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Frequently Asked Questions About

Women's Nutrition

Evolving Nutritional Trends

There is probably no topic in fitness and weight management more controversial and ever-changing than what to eat to have the body, performance, and health you want.

Everywhere you turn, a book, a website, or the person sitting next to you at a restaurant is advocating for a new dietary strategy, the latest food to avoid, or even a new way to time when you eat. These nutrition trends are often based on someone’s personal experience with a nutritional change, or the experience of someone they know, and they assume it will work just as well for you.

Over the past 100 years, we’ve seen an ever-changing parade of nutritional trends: tapeworms in a can, fat-free everything, low-carb everything, sugar-free, soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, non-gmo, master cleanses, intermittent fasting, eating for your blood type, vegetarian, vegan… well, you get the idea. How did nutrition, let alone good nutrition, become so complicated? Can we even know our bodies and figure out what is best for our individual health and goals anymore?

What Is Nutrition?

Let’s remember what nutrition means: taking in nutrients to support the body’s growth and function. More specifically, it is the study of nutrition that deals with how nutrients are digested, absorbed, metabolized, stored and eliminated by the body. There is no argument that nutrition is the cornerstone of health—of life, for that matter.

Although many fitness plans make grand claims about promises for performance, fat loss, or muscle gains, the disclaimers in tiny type at the bottom of the screen will inevitably say something about the nutrition plan that these individuals followed.

When you break down what makes up almost everything in the body, it falls into four categories: carbohydrate, protein, fat, and water.  Sound familiar? Of course, you get minerals and vitamins in the mix too, but we are what we eat, quite literally.

Deficiencies in any of the macronutrients (carbs, fats, or proteins) or the micronutrients (everything else on a nutrition label) can lead to a variety of health complications or even disease.  The Institute of Medicine recently released a comprehensive, evidence-based guide for minimum nutrient intakes and general guidelines for both macronutrients and micronutrients. It’s a long read, but a great, free resource to keep on hand.

The natural next question is if something like this guide is available, based on numerous research studies on every age of humans in health and disease, why are there still so many questions about good nutrition?

The simple answer: personal experience and specific health and physique goals. The guidelines in this resource are concerned with normal health and disease prevention, rather than having a “ripped” or “hot” body or achieving elite-level performance.  They are based on hundreds of thousands of individuals pooled together, to find out what is true for most people.

Contradictions Confuse Nutritional Goals

Unfortunately, when it comes to what’s the best way to achieve nutritional goals, personal anecdotes overwhelm the fitness and weight loss community, and it doesn’t stop there. There are countless books telling us to avoid certain foods, only eat certain foods in combination with one another, never eat other foods in combination with one another, and so on, leaving people more confused and afraid of food than ever.

That’s the power of the mind wanting to connect the dots and find answers to symptoms.  It seems like we either don’t give nutrition enough attention, or blame food for all of our woes. Depressed or tired? There is a book (or a person) out there ready to tell you that you’re probably filled with candida and need to stop eating all sugar, or that maybe you’re too “acidic” and need to eliminate all animal products (and sugar again).

Every popular fitness and wellness website will invariably provide some nutrition basics, and a week later, might contradict itself in order to promote a product or keep up with public opinion the latest “hot topic” in nutrition.

For example, a very popular bodybuilding website wrote about the six pillars of nutrition, offering mostly sound and sensible nutrition information. Yet, a quick click on a nearby link takes you to a page all about nutrition myths and controversies with information that contradicts some of the information you just read on the other page.

We aren’t here to call anyone out, and it’s likely that somewhere on Girls Gone Strong, you may find content that is seemingly contradictory, but when you’re looking for information relevant to your nutrition goals, it’s important to consider the author’s area of expertise and the context for the information you’re reading. It’s also important to keep in mind the intended audience for any article. Was it written for athletes looking to maximize performance? Was it written for women with a history of over-dieting who are struggling with fat loss?

The specific findings for one group of people rarely apply to other groups, though the very basics apply to just about everyone.

Let’s Review The Basics of Women’s Metabolism

The way you body looks and performs is much simpler than you may think. Like it or not, genetics are largely responsible. You may have heard this old saying before: if you want to make the next Olympic athlete, ask two former or current Olympic athletes to have a baby.

