Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Female Athletes (and how to avoid them)

Jun 8, 2021 | Ideas

When compared to their male counterparts, female athletes are more likely to be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. This comes from a review of 42 studies on how physical performance is affected by deficits in calories, protein, minerals, and vitamins.

Here are the nutrients that female athletes tend to lack:

  • Iron 
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D

The studies also noted that female athletes have a greater need for the following:

  • Magnesium 
  • Folate/folic acid
  • Vitamin B12

These vitamin deficiencies a role in what has been previously known as Female Athlete Triad syndrome, which refers to the common trifecta of osteoporosis, amenorrhea, and low energy. Nowadays, this syndrome has been extended to include male athletes as well, and is now known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). 

The leading cause of this is nutrient deficiency in the diet related to restrictive eating habits. Women face strong social pressures to maintain a smaller physique for the sake of beauty standards, and athletes are no exception. The first step to prevent these deficiencies is by focusing the diet on nutrition rather than calorie intake, especially for women who are athletes. 

Here are some vitamin-rich foods to include in your diet to help prevent these deficiencies. 

Iron-rich foods

Meat provides heme iron, which is more readily absorbed by the body. Plant-based iron is nonheme, which does not get absorbed as efficiently. 

  • Beef or chicken liver
  • Mussels & oysters
  • Any meat
  • Cooked beans
  • Tofu
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • And of course, raw spinach

Calcium-rich foods

  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and whey protein
  • Chia seeds
  • Almonds 
  • Amaranth
  • Figs

Foods rich in Vitamin D

The best way to get more vitamin D is actually not through your food, but from sunlight. Cholesterols in the skin turn into vitamin D when exposed to the sun’s UV-B radiation. Despite this, there are still foods to eat in order to supplement vitamin D levels in the body. 

  • Fatty fish and seafood
  • Mushrooms, especially those grown outdoors or exposed to UV light
  • Egg yolks

Magnesium-rich foods

  • Fish, especially salmon and halibut
  • Legumes, nuts, and seeds
  • Leafy greens
  • Prickly pear fruit (which is great in smoothies, but strain out the seeds first)

Folate-rich foods

  • Papaya
  • Banana
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Citrus

Whether you are tracking food or water, it is important to know how many daily nutrients and electrolyte counts your body needs for optimal sports performance. To view other related sources if information, visit our blog here:

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