As women with fat loss or physical performance goals, we have a hormonal cycle to handle that men don’t.
- Have you ever stepped on the scale and felt frustrated because you’re doing everything right but the number doesn’t want to budge?
- Ever had a training session where your brain felt foggy and the barbell felt heavy?
- Are you ready to take the next step in your female food journey?
Whether you’re just dipping your toes into the nutrition world, or you’ve been swimming in it for years there’s always more to learn.
Here are what I see as the five levels of female health and performance nutrition. Start by figuring out where you’re at, and then implement the next level’s tips to advance. Eventually you’ll be so in tune with your body you’ll be able to listen to subtle signals from your hormones to pick the perfect foods that will enhance the way you feel, look, and perform.
Level One: Whole Foods Fanatic
Our bodies are designed to eat food that’s hunted and harvested (and standing on a chair to reach the Oreos from the back of the top cupboard doesn’t count). In order to learn to listen to the natural inclinations of our bodies, we must gently nudge them back to a more unrefined diet. Eventually, our cravings will tend towards what’s truly good for us rather than calorie dense foods filled with fat and sugar.
Shop the periphery of the grocery store and choose foods where the ingredients list is the name of the food (e.g. “Sweet potato,” not “Cap’n Crunch” – although arguably, Cap’n Crunch is a pretty badass name).
Don’t have time to finish reading now? Click here to download your free Women’s Training Guide (including parts on nutrition, pelvic floor health, and adjusting your training around your hormonal cycle).
Level Two: Macro-Maniac
Hoorah! You’re a whole-foods fanatic and your friends probably think you’re weird when you order a burger without a bun. You are now ready to master macros. (Counting macros before you have a whole foods base can lead to an interesting game of food Tetris involving burgers, donuts, and protein bars – and I know you don’t want to be that girl).
If you’re ready to dial this level in, check out my Six Simple Steps to Using Macros For Fat Loss:
- Track your food how you normally eat for seven days to become self-aware
- Stick to whole foods 80-90% of the time
- See consistency as your bedrock
- Get savvy of good protein, carb, and fat sources
- Avoid surprises by entering your food before you eat it
- Keep things interesting and avoid the chicken, broccoli, and rice trap
The My Fitness Pal app will automatically set your macros for you. I recommend selecting “lose 0.5 lbs” per week if fat loss is your goal. If you want help with this process, learn more about working with a nutrition coach.
Level Three: H20, Fermented, and Superfoods Hipster
Once you’re managing whole food macros like a boss, it’s time to get a little unconventional in order to level up. By consuming a greater variety of foods we’re more likely to get the nutrients we really need. At this level, we’re also focussed on optimizing the efficiency of our digestive system. Improving gut health and maximizing the absorption of nutrients becomes our new fascination.
There are two steps to grasping level three:
1. Watch where your water comes from
The volume of water you take in throughout a day is probably greater than the amount of food you eat, and so starting there makes sense. Because of potentially harmful substances like metals, filtered water is better than tap water and spring water is better than filtered. Get your hands on the purest, straight from the source H2O possible.
2. Learn to love super and fermented foods
If you’re at this level, you’re likely a recreational researcher, so we won’t dive too deep into the benefits, but here are some of my favourite choices: chia and hemp seeds, aloe vera, spirulina, medicinal mushrooms, kimchi, and kombucha.
If you’re at level three of nutrition optimization, you’re bound to feel like a million bucks and you’ve learned to listen intently to the signals your body is sending. High five, sister! (Cap’n Crunch, who? Amiright?)
Level Four: Activity-Level Fuel Adaptor
To get even more advanced, alter the way you eat based on the type of training you do. If you train aerobic activities like running or glycolytic activities like CrossFit, volleyball, or hockey you’re going to need more carbohydrates than a weightlifter or a powerlifter (training mostly the ATP-CP system).
Carbohydrates are essentially a faster burning energy source, whereas fat is like a slow-drip. On low intensity or low duration training days and rest days, consider eating higher fat and lower carb.
On your rest days, keep your calories the same, or slightly lower than your training days. Lower your carbs and up your fat. Make this a slow adjustment and pay attention to the way you feel as well as your mental clarity. (For example, I’m at the point where I only eat 75-85 g of carbs on rest days and 110-120 g of fat).
At level four, whether you’re working with a coach or going it on your own, you’re the scientist studying your own body. Make keen observations to improve your performance.
Level Five: Hormonal Harmony
To get to level five you need an acute awareness of your body, nutrition, and hormonal cycle. Once you know how your body feels when it wants carbohydrates, protein, or fat, and you know how you feel at different points of your hormonal cycle, you’ve entered a whole new ball game.
Here’s what I’ve learned and applied to my own nutrition (and training) at this level.
When progesterone is low, your insulin sensitivity is higher. That means your body will utilize carbohydrates better for energy.
- Two days before your period, increase your carbs and lower your fat intake slightly.
- Maintain this higher carb intake until about two days after your period when Progesterone again starts to climb.
- Around the time of ovulation, lower your carbs and increase your fat, but continue to time your carbs around your workouts.
- After ovulation there is a small progesterone spike.
- You might want to eat a bit more carbs around days 15-17 of your cycle.
- From days 18-26 your progesterone levels climb to their peak and insulin sensitivity decreases. This is a good time to fuel lower intensity workouts with fat, or to reduce calories allowing your body to burn body fat for energy.
There you have it, hunny: the five levels of female health and performance nutrition. I can’t wait to hear about your journey from Whole Foods Fanatic to Hormonal Harmony. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to living in a world full of women who love and listen to their bodies!