If you look at families as a whole, you’ll see patterns. Of course there are exceptions, but when going about our daily lives, eating and exercising without much serious effort towards changing our bodies, we tend to look a lot like our parents or other family members. Of course, within a family you can have an ectomorph measuring 6’5” who is capable of devouring two Thanksgiving dinners with no impact, and 5-foot endomorph who feels like she gains weight even looking at a slice of pecan pie. Thankfully, there’s a growing body of research on the influence of genetics on body weight and shape.2 There’s also more research emerging on the negative effects of compulsive exercise. This topic is still quite difficult to quantify or qualify, though serious food restriction and manipulation have been studied since World War II.3

Here’s a simple science lesson in nutrition:

Everything you eat either gets used to build things in your body (anabolism) or used for energy (catabolism). As you see below, food breaks down into simple molecules that can either be used for energy later, stored in the body as fat tissue and glycogen, or used to form all of the structures of your body.

Nutrition illustration

Image source

In general, the macronutrients your body doesn’t use for energy are stored as triglycerides (fat), and most unused micronutrients are simply excreted. A few exceptions are the fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E and K. It’s possible to take too much of these, but studies on this are somewhat controversial, and it is very rare to have an overdose of a vitamin. It’s far more common to be under-eating a micronutrient than overeating. When trying to eat to match your body’s needs, it’s important to take into account your age, gender, and activity level, as well as any diseases or conditions that require you to adjust your nutrient intake.

For every six-foot-tall, 25-year-old man who stays very lean throughout his life with very little effort, no matter how much he eats, there seems to be another man of the same height and age, with the same eating habits and activity level, who carries excess body fat. The same is true for women. So what gives? 

Genetics. That’s what gives.

Genetics Play The Biggest Role In Your Nutritional Requirements

Genetics, above all else, determines how your body responds and adapts to your food intake. Genetics play a big role in your nutritional requirements, and largely determine how much gets stored and how much gets broken down and used for energy. Your genes, or practically speaking, your height, age, and gender, are not the whole picture, but they determine roughly 60% of your resting metabolic rate. Your daily activity and in small part, the thermic effect of food, fill in the rest.

Of course, things like sleep, stress, and hormonal fluctuations also influence your metabolic rate, but not drastically for most of us.

Most people’s bodies will not change drastically, without concentrated, serious effort.

That brings about the theory of “set point” for body weight and many arguments against dieting at all. There’s been much more discussion than ever about the idea of “metabolic damage” and “metabolic repair” and being in “starvation mode.” While like other dietary controversies, this has almost become a fad in and of itself, there is some support for it.

Leigh Peele, a well-known fat loss expert, wrote a book entitled “Starve Mode” that we highly recommend, and Girls Gone Strong Advisory Board Member Dr. Brooke Kalanick wrote an article discussing what “metabolic damage” is and whether it exists.

The bottom line? There’s only so much you can do, or should do, where your aesthetics and performance are concerned. But you should absolutely align your nutrition with your goals. Sounds simple, right? Only eat when I’m hungry. While that is an important thing to learn, if you want to perform at your best in your chosen activity, or you want to change your body composition or weight, you need to consider what and how much you are eating.

How Many Calories Do I Need?

The calorie, love it or hate it, is the king determinant of weight control. Despite many popular diets and opinions talking about how calories don’t matter, all of the evidence points back to caloric intake. Calories are, quite simply, energy. The fat stored on your body is also energy. Whether you regularly monitor calories or have never really thought about, your body is using them to fuel your growth, recovery, and bodily functions every day. Calories are our livelihood. It’s also become a word that invokes a groan among dieters and fitness professionals alike.

Our calorie needs change daily based on our activities, and they change over the years based on our growth.

Your metabolic rate is determined by how many calories your body uses compared to how much it stores for energy. This calculation can give you a basic idea of what your body needs. There are countless resources available in books and online to help you estimate your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and your total daily calorie needs. The RMR is the amount of calories needed to sustain basic functions when you’re completely sedentary (just sitting around all day). Of course, you probably don’t spend all day on the couch, so you actually need more calories than this to sustain your daily activities. In addition to these resources that help you determine how many calories you need, you can find just as many food calorie calculators and calorie intake calculators to help you track the amount of calories you actually eat.

Calorie Calculator for Women

Here is an online calculator that helps you estimate your RMR and daily calorie needs based on your activity level.

