Nutritional Considerations for Female Runners

Nutrition remains a key factor for a runner’s performance. However, when it comes to males and females, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ rule certainly cannot be applied. Wondering why? The difference in the body structure and functioning and menstrual blood losses demand customised nutrition for women, more so for the athletes. Getting the right quantity of nutrients such as iron, calcium and vitamin D need your attention.1-3


Female runners often tend to avoid calorie-dense foods to lose weight without expert supervision. This may result in unhealthy and restricted dietary habits, thereby increasing the risk of energy imbalance, directly affecting their performance. This may also have long-term serious consequences on menstrual and bone health.1-3


Iron helps the blood carry oxygen to the entire body. Menstrual blood losses increase the iron requirements in women. In addition, vegetarian diets may be unable to provide enough iron from regular diets. A decline in iron intake may often lead to tiredness, thereby impacting strength, agility and performance.1-3

Calcium and vitamin D

Bone health is governed by 2 key nutrients, calcium and vitamin D, which help support and maintain their density and strength. Physiologically, the bone density of women differs from men. Inadequate consumption, lower exposure to sunlight (which helps make vitamin D) and use of sunscreens can increase the risk of inadequacy in the body. These along with continuous exercise can actually lead to gradual loss of bone, affecting performance and increasing the risk of bone-related diseases in the future.1-3

What can you do?1-4

• Avoid crash diets: Follow a diet that will give you just the right number of calories and other nutrients to support your health and workouts.1-4

• Monitoring is the key: Keep a tab on your iron, calcium and vitamin D levels. Regularly visit your gynaecologist.1-4

• Watch the calories: Get the right calories from complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, chapatti, banana, potato and healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds. Also, get enough protein from foods such as meat and pulses, milk and milk products.1-4

• Pump up the iron intake: Include iron-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables and meat religiously in your meals. Also, include vitamin C in your diet. Vitamin C helps in the absorption of iron. A few good sources include oranges, amla and lemon.1-4

• Take enough calcium and vitamin D: Consume enough calcium-rich foods such as milk and milk products and vitamin D-rich sources such as eggs and sea foods. In addition, expose yourself to early morning sunlight for about 5 to 15 minutes to load yourself with vitamin D. 1-4

• Read the food labels: While buying packaged foods, don’t forget to read the food labels.1-4

• Supplement, if you must: Supplementation can be a good option to help meet your nutrient needs.

Kindly consult our nutritionist on the toll-free number mentioned below.

1. Escalante G. Nutritional considerations for female athletes. Str and Condi J. 2016;38(2):57-63.
2. Coaching Ireland. The female athlete. Limerick, Ireland: Coaching Ireland; 2010.
3. Deldicque L, Francaux M. Recommendations for healthy nutrition in female endurance runners: an update. Front Nutr. 2015; 2:17
4. Gabriels G, Lambert M. Nutritional supplement products: does the label information influence purchasing decisions for the physically active? Nutr J. 2013; 12(1):133.