At the beginning of my journey towards becoming an authentic voice for female cyclists at Art’s Cyclery, I had no idea how overlooked the specific needs of women are in cycling and sports in general. As it turns, OSMO says that even our nutritional needs are different from men’s, as I learned at a recent Carmichael Training Systems camp for women. One of the many take-aways I received from this camp was a women’s specific nutrition lecture. This lecture, and some extra pieces of information from OSMO’s website, cover some crucial information for women seeking to perform efficiently at cycling events and activities.
As women we have the delight of hosting a monthly reminder that we are responsible for bearing children. That’s right, I am talking about our menstrual cycles (every guy that was interested in reading this has now just clicked off this page). Our menstrual cycles effect performance much more than I previously realized because of fluctuating hormones. In our cycle we have a 2-week length of time when our hormone levels are elevated and this two week window is prolonged when taking contraceptive pills. On hot days I have noticed that I have a hard time keeping fluids within my body at the same rate that they are leaving my body, which affects internal temperature regulation, creates difficulty absorbing recovery-aiding nutrients, and can cause poor fuel dispersion. From what I have seen and experienced, our bodies have to fight harder to maintain homeostasis and as such we, as female athletes, have different metabolic needs and should therefore help our bodies by giving them what they need to perform.
Here’s some information that OSMO has given us based on peer reviewed academic articles of how exactly our ovarian hormones; estrogen and progesterone, are hindering us athletically. Estrogen has a glycogen sparing effect on the body, which means our bodies would prefer not to use glycogen stores, our main source of fuel. When our bodies don’t use stored glycogen as a way to transfer fluids and create energy and power, we then have limited access to carbohydrates needed by muscles to perform at high intensities. Because our bodies aren’t using the carbohydrates, we then resort to our fat stores. This sounds like a favor that our bodies are doing us initially, but when your body uses fat at an accelerated rate it thinks that you are going into starvation mode and then works very hard to build more fat stores, thus making it harder for women to get lean and reduces anaerobic capacity. Progesterone is also equally as frustrating. It increases sodium loss, which inhibits thermoregulation and restricts blood supply to working muscles. Inhibited thermoregulation is not advantageous because your body works harder to produce more sweat to reduce internal temperatures. This takes away from effective internal fluid transfers, or circulation, which keeps your muscles fueled and hydrated.
OSMO Nutrition utilizes three ways to tackle the hydration battle, assisted by Pre-Hydration, Active Hydration, and Acute Recovery Hydration drink mixes. All three are designed to combat the physiological struggles specific to female athletes.
Pre-Hydration mix is to be consumed the day prior to a hot event, time trial, long endurance event, and/or high intensity efforts. When ambient temps are high, or you are putting out high intensity efforts, depletion of fluids within the body at a faster rate than you can replace them is inevitable. Giving your body plenty of time to be properly hydrated slows the rise of core temperature, which in turn staves off fatigue and power decline. For example, when you have the “I am thirsty” thought pass through your head, you already have lost around 2% of your body water. The 2% body water loss directly causes an 11% decrease to your top end power output. By pre-hydrating you are giving your body the best possible chance at performing at its best and also promoting a better recovery due to increased blood flow.
Active Hydration is used to rapidly promote fluid transfer, and optimizes fluid absorption for women. When fluids are absorbed quickly, blood volume is increased, which is great for muscles as they search for energy, and assists thermoregulation via sweating and respiration. Active Hydration has a proprietary glucose to sucrose ratio, uses sodium citrate, and creates a slightly increased blood sugar concentration to support anaerobic metabolism for high intensity activities. Active Hydration allows the female body to access more carbs while exercising, which leads to less fat burning and thus less fat storing.
OSMO states that there are 3 key components of good recovery; shifting your body from exercise to recovery mode, ingestion of protein, and replenishing glycogen stores. By helping to reduce post-exercise stressors in your body, which cause the continuing break down of muscle fibers, Acute Recovery allows your body to enter recovery mode quickly and begin the repair of damaged muscles.
Acute Recovery uses a mix of whey and casein proteins to cease the break down of muscle fibers that occurs during exercise. Whey is a quickly absorbed protein and casein is a slowly absorbed protein, which leads to a longer release of amino acids and full absorption of repairing qualities in protein. This chain of events aids in the repairing of muscles and also aids in replenishing and storing glycogen. With a proprietary amount of protein, carbohydrates, and a touch of caffeine, Acute Recovery is the best option for female athletes post-exercise.
Unlike men, women have a very short duration of elevated metabolic rate after the completion of a workout, about 90 minutes. The “golden window,” or first 30 minutes after exercise, are the most crucial for muscle reparation and is the most important time to bring in specific proteins and electrolytes so as to reap the most reward for your efforts.
After researching the necessity of caring for women’s proper hydration and recovery needs, I am fully dedicated to giving my body the best chances at progress. Thanks to OSMO now we have the tools to overcome some of our physiological challenges as female athletes. Women are not small men, and I am thankful for that!