If you clicked and calculated, you’ll notice that RMR is based on a few things:

  1. Height
  2. Weight
  3. Age
  4. Gender

And daily calorie needs ask you to chose your daily activity level from the following options:

  • Sedentary = BMR x 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)
  • Lightly active = BMR x 1.375 (light exercise/ sports 1 to 3 days/week) Moderately active = BMR x 1.55 (moderate exercise/ sports 6 to 7 days/week)
  • Very active = BMR x 1.725 (hard exercise every day, or exercising twice a day)

Sounds simple, right?   It’s not.

What if you don’t exercise, but you’re on your feet all day long at work? Better yet, what qualifies as light, moderate, or hard exercise? Most research indicates that individuals aren’t very good at estimating their exercise intensity, and most often overestimate it, meaning they think they’re working “harder” than they actually are.

To make matters more complicated, these calculators are just averages based on thousands of individuals. In general, the calculator for RMR will be + or – 10% of your actual RMR. That can make a significant impact on someone’s efforts, making weight loss or weight maintenance quite difficult.

Some critics of RMR equations cite that they fail to take into account a person’s lean body mass and fat mass, arguing that adjusting for this provides the most accurate results and is less likely overestimate.  However, it seems that nearly all equations need some modification.

At this point you may be thinking, “Well, what now?”

We recommend that you use these equations as a baseline, a starting point, if you want to change your body weight, or increase your activity level and maintain it.

Calculate your needs, and monitor your weight and energy levels for at least four weeks. If you’ve never counted calories before, this may be more difficult than it seems, and bear in mind that most people underestimate how much they are eating.  To make this task easier you can search online for a food calorie calculator or calorie intake calculator.

If counting calories seems too daunting, the good news is you don’t have to do it. Simply keep track of your food intake over a few weeks, eating more or less the same amount and type of foods every day.

If your goal is weight loss and you aren’t losing weight, you are probably taking in too many calories. We recommend a few strategies:

  1. Eat smaller portions of the same foods
  2. Eat less frequently throughout the day
  3. Replace what you are eating with lower calorie foods

Do this for at least another few weeks, and see what happens. Don’t stress too much at first about low-carb, low-fat, or other popular dietary strategies. While what you eat makes all the difference for your health, and possibly your energy levels and recovery at high levels of activity, weight loss and maintenance always comes back to calories.

If you’re trying to get fitter or stronger and you plan on increasing your activity levels, then you are probably going to have to increase your calorie intake to support that. Many people try to get super fit and super lean at the same time, leaving the body exhausted and confused! Sure, losing body fat is often a side effect of getting in shape, but any athlete will tell you that they focus primarily on getting enough food, rather than worrying about eating too much.

Are All Calories Created Equal?

All of this being said, the “value” of one calorie does not equal another nutritionally. One hundred calories from soda pop won’t do your body any good except provide it with glucose, but 100 calories from broccoli will give your body numerous vitamins, minerals, and fiber, not to mention, it will satisfy your hunger much more than the soda pop ever will. Eating foods that are more nutritionally dense may help you feel more satisfied and improve your energy levels, whether or not you are trying to change your body weight.

There are numerous websites and resources and countless research articles that attempt to define what a “healthy diet” looks like, and despite what may  be different among them, they often have a few things in common.  We recommend you build your meals around the following:

  • Protein (animal or vegetable sources)
  • Foods low in added and simple sugars
  • Moderate amounts of natural fats (i.e., nuts, seeds, oils, avocado)
  • High-fiber foods (beans, flax, vegetables, nuts)
  • Bulky foods (leafy greens, beans, and some whole grains)

Carbs, Fats, Proteins

Many people have trouble determining how much protein they need everyday, and women in particular often don’t eat enough protein. Dr. Cassandra Forsythe, a Girls Gone Strong Advisory Board member, wrote an article about how much protein you really need.

While low-carb diets reigned supreme in the weight loss arena for several years, they have shown to be no more effective in the long-term than any other dietary strategy. What’s more, their success still hinges upon a calorie deficit. Still, confusion and fear of carbs persist. This article about carbohydrates covers everything you need to know.

Fat was demonized for years, and thankfully “fat-free” and “low-fat” are no longer associated with “healthy”. In fact, there are serious arguments that the fat-free boom of the 1980s is responsible for the sugar problem we have today!

