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Fuelling Female Strength

In the realm of sports, fitness and athleticism, the narrative around nutrition often revolves around generalised advice that may not fully address the unique needs of female athletes. Historically, female athletes have been underserved in sports nutrition discussion, with much of the research and recommendations predominantly focused on male physiology. However, women’s participation in sports and fitness activities have surged in recent years, with female athletes making up nearly 50% of sports participants. This highlights the need for specialised nutritional strategies that cater to their unique goals and needs.

Women's bodies undergo distinct hormonal fluctuations, metabolic variations, and physiological changes that necessitate a tailored approach to nutrition and training. In light of this, it's essential to dispel misconceptions and provide evidence-based guidance that empowers female athletes to optimise their potential, both in training and in competition. By acknowledging and addressing these differences, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and empowering approach to nutrition, one that recognises the diverse strengths and capabilities of female athletes. 

This blog will explore some of the key nutritional principles for fuelling female strength, muscle gain and endurance. It will talk about the importance of consuming the right balance of macronutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates), why micronutrients such as iron, calcium and vitamin D are just as important to female health and fuelling strength, and why lifting heavy and often is the gateway to optimal athletic performance in women. 

Start With the Basics. Period.

Women differ from men not only in size, but in body composition and hormonal makeup. Monthly cycles, with fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone, have varying effects on metabolism and fluid retention, which can have an impact in training and nutrition. Oestrogen is an anabolic hormone and it increases muscle strength and bone mineral density. With the monthly fluctuation in oestrogen levels that comes with the menstrual cycle, matching the timing of training and nutrition with these hormonal changes and manipulation of the menstrual cycle with exogenous hormones (ie. oral contraceptives) has received attention as a way to optimise performance¹. 

Throughout the monthly cycle, hormone levels fluctuate, which affects metabolism and energy levels. This can affect many things such as baseline strength and how food is stored and utilised in the body. During the first half of the cycle, oestrogen levels are higher, which can increase insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate metabolism, making us feel stronger and more energetic. This is the ideal time to hit PBs! During the second half of the cycle, progesterone levels are higher, which can increase fat oxidation and decrease carbohydrate metabolism². 

Elevated progesterone and oestrogen levels in this second half makes it harder for women to utilise glycogen as fuel, which means less power and strength and more fatigue, so it becomes harder to hit higher intensities. As well as this, in the second half of the cycle after ovulation, women have a higher concentration of relaxin, which ‘relaxes’ ligaments and muscles and makes them more flexible, making them more prone to injury³. 


Nutrition Gone Wrong

Due to the lack of specialised nutritional research that does not fully address female needs, nutritional deficiencies can occur. In fact, a considerable proportion of female athletes will experience nutritional deficiencies at some point in their careers. Traditionally, athletes who compete in weight class sports, endurance sports or aesthetic sports are thought to be more likely to have inadequate nutrition for their training or competition, either due to a perceived performance benefit or requirements for competition⁴. 

It is imperative for female athletes in all sports to be fueling their bodies correctly and be eating a well-balanced diet tailored to their needs in order for them to be at peak performance. However, with societal pressure on young women to be ‘skinny’, this can cause women to be worried about gaining weight and muscle out of the fear of looking fat or too ‘bulky’. Shockingly, up to 47% of female athletes have been shown to be at risk for caloric intake that is inadequate for their needs⁵.

Unfortunately, sports research specific to women is lacking, leading to potentially incorrect application of findings in male studies to female athletes, and this will need to change in the future in order to support the growing number of female athletes.

More Protein Means More Lean

Protein serves as the fundamental building block for muscle repair and growth, making it an essential component of any athlete's diet. For females looking to optimise muscle gain and recovery, incorporating sufficient protein into their meals is paramount.

Contrary to outdated beliefs, women can benefit immensely from consuming protein-rich foods like lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and plant-based sources like tofu and tempeh. Aim for a protein intake of approximately 1.4g - 2.2g per kilogram of body weight daily to support muscle synthesis and repair. For instance, a woman weighing 60kg would need to be consuming between 84 - 132g of protein per day depending on her goals. 

The more protein you consume, the more lean mass you will gain. The more lean mass you have, the heavier you will be able to lift, the harder you will be able to push yourself, and the faster you will be able to move. Additionally, protein helps to increase immunity, improve sleep, digestion and hormone regulation. For older women, it is critical to increase protein intake due to hormonal changes which decrease your body’s ability to develop lean muscle mass.

