menopause

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.

menopause

Some women experience absolutely no symptoms during their transition through menopause but if you are like 80% of women who do, it’s reassuring to know there are treatment options available. Help for menopause is here.

Perimenopause is the stage where most of the symptoms begin and these can persist for over a decade. Menopause officially commences 12 months after your last period. Women can go through menopause anywhere between the ages of 40 and 58 years but the average age is 52 years.   Symptoms can occur due to the falling levels of estrogen and progesterone, which has a multifaceted impact on organs and tissues throughout the body.

Most women identify menopause with hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, poor libido and fatigue. Symptoms usually occur in the perimenopausal phase due to declining progesterone. Oestrogen actually increases to levels 30% higher than before but can go through periods of variations similar to a roller coaster leading to insomnia, depression, poor concentration, irritability, anxiety and poor stress tolerance and lethargy. In the later stages of perimenopause, oestrogen declines which may contribute to other symptoms such as heart palpitations, joint pain, osteoporosis and mental health issues.

One of the associated effects of estrogen decline is an increased risk of osteoporosis.  This is due primarily to the 1-2% loss of bone density per year of menopause, as well as 10 years post-menopause.  Estrogen decline is also associated with elevated cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, hypothyroidism, urinary tract infections and thrush.

Some women have concerns about the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or are unable to use this option due to breast or ovarian cancer risk. Fortunately, there is now a large body of evidence that supports the use of herbal and nutritional medicines during the menopausal transition.

DIETARY INTERVENTIONS 

Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring estrogen-like compounds found in plants, fruits, or vegetables and are commonly divided into three main classes: isoflavones, lignans, and coumestans.

Isoflavones are found in the legume family, with high amounts in soybeans and soy products.

Lignans are found in high-fibre foods such as unrefined grains, cereal brans, and beans, with flaxseed being a particularly good dietary source of lignans. A recent systematic review found that women who consumed protein bars containing flaxseed (410 mg of lignan) for  6 weeks reported a 50% decrease in hot flushes. Seed cycling can be helpful for women who want to boost their intake of fatty acids and lignans.

Coumestan-rich foods include alfalfa and clover sprouts, peas, pinto beans, and lima beans.

Herbs

Hops (Humulus lupulus) dampens tension and anxiety.  The active ingredient in hops, 8-prenylnaringenin, is a potent phytoestrogen and has been demonstrated to reduce vasomotor symptoms by improving the ability of the blood vessels to expand and contract. Numerous clinical trials have also documented significant reductions in the frequency of hot flushes, sweating, insomnia, heart palpitations and irritability in women who used a hops extract for 6 weeks.

In clinical practice, a combination of herbs is often used to support women during the transition through menopause. Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), which is considered to be a “buried treasure medicine”, is another popular herb for active women suffering from fatigue. Ginseng’s active constituents include saponins, amino acids, vitamins (particularly folic acid and niacin), alkaloids, phenolic compounds, and flavonoids. Ginseng has been widely used in traditional medicine to assist with building resilience to stress and used as an energizer, to increase libido, and testosterone and alleviate menopausal symptoms. Clinical trials have shown ginseng significantly reduced depression and improve perceived well-being, exercise performance and energy in perimenopause.

Another popular herb is chasteberry, or vitex.  This herb has shown positive results in reducing PMS, anxiety, hot flushes and breast tenderness in perimenopausal women.  Vitex is used to support the transition from perimenopause to menopause due to its ability to increase progesterone levels and help maintain a healthy balance between progesterone and estrogen.

For women experiencing persistent hot flushes or night sweats as a result of menopause, Red Clover (Trifolium Pratense) may often be prescribed.  This herb contains high levels of phytoestrogens for improving hormonal balance, as well as helping improve bone density in those at risk of osteoporosis.  Several clinical trials demon straight the isoflavones present in red clover inhibit bone resorption and therefore reduce bone turnover associated with osteoporosis.

Ginkgo Biloba is similar to red clover because of the phytoestrogens it contains and its ability to naturally elevate estrogen levels.  Studies show that Ginkgo Biloba can reduce mood fluctuations associated with both PMS and menopause, as well as improving libido in 84% of trial participants after 4 weeks.

Sage, most commonly prescribed as a tea, has long been used in the management of fevers.  However, there is also evidence to support the use of sage for menopausal hot flushes and night sweats.  A study that assessed the use of fresh sage leaves in food or as tea demonstrated that the intensity and frequency of hot flushes were significantly reduced over a period of 8 weeks with consistent use.

Hormones play an integral role in your health, and changes in hormone balances can be challenging. There are many different ways that nutrition can be used to navigate menopause, without having to experience the numerous, negative side effects of HRT.

As with any element of health, there is never a one-size-fits-all approach and therefore we recommend individualised treatments for menopausal symptoms.

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