Here are just a few things in your body that depend on adequate fat intake:

  • production of several hormones including the sex hormones and stress hormones
  • production of cholesterol, HDL and LDL
  • absorption of Vitamins A,D,E and K
  • bile production
  • adequate energy
  • brain and nerve tissue function
  • immune function
  • membranes of all of our cells

The USDA currently recommends, for health, a minimum intake of 15-20% of your total daily calories, and to not exceed 35%. This is in an effort to balance the risks of consuming too little fat with the potential risks for coronary heart disease and some types of cancer for consuming too much.

Nutrition for Women: Putting It All Together

We generally recommend a diet consisting of about 25-35% protein, 35-45% carbohydrate, and 25-35% fat regardless of calorie level. Depending on your training, you may need to adjust this. If you frequently train at moderate and high intensities, or participate in endurance work, you are likely going to feel depleted at a carbohydrate intake less than 50%. If this is the case, you will likely feel and perform better with a carbohydrate intake closer to the USDA recommendations of 55-60%. Take a few weeks with adjustments, monitoring how you feel, and decide what works best for you.

Speaking of what’s best for you, it’s important to ask yourself how in tune you are with your body’s nutritional needs.

Some call this “intuitive eating,” and some call it “cravings.” What’s the difference? In the moment that you are desiring a food, there is no way to tell whether this is a chemical signal of a deficiency or need by your body, or an emotional/psychological “need” for a food. Some argue that by learning how to eat intuitively, you will naturally remain at a healthy weight, as the brain will respond to chemical messengers that indicate the amount of body fat in storage, and adjust your hunger accordingly.

Weight aside, the goal of intuitive eating is to cultivate a healthy relationship with food, and to better distinguish between a physical desire for  a certain food, and an emotional desire for one. This is something we focus on a lot in our Strongest You Coaching program, as we help women tap into their hunger and fullness cues, and their relationship with food.

What works for many people in following a healthy diet without feeling deprived or bored is the 80/20 guideline. Many call it a rule, but we aren’t about rules when it comes to food. We call it a guideline. There are already enough “rules” and fear-mongering out there where nutrition for women is concerned.

Regardless of what you choose to eat to support your health or achieve your goals, food should be first and foremost embraced and enjoyed. It is life. It wouldn’t feel so satisfying and taste so wonderful if it wasn’t meant to be a positive experience.

Nutritional Supplements: Essential or Extra?

When it comes to nutritional supplements, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around, mostly due to the massive marketing budget of most supplement companies.  They spend millions of dollars every year to convince you that whatever they are selling is the holy grail to health, leanness, and longevity—the best nutritional supplements. To make matters more complicated, supplement companies do not need FDA approval before marketing, and will only be taken off the market by the FDA after a series of adverse events are reported. They are simply expected to follow standards and guidelines for marketing and manufacturing.

So what’s the truth about supplements? The truth is that they are just that—a supplement to an overall healthy diet and exercise regimen.

With a balanced diet, they shouldn’t be necessary for health. However, there are a handful of supplements that can be very beneficial depending on your goals. Compared to what is available for purchase in a supplement store, this is a very short list. We aren’t saying that these are the only supplements that you might find beneficial, but they are the most talked about and thoroughly researched, and we consider them the best supplements for women.

 

Multivitamin

Adequate vitamin and mineral intake is crucial for supporting normal, physiological functions of the body, and even better than adequate, which insinuates just enough, is optimal intake, which insinuates the amount to help our bodies function optimally. While it’s impossible to ensure that we are always getting the exact perfect amount of vitamins and minerals we need, we can cover our bases pretty well by eating a varied diet full of minimally processed, whole foods like:

  • Protein (animal or plant sources)
  • Foods low in added and simple sugars
  • Moderate amounts of natural fats (i.e., nuts, seeds, oils, avocado)
  • High-fiber foods (beans, flax, vegetables, nuts)
  • Bulky foods (leafy greens, beans, and some whole grains)

If you don’t eat a varied diet like the one listed above, and/or you’ve had bloodwork done and are deficient in a number of vitamins and minerals, you may want to consider adding a high-quality multivitamin from whole foods sources to your daily routine. There has been some concern over the past few years that taking a multivitamin would actually be associated with an increased risk of mortality. That may sound counterintuitive, but proponents argued that people may be less attentive to their overall nutrition, believing that a multivitamin provided them with everything they lacked by avoiding the foods listed above.