If you are looking to increase your protein intake throughout the day, protein shakes are the ideal way to do so! Our Critical Whey provides 21g protein per serving for a smooth, creamy shake. If you’re not a fan of milkshakes, why not opt for our Clear Whey? It tastes just like juice and is the perfect refreshing drink for when you need your protein top-up.

Carbs Are Not the Enemy

Carbohydrates have long been demonised in popular diet culture, often labelled as the culprit behind weight gain and metabolic issues. However, this oversimplification fails to consider the critical role that carbohydrates play in supporting overall health and athletic performance, especially for female athletes. Unlike fats and proteins, carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of energy, providing the fuel necessary to power through workouts, support muscle function, and facilitate recovery.

Carbohydrates are a vital source of energy, particularly during intense training sessions or endurance activities. Complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes provide sustained energy levels, enhance glycogen stores, and facilitate optimal performance. Embrace carbohydrates as a fuel source to power through workouts and recover effectively.

In menstruating females, carbohydrates are utilised for energy production more rapidly in the first half of your cycle than in the second half of your cycle⁶. Moreover, carbohydrates are crucial for replenishing glycogen stores—a form of stored glucose in the muscles and liver—following intense exercise. This replenishment process is vital for recovery and muscle repair, enabling female athletes to bounce back quickly and efficiently from training sessions.  By consuming carbohydrates in the post-exercise window, women can enhance glycogen resynthesis, reduce muscle soreness, and optimise recovery for subsequent workouts. 

If you’re wanting a quick, easy way to get in some easily-digestible carbohydrates before your workouts, opt for our Cream of Rice, delivering 24g carbohydrates per serving. Suitable for vegans, this is an excellent source of energy to keep you fuelled ready for the day ahead. For female athletes, replenishing carbohydrates after intense exercise is essential for recovery. Our Endurance Post-Exercise Recovery Drink is Informed Sports Tested and ideal for athletes who need the highest level of assurance that they are safe for them to use.

Fats Are Essential

Healthy fats play a multifaceted role in hormone production, cellular function, and nutrient absorption, all of which are critical for overall health and performance. Incorporate sources of unsaturated fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish into your diet to support joint health, brain function, and hormonal balance. For women, Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, fish oils and nut butter are essential. Contrary to popular opinion, increasing fat intake has not been shown to lead to increased adiposity in athletes. Furthermore, decreased fat intake has been correlated with higher rates of injury in female runners⁷.

Getting enough fatty acids is important for sex hormone production, fat-soluble vitamin absorption, and maintaining a regular menstrual cycle. Research points to getting 20-35% of total calories to come from fat sources for optimal health and performance, and has consistently shown that during exercise females rely on fat stores to support exercise energy needs more than males⁸. 

For women who are menopausal or perimenopausal, MCT Oil, a healthy source of fatty acids, may be beneficial. MCT Oil may help to balance hormones like oestrogen and progesterone, which can be disrupted during menopause and perimenopause. As well as this MCT Oil can help balance blood sugar. This can lead to improved mood, fewer hot flashes, and better sleep.

A Focus on Micronutrients 


Iron is one of the most important micronutrients for female athletes to consume. It is a key part of the molecules haemoglobin and myoglobin, which carry oxygen throughout the body and deliver it to the muscles. It’s also important for energy and metabolism. However, some female athletes are at inherently higher risk than others for iron deficiency. These athletes include those with restrictive diets (e.g. no red meat, vegetarian, vegan), those with high amounts of repetitive ground strikes (e.g., sports involving high amounts of running), endurance training causing antioxidant depletion and those with heavy menstrual bleeding⁹.

Low iron content can affect endurance and performance. If your red blood cells are not getting enough oxygen, they cannot perform at their best. When iron deficiency becomes severe, it can result in anaemia¹⁰, a condition in which the body has a shortage of red blood cells. Fortunately for most athletes, once it’s identified, iron deficiency can usually be treated through diet. Consuming more red meat, fish, poultry, leafy greens, and whole grains can help increase iron content. 

For female athletes wanting to increase iron intake, Critical Greens is the way to go. Our Critical Greens come in Unflavoured or Flavoured is packed to the brim with 17 super green extracts, including broccoli, celery, spinach, wheatgrass and kale powder, making it an incredibly potent, nutrient-rich drink to complement a healthy diet and exercise.


Calcium is another important micronutrient that female athletes should be aware of and incorporate into their diet. This is because  inadequate calcium intake increases the risk of stress fractures, a common injury in athletes. Calcium intake also influences the achievement of peak bone mass during adolescence and young adulthood, which is an important determinant of osteoporosis risk¹¹.

