidative stress and chemical accumulation.

Let’s now consider the drawbacks and benefits of contraceptive medication.


  • Up to 99.5% effective as a contraceptive (depending on type)
  • Easy to use (in pill form)
  • May manage symptoms such as period pain, acne, irregular or heavy bleeding
  • Improves predictability and regularity of bleeding
  • May reduce the risk of iron-deficiency anaemia if caused by heavy bleeding, some cancers (colorectal and ovarian) and ectopic pregnancy
  • Prevent bleeding or symptoms on race day or hard training days (if PMS is an issue)
  • Lighten bleeding


  • They don’t prevent sexually transmitted diseases like other barrier forms of contraception.
  • Not all women will experience side effects, but some may have weight gain, depression, acne, hair growth, irregular bleeding, nausea, mood swings and headaches. Studies show that women on higher doses of OCP had 50% greater incidence of bloating, breast tenderness and nausea than those on low dose options.
  • May impact on the immune system and alter immune response, triggering autoimmune disorders. Studies show an increased risk of developing Lupus in women who take OCPs.
  • OCP use is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, blood clots, and thromboembolism. OCPs may be potentially contributing to an increased risk of cancer and liver tumours, and reproductive issues including premature menopause and reduced fertility.
  • May alter the intestinal microbiota and vaginal microbiome composition after just 6 months of use. Both IUDs and OCPs may increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis, trichomonas vaginalis and candida albicans infection in sexually active women. Studies suggest OCPs may also contribute to leaky gut through changing tight junction expression in the gut which can contribute to food intolerances and other immune reactions.
  • May indirectly contribute to body toxicity by adversely affecting the capacity of the gut to metabolise and excrete other xenobiotics (e.g. polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, polychlorobiphenyls, heavy metals, benzene derivatives, dyes, artificial sweeteners) and metabolic by-products.
  • May reduce vital nutrients and contribute to excess accumulation of others. Studies show the OCP reduces zinc, selenium, vitamin E, Co-enzyme Q10 (a cofactor in energy production), B12, phosphorus and magnesium levels but contributes to higher copper and cadmium levels. OCP use may also increase ferritin levels, resulting in enhanced iron absorption, but potentially contributing to iron overload and oxidative damage. The toxic effects of potentially high copper and cadmium in the body deplete antioxidant (glutathione) levels, inhibit antioxidant enzyme activity, and increase the synthesis of harmful free radicals and may damage liver cells.
  • OCP use is also associated with environmental chemical accumulation in the body. An analysis from the Norwegian study of 1090 women over a 5-year period, found higher levels of the harmful chemical PFAF (Perfluorooctanesulfonate) in women who used the OCP for more than 12 months. Elevated PFAF levels have been associated with infertility, preclampsia, cancer and adverse effects on the liver, thyroid organs and endocrine system.
  • High environmental impact from oestrogen contraceptives. Over 700kg/year of synthetic oestrogens derived from contraceptives (OCPs, patches and vaginal rings) are released into the environment and contribute to 16% of the oestrogenic load present in waterways worldwide. Oestrogens and progestin are detrimentally impacting the physiology of fish and other aquatic animals. The impact extends to our water and soils.
  • Although the OCP is widely prescribed to prevent further bone fractures or as a protective measure, however the long-term effect of oral contraceptive use on risk of fracture remains unclear. A 2014 study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, involving high school athletes concluded there was no difference in the frequency of musculoskeletal injury between athletes who used the OCP users and non-users. Another 2015 study reported there was no difference in fracture risk for women aged 38-49 years of age between OCP users and non-users. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health suggested contraception injections such as DMPA have been shown to be associated with low bone mass and osteoporosis in women.

Minimise the downside to contraception 

  • If you choose to take the OCP or other contraceptive, read up on possible side effects and talk to your prescribing G.P about other options if you experience side effects.
  • Ensure your diet is high in nutrients that help with drug and hormone metabolism and detoxification such as the cruciferous family of vegetables ( broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, arugula, daikon, bok choy, horseradish, Chinese cabbage, Romanesco broccoli, kohlrabi, radish, turnip, wasabi, turnips and watercress). These vegetables are rich in indole-3-carbinol and glucaric acid which assists with oestrogen detoxification and healthy hormone metabolism. Glucaric acid is also found in many fruits and vegetables with the highest concentrations also in oranges, apples and grapefruit.
  • Speak to your naturopath about your current mineral status. Minerals tests can detect issues in nutrients such as copper, zinc, selenium and other nutrients affected by OCP use.
  • Improve your antioxidant status to counteract any side effects of OCP use by including brightly coloured fruits and vegetables in your diet daily.
  • Speak to a natural awareness fertility (FABM) educator who can explain other contraception options and methods of predicting or calculating the fertile phase of a woman’s cycle. Natural family planning is estimated to be around 85% effective when performed correctly.
  • Speak to your partner about other methods of contraception.
  • Reduce your overall toxin and chemical load by using organic skin and personal hair products and opting for non-toxic household chemicals.
  • Consider natural options (such as herbal medicines, nutritional medications and dietary intervention) for hormone balancing if you are using the OCP for symptom management. Consider natural options to manage PMS.

For further information on the suitability of these options for your particular situation, contact us for an individual assessment.

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.https://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au