A recent meta-analysis found that this is not true, and that multivitamin use is not associated with mortality.8 The Harvard School of Public Health explains the flaws in the studies that found an increased risk of mortality, such as not taking into account the lifestyle factors of people using multivitamins, and makes recommendations for multivitamin use.24 Debate continues, but most sources agree that a daily multivitamin is not harmful, but should not be viewed as a substitute for healthy eating. Of course, before adding any supplements to your daily routine, make sure you first talk to your doctor.

 

Fish Oil

You may be thinking, “fish oil? Ewww!”

Yes, fish oil!  Fish oil is a supplement that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is critical to your overall health and well-being. Omega-3s, as well as Omega-6 fatty acids are known as essential fatty acids because our bodies cannot make them – our only sources are food. These fats are essential for proper nervous system development and function, growth and repair, prevention of  against skin disorders, healthy vision, cognitive function and fertility.9 Omega-3s come in 3 forms: EPA, DHA and ALA. There are other sources of omega-3s besides fish. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is found in many nuts and seeds.

For vegans, EPA and DHA are found in supplements made from algae, which is where the fish get the omega-3s in the first place. Dr. Cassandra Forsythe, Registered Dietitian and Girls Gone Strong Advisory Board Member wrote an extensive piece explaining the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and the pros and cons about the different sources.

Most Americans consume more ALA than EPA and DHA, meaning overall, our fish and seafood intake is low compared to other countries. The trouble with this is that Americans consume much more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s. Omega-6s aren’t inherently bad for you, but they compete with omega-3s in the body, so balance is key. You can improve your profile by either upping your omega-3 intake, or decreasing your omega-6 intake. Omega-6 fatty acids are most commonly found in vegetable oils, meat and poultry (think any and all processed, fried food). Since this ratio may be difficult to change in the American diet, supplementation with omega-3s is heavily investigated.

The strongest evidence for the health benefits of omega-3 supplementation are for the prevention of heart disease, but there is also evidence for lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and managing rheumatoid arthritis.

Research continues to look at the relationship between supplementation and the prevention of neurological disorders such as Alzheimers as well as several psychiatric conditions such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.  Of course, if you do not take in any sources of omega-3s, supplementation should be considered for your overall health.

Where can you get fish oil? Fish oil supplements generally come from sources like salmon, sardines, cod or krill, but there are a lot of low quality supplements out there.

When choosing a fish or krill oil supplement, it’s important to find one that uses third-party testing to confirm low levels of mercury or other contaminants. Labdoor.inc recently ranked fish oil supplement brands by measuring total omega-3 content, EPA and DHA quantities, vitamin D and CLA amounts, methylmercury concentration, and total oxidation values.18

The next question you may be wondering is, “how much fish oil should I take?” The research consensus is that a normal healthy individual can get all the omega-3s they require from eating fish rich in omega-3 2-3 times per week. If you are not going to eat fish 2-3 times per week, then your fish oil supplementation should reflect what you would derive from natural food sources. An equivalent dose in fish oil currency would be about 400 to 500 milligrams per day of combined EPA and DHA.10 Otherwise, dosing for fish oil depends upon your reason for taking it.

Mayo Clinic provides an extensive list of dosing recommendations based on every condition to which fish oil supplementation has been recommended.19 Make sure you are taking an appropriate recommended dose (not too much or too little) and monitor how you feel over several weeks.

Also, if you’ve ever taken fish oil supplements and experienced the dreaded “fish burps,” you may be hesitant to give it another go. If this is the case, give krill oil supplements a try, which are less likely to have this unpleasant after-effect. Or, you can try the vegan algae alternatives.

 

Probiotics

A probiotic is a microorganism that when ingested in sufficient amounts, is suggested to have beneficial effects on the host. With every year of research, scientists are uncovering more about the role of gut microbia in regulating our overall health. Despite only getting mass attention in the past decade or so, probiotics have been discussed in medicine for several years.In fact, we acquire probiotics the moments we are born, if delivered vaginally in the birth canal from our mothers.  This has been a hypothesized reason why babies delivered via C-section have more allergies and gastrointestinal disorders!

Having healthy levels of good bacteria in your gut aids in better digestion and better overall immune system function.

