7 nonnegotiable ingredients for women

Dr. Sue Kleiner unveils the top immutable nutrients female athletes need to achieve peak performance, from protein to calcium to omega-3s and brain-boosting choline.

Sue Kleiner, Owner

June 26, 2024

4 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Studies on females pales compared to male-centric studies.
  • We can still recommend these magnificent seven ingredients.
  • We leave out iron because an understanding of iron status is required.

[Editor’s note: This article is one of six comprehensive pieces of content available for free by downloading the new Natural Products Insider digital magazine on women’s health — female-specific performance ingredients, perimenopause, midlife supplements, postmenopause, five multitasking ingredients women’s multi’s may be missing, plus the “microgenderome.”]  

Coaches must have certain unfailing strategies that athletes can rely on as effective. While coaches must always be prepared with alternate strategies (or multiple tools in the toolkit), science often can dictate at least a few nonnegotiables. In the case of nutrition — of course unless the consumer is allergic or these make her sick — my list is negotiable. But short of that, frankly, I’m pretty firm on my selections. 

Supporting female health and performance (without health, a person doesn’t get much performance), these are my top seven nonnegotiable ingredients. Side note: We’re talking ingredients here. Otherwise, energy would be at the top of the list. Also, iron supplementation is commonly needed in menstruating females but is not recommended without an understanding of iron status. For this reason, it is not a nonnegotiable supplement. 

Protein: While the number of studies on females pales in comparison to male-centric studies, protein is undeniably a key requirement for physiological adaptations to exercise. In other words, when it comes to enhancing performance — without enough protein, people are wasting their time in the gym. 

Related:Womens health — digital magazine

We lack the kind of data that would give females a more personalized approach to dietary intakes based on life cycle and menstrual cycle, hormonal contraceptive use or those with perturbations of the menstrual cycle. 

What we can say with confidence, though, is that healthy, eumenorrheic, recreationally active females should consume at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. If a woman is restricting calories, she should move up to at least 1 g per pound of body weight daily. High-quality protein should be consumed as soon as possible after exercise; and if she is low in protein and/or energy for the day, she may benefit from a small dose of protein before sleep. 

Calcium: Similar to vitamin D, calcium consumption is low in female athletes, and dermal losses can be significant in endurance athletes. Low vitamin D and calcium, along with low energy availability and low protein, have been associated with increasing risk for stress fractures. Studies suggest that the prevalence of stress fractures decreased when athletes were supplemented daily with 800 IU 25(OH)D and 2,000 mg calcium. 

Related:Women meet their match in multitasking supplements

Citicoline: Choline is an often-ignored B vitamin. Citicoline is a form of choline that is easily taken up by the body and rapidly converted to phosphatidylcholine (PC), a critical component of brain health. Citicoline also supplies choline (half of the most abundant neurotransmitter in the body) with acetylcholine, which works every time a person thinks and moves, 24/7. Suboptimal intakes of choline are present across many gender and life-stage subpopulations, as well as in pregnant women in the U.S. 

The main source of choline in the diet is from egg yolks, and it is very difficult to consume adequate choline without consuming multiple eggs daily and supplementation. Daily citicoline supplementation has been shown to enhance attention, focus, cognition, mood and memory. 

Omega-3s: The beneficial effects of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) include controlling inflammation, supporting nervous system function, maintaining muscle mass after injury and improving training adaptation. These omegas also may offer select benefits for athletic performance and recovery. 

Related:Real Women Talk About Prenatal Supplements

Poor omega-3 fatty acid status has been linked to anxiety in the general population. A group of female collegiate athletes was studied for associations between omega-3 fatty acid status, anxiety and mental toughness. Both low blood and low dietary omega-3 fatty acid levels were associated with general but not sport-specific anxiety in these female collegiate athletes. 

A study of male and female collegiate athletes demonstrated low intakes of dietary omega-3 fatty acids, which mirrors the rest of the U.S. population. Other studies corroborated these findings., especially among subjects consuming less than two servings per week of fatty fish. 

Beneficial dietary omega-3 fatty acids can be boosted by: 

1. Increasing fatty fish consumption to at least two servings/week. 

2. Supplementing EPA and DHA via fish oil. 

3. Supplementing EPA and DHA with algae-based omega-3. 

4. Supplementing EPA and DHA through ahiflower oil, a natural plant-based source that’s high in SDA (stearidonic acid) and omega-6 GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), which convert to DHA and EPA. 

To read about the final three must-have women’s health supplement ingredients by Dr. Sue, click here to download the free Natural Products Insider digital magazine — your toolbox for better business.  

About the Author(s)

Sue Kleiner

Owner, High Performance Nutrition

Susan M. Kleiner, Ph.D., RD, CNS-E, FACN, FISSN, is owner of High Performance Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm in Mercer Island, Washington. A trailblazer and internationally recognized expert on nutrition for peak performance, Kleiner is a communicator and consultant, educator and coach, co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) and the author of 10 books, including the bestselling books The New Power Eating, The Good Mood Diet, and Powerfood Nutrition.

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