Several trials in adults have indicated that weight-bearing activity such as running and powerlifting may be compromised by low levels of calcium intake. Due to the relationship between calcium intake and physical activity for bone materialisation, it is imperative that physically active women consume adequate levels of calcium¹². Athletes can meet their calcium needs through multiple servings of dairy products (e.g. milk, yoghurts, cheese) or several portions of plant-based sources daily (e.g. green leafy vegetables, broccoli, soybeans, fortified plant-based milk). 

As well as through foods, supplementing with calcium tablets can help give your calcium levels a boost. Calcium and Magnesium capsules are one of Applied Nutrition’s premium quality mineral complexes, containing 800 mg of calcium and 375 mg of magnesium per serving which gives the optimal dosage.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a key micronutrient that contributes to many physiological processes relevant to athletes, including skeletal muscle health, muscle function, immunity, cardiac structure and function, and bone health. Specific to females, vitamin D also has a key role in oestrogen production, and therefore, the effects of a vitamin D deficiency may be wide-reaching, affecting bone health, menstrual function and fertility¹³. 

Thankfully, vitamin D is relatively simple to consume - just 15 minutes of sunlight exposure to the skin a day provides enough vitamin D. However, this is dependent on the time of year and how regularly you get sun exposure. According to the NHS, getting the right amount can be achieved with a daily maintenance supplementation of 10 micrograms (400IU)¹⁴. Our vitamin D tablets are halal certified and are high strength, containing your entire amount of vitamin D in one tablet.


Lift Heavy and Often 

For women, strength training forms the cornerstone of building muscle, improving metabolic rate, and enhancing overall athletic performance. To gain strength, develop shape in your glutes, hamstrings, core, shoulders, etc, and to maintain a lean physique, you must lift heavy things. There is no denying that strength training is incredibly effective for overall lean body mass, and can also improve performance in sports, like running. Incorporate compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses into your workout routine to target multiple muscle groups effectively. Aim for a balanced approach that includes both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise to optimise overall fitness and performance.

Contrary to common misconceptions, lifting heavy weights will not make women bulky but instead promotes lean muscle development, strength, and resilience. You can train around your menstrual cycle - from day 1 of bleeding leading up to ovulation, your body is capable of higher intensities and is able to be pushed further and faster for longer. After ovulation, lifting heavy and expressing power can become more difficult, so during this time, you can follow a hypertrophy style of training that focuses on higher reps (10-15 reps) rather than higher weight (1-8 reps). 

For peri-menopausal and postmenopausal women, strength training and lifting heavy is the way to go. Try adding in three days per week of strength training to your routine, this will preserve muscle and bone mass to keep you healthier, stronger, and fitter for longer! To find out more about the menopause, check out our blog HERE.

As participation in female sports continues to rise worldwide, the lack of female athlete–specific recommendations and research into nutritional considerations of health and performance has become a focus of stakeholders in female athlete success. Fuelling female strength goes beyond mere calorie counting or restrictive dieting—it entails embracing a holistic approach to nutrition that prioritises fuelling performance, supporting muscle growth, and promoting overall health and well-being. 

By emphasising the importance of adequate protein intake, embracing carbohydrates as a vital energy source, incorporating healthy fats, prioritising essential micronutrients, and committing to regular strength training, female athletes can unlock their full potential and achieve their fitness goals with confidence and resilience. With the right nutritional strategies, women can feel confident that they will be able to fuel themselves correctly and conquer any challenge that comes their way.


By Shannon Gaskell


  1. https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/practical-approaches-to-nutrition-for-female-athletes
  2. https://wellness.uoguelph.ca/hpc/news/fuelling-your-body-fitness-woman
  3. https://markfisherfitness.com/ladies-optimal-fuel-workouts-nutrient/
  4. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-021-01508-8
  5. https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/practical-approaches-to-nutrition-for-female-athletes
  6. https://www.trailrunnermag.com/nutrition/womens-specific-nutrition-for-performance/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8566643/
  8. https://www.mysportscience.com/post/the-female-athlete-considerations-for-fuel-storage-and-utilization#:~:text=Not%20only%20do%20women%20store,energy%20needs%20more%20than%20males.
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8566643/
  10. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/iron-deficiency-anaemia/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5553541/#:~:text=Inadequate%20calcium%20intake%20increases%20the,20%2C%2028%2C%2035).
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5553541/#:~:text=Inadequate%20calcium%20intake%20increases%20the,20%2C%2028%2C%2035).
  13. https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/micronutrient-considerations-for-the-female-athlete
  14. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/



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