This can help also you absorb nutrients from the food you’re eating more effectively so you’re actually benefiting from the food you eat, instead of eating it and excreting it. Probiotics can also help improve bowel regularity, and are especially important for anyone who has recently taken antibiotics, as your bacteria population (bad and good bacteria) has recently been wiped out. Gut bacteria can be compromised by lifestyle factors as well, such as stress, poor sleep and poor food choices.12

Probiotics are being recommended frequently by medical practitioners to treat a variety of conditions. The most common uses for probiotics are to treat abdominal pain, gas and bloating, and for immune-boosting benefits after a course of antibiotics. However, probiotics are being researched as potential treatments for allergies, IBS, Crohn’s disease, dermatitis, Ulcerative Colitis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, reproductive disorders, and even obesity.12,13

A concern about probiotics is that there is no standard measurement, or qualification for “gut health”, and many symptoms that probiotics are used to treat are very subjective in nature.13 This may mean that probiotics get used excessively, or when not needed. In addition, simply taking the probiotic does not mean that the microbes will set up shop in your digestive tract, making the type and dosage of probiotics a tricky thing. There is no evidence that you can overdose on probiotics, however, but it’s still unclear whether they should be recommended to everyone.

If you do decide to take probiotics, how do you know what brand, and dosage to take? Labdoor Inc. has a current ranking of probiotic brands. They ranked these brands by measuring the amounts of total probiotics as well as potential contaminants, compared with labeling claims. In general, the highest rated probiotics have microbia populations in anywhere from the 1-50 billions. Ryan Andrews of Precision Nutrition recommends, “Between 3 and 5 billion would be a starting dose…this could be increased to 10 billion if you are hoping to treat a specific health concern.” The highest rated probiotic from Labdoor is currently at 50 billion, but typically, this also means a higher price. Labdoor also includes a list for the best probiotic based on value, so we recommend that you choose a brand from their list at a lower dose to start, and increase your dose if you don’t experience any benefits.20

Make sure to talk to your doctor about your probiotic use.

If you are using probiotics to treat a specific condition, you need to manage your expectations of what the probiotics could reasonably do to help you versus other medications or lifestyle changes.

 

Protein Powder

Protein powder is one of the most common nutrition supplements we receive questions about.  We are consistently asked:

  • Should I be taking protein powder?
  • If so, how much?
  • What is the best brand of protein powder to take?

First things first, the bottom line is, no. You don’t need to take a protein powder supplement. assuming you get adequate protein from whole food sources.  However, protein powder can be a healthy (depending on what brand you buy) and convenient way to get more protein in your diet.

Protein powders are extracts of protein from various whole foods. The most common supplemental proteins are isolates or combinations of whey, casein and soy. Whey is one the proteins, along with casein, that comes from dairy products. Soy protein is derived from soybeans. The vegan protein options include hemp, isolated from hemp seeds, pea protein and rice protein.

You may be wondering if this extraction process is healthy or not (various heat processed and/or chemical applications may be used).  As far as safety, unless you have an intolerance to any of these foods, the isolated protein should not have any negative effect on you.

That said, according to Registered Dietitian Dr. Cassandra Forsythe, “Soy protein isolate is controversial because there are many claims (some substantiated, some not validated at all) of digestive and/or hormonal alterations with long term, consistent use. For this reason, it’s best to only use this type of protein source sparingly if at all.

The most common protein powder on the market is whey, so if you tolerate dairy products well, you should be fine with a high quality whey. If you don’t do well with dairy or have ethical reasons for avoiding dairy, then other alternatives can be found in hemp protein, rice protein and/or pea protein.

Regardless what protein powder you choose, be aware that many brands contain minimal additives and artificial sweeteners. If you are sensitive to these, or simply do not want to ingest them, read your labels carefully. You will see that the lower price products typically are blends of proteins. Soy is cheaper, so it is frequently added to whey protein to increase bulk. Mineral additives and artificial sweeteners help to increase shelf life, which decreases cost.

Keep  a close eye on your digestive health with these products; if you get digestive distress, discontinue immediately, but you don’t have to give up on protein powder altogether.

Experiment with different types of protein and different brands to see what sits well with you.  Often times you won’t handle a particular brand of whey well, but you’ll handle another brand just fine.

