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Diet and performance in female athletes

Diet and performance in female athletes.jpg
Food and nutrition researcher Jessica Garay, Syracuse University, talk to Insider about female-specific dietary requirements, the lack of research on female athletes and findings from her work on female energy needs.

Jessica Garay, Ph.D., R.D.N., is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at Syracuse University, and she is among a growing group of researchers focusing their investigations on female athletes and active consumers.

She studies adolescent and adult health behaviors, looking closely at dietary patterns (including dietary supplement use) and physical activity. Among her primary active research areas is the relationship between dietary intake, body composition, and exercise performance among female athletes. Her work has graced the pages of the European Journal of Applied Physiology, Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, the American Journal of Human Biology, and Current Biomarker Findings.

Insider: When and why did you start focusing your work on female athletes and active consumers?

Garay: I grew up playing a variety of sports myself, and specifically chose to study nutrition in college as a result of my interest in how best to fuel for exercise. As my career has progressed, I have noticed an increase in female participation across the sports world, but not necessarily an equitable increase in research on female athletes. This disparity is especially true regarding exercise during pregnancy. Now that I am in a position to develop and conduct research studies, I have focused my attention on women’s health and female athlete issues.

Insider: Based on your experience, are female athletes aware of their unique health and nutrition needs?

Garay: Yes and no. I think many female athletes are aware of things like the risk of developing iron deficiency, and the higher likelihood of eating disorders among women. There are still some areas where I believe we (nutrition professionals and researchers) need to do a better job communicating to female athletes. Specifically, the idea that exercise performance can be impaired if you are not fueling your body appropriately. It’s a phenomenon known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), and while it can happen to any athlete, female athletes are often disproportionately more affected. There are many reasons for this, including both external and internal pressures to look a certain way.

To read this article in its entirety, check out the Sports nutrition: Female athletes – digital magazine.

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