Nutrition and training are crucial factors that can greatly impact the performance and overall health of female athletes. As women participating in various sports and physical activities have different physiological and hormonal characteristics compared to each other and their male counterparts, it is essential to follow tailored approaches when it comes to optimizing their nutrition and training strategies. In this article, we will discuss some valuable tips and guidelines that can help female athletes achieve their full potential.

The Importance of Proper Nutrition for Female Athletes

Proper nutrition is the cornerstone of athletic performance. Female athletes require a well-balanced diet that provides them with the necessary energy, essential nutrients, and hydration to meet the demands of their training and competition. It is crucial for female athletes to consume an adequate amount of calories to support their energy expenditure and achieve optimal performance levels.

Energy Availability

Adequately fueling the body’s vital functions and physical activity is the single most important element of fueling the female athlete across every age group. One of the most common causes of poor performance is low energy availability (LEA), which means that after fueling physical activity,  there is not enough caloric energy or macronutrient content to support the body’s vital functions. When prolonged and/or severe, LEA can lead to relative energy deficiency in sport (REDs) which can cause serious health problems and debilitating injury. It’s also important to note that this is not just a problem among young competitive athletes. This is a problem at the recreational level and is especially prevalent in the mid-life and menopausal populations – a time when physical fitness matters most to maintain overall health and vitality. 

Macronutrients for Female Athletes

  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for female athletes. They should aim to consume complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which provide sustained energy throughout the day.
  • Proteins: Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth in female athletes. It is recommended that they consume lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, tofu, and legumes to meet their protein requirements.
  • Fats: Healthy fats play a vital role in hormone production and maintaining overall health. Female athletes should include sources of unsaturated fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil in their diet.

The proportion of macronutrients that support optimal performance will differ depending on the athlete’s age, type, and volume of physical activity. An experienced coach can help you determine your best nutrition plan. 

Micronutrients for Female Athletes

  • Iron: Female athletes are at a higher risk of iron deficiency due to menstruation. This is particularly true for high-level endurance athletes and can lead to fatigue and impaired performance. The most bio-available sources of iron come from lean red meat, spinach, kale and other leafy greens, and fortified cereals.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D: Bone health is crucial for female athletes, as they are more prone to stress fractures and osteoporosis. Consuming foods rich in calcium, such as dairy products, and getting adequate sun exposure for vitamin D synthesis is essential.


Proper Hydration

Hydration is essential for athletic performance, as even mild dehydration can have a negative impact on physical and cognitive function. Female athletes should aim to maintain proper hydration before, during, and after training sessions and competitions.

Fluid Needs for Female Athletes

  • Female athletes should drink enough fluids to replace what they lose through sweat. A common recommendation for the general population is to consume at least 8-10 cups (64-80 ounces) of water per day. However, for the athlete, this is unlikely to be sufficient. Appropriate hydration depends on many factors such as volume and type of physical activity and the environmental conditions of training and competition.  
  • Electrolytes are essential in active and high-performing populations.  Natural sources of electrolytes such as coconut water and other whole foods are optimal. Sports drinks should be avoided as they often contain sugar and artificial stimulants that can negatively impact performance and cause digestive disturbance. For long-endurance athletes, gels and other concentrated electrolyte preparations should be used sparingly in favor of more natural, whole-food sources. Some favs among my endurance friends include a good homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit and the tried and true PB&J mini-sandwiches! These pack well and can be consumed during the race or long-distance training. As a recreational singles tennis player, my go-to is a banana during a long match in the summer heat.

Tailored Training Approaches for Female Athletes

Female athletes have unique physiological and hormonal considerations that require customized training approaches for optimal performance and injury prevention.

Strength Training

  • Strength training is essential for female athletes to build lean muscle, improve bone density, and enhance overall athletic performance. It is essential to incorporate exercises that target major muscle groups, such as squats, lunges, and deadlifts.
  • Resistance training can also help prevent common sports injuries, such as ACL and rotator cuff tears, by strengthening the muscles around the joints.

Cardiovascular Training

  • Training, such as running, swimming, rowing, or cycling, helps improve cardiovascular fitness and endurance. In general, female athletes should incorporate a combination of moderate and high-intensity training that includes high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and lower-intensity Zone 2 training for optimal performance. Again, the optimal volume and type of cardiovascular training depends on the athlete’s goals, injury history, and age, among other factors. An experienced coach can create a program specifically for your needs. 



Optimal nutrition and training are critical components for the success of female athletes. By following a nutrition plan that meets their energy and nutrient requirements, female athletes at all levels can optimize their performance and overall health. An individualized approach is essential as there is no “one-size-fits-all” that is appropriate for all female athletes. However, by implementing these tips, female athletes can get a strong start on the journey to achieving their full potential and excelling in their respective sports.

Remember, if you have any specific concerns or questions about nutrition and training, it is always advisable to consult with a qualified professional, such as Dr. Carla DiGirolamo, who specializes in working with female athletes.