Protein powder is most frequently used post-workout to help muscles recover. The hour post workout is also the optimal time for utilization of the amino acids. Yes, you could eat a chicken breast, but a protein powder will require minimal digestion by your stomach, allowing for quicker absorption by the body. Deciding against protein powders will not limit your strengths or ability to recover. In fact, research that examines whole food sources such as milk or simply a glucose drink with amino acids shows optimal benefits on muscle recovery.14 

A February 2016 meta-analysis, which compiled the results from several research studies investigating ideal post-workout nutrition, reported that it is the total protein intake in a day, versus the timing of protein intake, that makes the difference in muscle mass.14 The study does mention that there may be a beneficial window post-exercise, but the available studies had too many limitations to make a final conclusion on the subject.

The moral of the story is,  you don’t need protein powders in your diet to get protein at all of your meals and snacks, but they sure can make it easier when you don’t have the time or desire to cook or prepare another protein option. What’s important is that you get the nutrients you need to help you refuel your muscles and support the recovery process.

 

Creatine

Curious about creatine? Creatine is a supplement well-known for enhancing strength, increasing muscle mass, and improving overall exercise performance.  Although most creatine research has been conducted in men, there is some evidence that indicates women benefit from long-term creatine supplementation, particularly in older women. However, many women still avoid taking creatine, mostly due to misinformation or lack of information.

First things first, creatine is not a steroid. In fact, it is a completely different chemical compound that is not at all related to hormones.

Creatine is a natural substance in the body that is used to build a compound called creatine phosphate. When performing short bursts of activity that don’t require oxygen, such as in resistance training or power sports, creatine phosphate is used as an instant source of energy within the muscles. Overall, creatine aids cellular functions, even beyond the muscular system. Benefits are found in the nervous system, bones and liver as well.

Second, creatine is produced naturally in your body, primarily the liver, and when creatine is broken down, it doesn’t involve the removal of nitrogen when excreted from the body by the kidneys.  Therefore, the concern that creatine may harm your kidneys because of increased nitrogen removal is unwarranted. However, there is very little long-term research on creatine supplementation, so what may be safe in the short-term cannot be definitively determined safe over years, or decades.15 It also seems that the most benefits are derived in the first few months of supplementation, but it is difficult to determine if psychological effect of taking creatine is also greatest in this period of time, when people are expecting a benefit.

Third, you may have heard that creatine causes bloating and water retention. While this is true in some women, this side effect seems to diminish over time, and is very dependent upon the amount of creatine being taken, which is known as a “dose-response.”  Make sure you give yourself six to eight weeks before determining if you’d like to discontinue using creatine or not. This gives you enough time to experience the positive side effects, while also giving your weight time to normalize.

Still not convinced? Examine.com, a trusted resource for nutrition research, gathered all of the recent research available on creatine and created a matrix to examine the research, and the potential benefits of supplementation.22 The claims are listed, with the strength of the evidence for the claims in the adjacent column. Even a quick glance at this matrix should convince anyone that creatine is both beneficial for performance and safe. However, it also shows that concerns about weight gain are not anecdotal, but due to water retention, not a gain in fat mass. You might be surprised to see that there is strong evidence that creatine is an effective treatment for depressive symptoms as well, and may have an even stronger effect in females.

While you can get creatine in small quantities from food, namely red meats (beef, lamb, pork) and fish, the normal dietary intake of creatine in people who eat meat is about 1 gram, and intake is much lower in vegetarians.  Considering that in an average healthy person, approximately two grams of creatine is broken down and excreted in the urine per day, the amount of creatine you get from food is not enough to see the same benefits you would see from supplementation.

The general recommended dose is 3 to 5 grams of creatine per day. At this dose, it will take your muscles about a month to become saturated with creatine, and to begin reaping the benefits. If you’re interested in faster results, it’s possible to “load” creatine and take much larger doses in the beginning (~20 grams), and then taper off. However, there’s no need to take that much creatine per day unless you want to see results faster.

The Modern Woman's Guide to Strength Training

Designed by women, for women who want to get strong and lean, and feel amazing.

When you’re crazy-busy and everyone wants some of your time, figuring out your training and nutrition often gets pushed aside. Even if you can find the time, wading through all the marketing BS can feel like a full-time job.


At Girls Gone Strong, we want you to feel confident knowing that what you’re doing to look good, feel good, and feel healthy and strong are not only based on tested, reliable, and safe information from trustworthy sources, but that it is also effective and efficient.

