Female MTB Training: Should you train differently to men - PART II
Pictures: Mark Hunter and Simon McComb.
So, the big question. What if your most important race falls on the day of your period?
This is almost one of the last taboo subjects in sports right now, but half of the world are women and we really can’t afford not to talk about it. Well it's not as bad as you may think to have your big A race coinciding with your period. Did you know that Paula Radcliffe broke the Marathon world record on the first day of her period? PMS cramps are caused by inflammation, so if the rider can mitigate this inflammation then the PMS will dissipate and the negative impact on performance is removed. One recommendation to mitigate inflamation is consuming magnesium, omega 3 and baby aspirin for five to seven days before your period starts (Sims, 2016).
So far in this article I have only written about the naturally occuring period in female riders. What about those on hormonal contraceptives or those in menopause? These athletes do not have the regular fluctuations in hormones, which on face value might sound like a positive. But actually, the flatlining of hormones can be detrimental to performance and recovery. So, this is something to be aware of. Keep in mind that I have just scraped the surface here in this article with regards to how female riders should train and recover.
For all female riders
What about eating before exercise? Especially those early morning sessions?
For a midday ride, there is no need to eat anything special before you hit the trails, presuming that you have eaten a good breakfast within 1-3 hours. For an early ride, then you should be trying to eat something before you leave the house, it doesn’t have to be particularly big, we are talking about roughly 200 calories which is enough to replenish glycogen reserves. Exercising in a fasted state for women riders will only serve to put your body under undue stress. Women’s cortisol levels are elevated in the morning (much more so than men’s). Cortisol is the stress hormone, and exercising elevates cortisol even more. Many riders think that riding in a fasted state will help to lose weight, for men this may work but for women this elevation of cortisol will only signal to the body to store more fat rather than use it. Remember you’ve got to eat to crank, and fuel well for the work ahead!
What about recovery techniques?
You may have heard that ice baths or cold-water immersion post exercise does not work. Interestingly they don’t work for men but do work for women.
After exercise men’s and women’s bodies respond differently. Women tend to have more blood flow to the skin and a drop in blood pressure after exercise compared to men. Whereas men vaso-constrict which means the blood returns to the heart, which can then pump the blood back out for recovery. The cold water immersion for women helps to signal a flow of blood from the muscles back to the heart to help recovery. You don’t need to have an ice bath after every ride, but after particularly tough/long rides or multi-day stage races it will help recovery.
As mentioned previously this article merely scratches the surface of women’s physiology when it comes to training. I’ve drawn heavily on the research of Dr. Stacy Sims, a senior research fellow at the University of Waikato, whose work has focused on the differences of male and female sports nutrition and physiology.
Sims, S 2016, 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, Rodale Books, Pennsylvania