Women are not small men and 5 Truths by Dr. Stacy Sims (plus my first giveaway!)

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a seminar hosted by Nuun with CEO Kevin Rutherford and a renowned Environmental Exercise Physiologist-Nutrition Scientist, Stacy Sims, PhD.   Stacy Sims is also the author of the first book for the endurance female athlete, ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life.  She discussed in depth the distinctive qualities of female physiology starting with understanding our monthly cycle and how fluctuating level of hormones could affect performance. A few of the topics she talked about at the seminar regarding salt tablets, chocolate milk, and fasted cardio were also addressed in the book.

I realized how much I don’t know about my unique physiology.  Now my eyes are opened to the possibilities of improving my potential by using the approaches I learned.  Sharing with you the five truths (among many) I learned from Dr. Stacy Sims:

 “You do not need salt tablets and taking them can actually impair your performance.”

No matter how much you sweat at a race, it’s not necessary to take salt tablets to replace the amount of sodium you lost.  Our body stores enough salt that taking in concentrated amounts will only cause GI distress and further dehydration.  When too much salt is sitting in your GI tract, water is pulled to the gut to dilute the concentrated solution. Now less water is in your blood causing you to dehydrate and more water is in your gut giving you the sloshy sensation.
Salt tablets are not the solution to prevent cramps either.  In fact, loss of sodium or electrolytes in your body is not the primary cause for cramps.  Blame it on  “Premature fatigue”.  When muscles are pushed further than usual, as when you run a race, the possibility for muscles to cramp up is high.  This is why it’s key to train specifically for your race. If your goal is a 4-hr marathon, your body needs to know what a 4-hr marathon pace feels like.  Check out Ben Greenfield’s article, 5 Scientific Ways to Stop Muscle Cramps (And What Causes Those Annoying Cramps In The First Place) for guidance on how to prevent muscle cramps.

“..women need more protein, in particular leucine, than chocolate milk provides to trigger muscle repair and growth factors”

– Dr. Sim’s answer to the question whether or not chocolate milk is an ideal recovery drink for women.  We’ve heard the advice to drink or eat a snack with 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein within a specific time period after a hard workout. However due to the progesterone’s role in breaking down muscle, women require more protein (2:1 ratio) within 30 minutes of a hard workout.  Dr. Sims emphasized the only time you need to take a recovery snack or drink is after a Really Hard Workout.  Otherwise your regular meals should take care of your nutritional needs. To add more protein to the chocolate milk, the recommendation was to eat a handful of almonds with the drink.
In the seminar, Dr. Sims pointed out the best type of recovery food is non-fat Greek yogurt.  A cup of Greek yogurt contains 2.5g of naturally occurring leucine.  Leucine is the muscle-building amino acid.  The importance of leucine with regards to recovery is highlighted several times in the book.
“Your muscles need leucine.  The greater the leucine content, the greater the stimulus for muscle protein synthesis.”
“The more leucine you take in, the more quickly your body begins to send out signals to make muscle.”

“Don’t fast.  Please, please, don’t do intermittent fasting”

Someone brought up the topic of fasted cardio at the seminar.  Have you purposely gone for a run without eating anything? Dr. Sims found most women she worked with fasted to achieve a leaner body.  However, fasting actually does the opposite.   With already elevated cortisol levels in the morning,  the added stress of being in a fasted state results in the build-up of more cortisol.  High cortisol promotes fat storage in the area where we least want it, in our belly!
Another significant point of discussion is the low-carb approach.   Again our hormones react in a way where it signals our body to store fat when it goes into a low-carb state.  Here is Dr. Sim’s answer to the question of whether the Paleo diet can improve performance:
“…the answer, I believe is no.  Here’s why:  Low carbohydrate diets increase fatty acid oxidation during exercise and encourage intra-muscular fat storage.  The body is smart; if there isn’t enough primary fuel to support the stress it’s under, it’ll go for a secondary source – in this case fat – then store more of it for the next time it encounters that stress.  But this does not translate into improved performance.”
So what’s the best approach when it comes to carbs?   It boils down to selecting the right type of carbs at each meal based on your physiology and fitness level.  The book goes into further details in the chapters of Daily Fueling and Sports Specific Fueling.

“Everyone worries about having their period for a big event, but in reality, your hormones are favorable for performance once your period starts.”

What a fascinating piece of information!  I’ve never really paid attention to the timing of my period because I always thought it was an inconvenience.  Dr. Sims revealed our exercise physiology resembles that of a man’s during our period where our level of hormones are at its lowest.  It’s also the time when we can achieve significant strength gains and able to push farther when it comes to strength training.
I just recorded the first day of my period this month and will pay more attention to how I feel during training.  According to Dr. Sims, “Whether you’re working out, training, or racing, it will feel easier when you’re in the low-hormone phase of your cycle, which starts the first day of menstrual bleeding.”   However, don’t be dismayed with having high hormones the day of your marathon.  According to research, VO2 max and lactate threshold is not affected by the fluctuation of hormones.  Therefore, you can still expect to do well on race day.
Still there’s no denying, when hormone levels are high, women are affected by number of factors that could impact performance:  Higher rates of muscle breakdown, Decreased ability to burn carbs, Bloat, Higher Core Temp and Lower Blood Volume, and Abdominal Cramps.  All these factors were discussed in the book as well as approaches to best control them.

“Women are not small men”

This is Dr. Sim’s mantra. Her main reason for writing the book.  It’s to inform women athletes (as well as men who coach women athletes) and gain a better understanding of their distinct physiological differences.  Female hormones play a significant role in a variety of aspects related to hydration, nutrition, performance and recovery.  Therefore, as women who participate in endurance sports, it would benefit us to dig in to the science of our unique physiology and use it to our advantage.

I am grateful to have been introduced to this fascinating book, ROAR.  It’s a book I will use as a reference time and time again.  Because I view ROAR as a valuable resource and to honor the mother endurance athletes for Mother’s Day, I am gifting a copy of the book.  Yes it’s my first giveaway (no it’s not sponsored)!

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mom Athletes!

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Have you noticed any differences in performance at certain times of the month?  Ever done a fasted cardio?  Do you recommend other books with a specific focus on female physiology?


Linking with Running on Happy and Fairytales and Fitness for their Friday Five 2.0.  Thanks for hosting!

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  It simply means if you decide to purchase the book using the links provided, I will receive a small percentage of the sale.
Note:  This raffle has ended.  Thanks for participating.