That’s why we developed our flagship training system, The Modern Woman’s Guide To Strength Training. We’ve cut through all that noise and the BS with a sane, sustainable, and efficient approach that will help you achieve maximum results, whether you’re brand new to strength training, or a veteran in the weight room.

With four different 16-week programs—that’s 64 weeks of training—you get over a year’s worth of workouts, including progressions to ensure that you continue making progress. You’ll also get a training manual, exercise glossary, progress tracker, a bonus conditioning manual, plus a video library with over 70 high-definition videos breaking down each exercise, step by step.

We believe fitness should enhance your life instead of become your life. If you exercise in a way that you actually enjoy, staying fit and strong won’t ever feel like a drag. You’ll look forward to it for years to come.

If you want an entire training system that will help you look and feel your best, The Modern Woman's Guide to Strength Training is for you!

Additional Nutrition Resources for Women:

  1. AMA Journal of Ethics, The Genetic Basis of Body Shape: Lessons from Mirror Twins and High-Definition Digital Photography.  http://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/2010/05/imhl1-1005.html
  2. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, Methodological and Conceptual Limitations in Exercise Addiction Research.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553651
  3. The Journal of Nutrition, They Starved So That Others Be Better Fed: Remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota Experiment.  http://jn.nutrition.org/content/135/6/1347.full
  4. PLOS One, Individuals Underestimate Moderate and Vigorous Intensity Physical Activity.  http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0097927
  5. Lifescience Global, Accuracy and Applicability of Resting Metabolic Rate Prediction Equations Differ for Women Across the Lifespan.  http://www.lifescienceglobal.com/journals/journal-of-nutritional-therapeutics/volume-4-number-1/87-abstract/jnt/1710-abstract-accuracy-and-applicability-of-resting-metabolic-rate-prediction-equations-differ-for-women-across-the-lifespan
  6. PubMed.gov,Calculating the basal metabolic rate and severe and morbid obesity.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11817239
  7. Examine.com, Is low-carb really the best weight loss diet?.  http://examine.com/blog/is-low-carb-really-the-best-weight-loss-diet
  8. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Multivitamin-multimineral supplementation and mortality: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.  http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/97/2/437.full
  9. WebMD, Guide to a Healthy Kitchen.  http://www.webmd.com/diet/healthy-kitchen-11/omega-fatty-acids
  10. US News & World Report, How to Choose a Fish Oil Supplement.  http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2014/02/04/how-to-choose-a-fish-oil-supplement
  11. MedicineNet.com, What are the benefits of probiotics?  http://www.medicinenet.com/probiotics/page5.htm
  12. AJG, Impact of the Gut Microbiota on the Development of Obesity: Current Concepts.  http://www.nature.com/ajgsup/journal/v1/n1/full/ajgsup20125a.html
  13. British Journal of Nutrition, Health benefits and health claims of probiotics: bridging science and marketing.  http://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/edepot/177309
  14. National Center for Biotechnical Information, Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23241341
  15. Springer Link, Long-term creatine supplementation improves muscular performance during resistance training in older women.  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-012-2514-6
  16. Examine.com, Creatine.  https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/
  17. University of Maryland Medical Center, Nutrition.  https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/nutrition
  18. Labdoor, Inc Fish Oil Rankings.  https://labdoor.com/rankings/fish-oil
  19. Mayo Clinic, Omega-3 Fatty Acid Dosing.  http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/omega-3-fatty-acids-fish-oil-alpha-linolenic-acid/dosing/hrb-20059372
  20. Labdoor, Inc. Probiotics Rankings.  https://labdoor.com/rankings/probiotics
  21. Precision Nutrition, All About Probiotics. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics
  22. Examine.com, What Should I Eat For Weight Loss?  http://examine.com/faq/what-should-i-eat-for-weight-loss/
  23. US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2015 Dietary Guidelines, http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/healthy-eating-patterns/
  24. Harvard School of Public Health, Vitamins.  http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vitamins/
  25. Harvard School of Public Health, Omega-3 Fats.  http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3-fats/
  26. Time Magazine, Priobiotics. http://time.com/3712403/probiotics-probiotic-supplements/
  27. Obesity Action, Bodyweight Set Point: What We Know And What We Don’t Know.  http://www.obesityaction.org/educational-resources/resource-articles-2/weight-loss-surgery/body-weight-set-point-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-know
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