Hey girls! (and guys too if you chose to read this blog) I have decided to shake things up a bit with this blog post today. Normally I let you know what’s going on in my life running wise with a few other events, like prom, thrown in the mix. I have decided instead to write an informative post today that I feel may be very helpful for many to read, especially all you fellow teenage girl runners, and young female athletes in general. These are some of the things that I have learned through my experiences as a relatively high level distance runner who is running higher mileage.
I would like to talk with you about 4 different, though equally important topics: Nutrition, Supplements, Regular Female Periods, and Running Mileage
When you are a runner, or athlete for that matter, making sure you eat right is very important, something I think is equally important is eating enough. When running high mileage you burn a lot of calories every day and in order to replace your energy and nutrients you need to make sure you are in taking roughly the same amount that you burn. Many people have become really concerned with the amounts and types of food they are eating and end up going overboard by either eating too little or leaving out important food groups.
More and more it is becoming the trend or ‘thing to do’ to use different diets for ‘healthier’ eating, such as vegetarian diet, or vegan diet, or even gluten free diet (without being allergic to gluten), I have even seen diets that cut out almost all the salt they can. While I understand that everyone is trying to find a healthy diet for themselves it is at times unnecessary to try all those diets just because that’s what everyone else is doing, you should choose those diets if that is what works best for you. There is nothing wrong with being vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free at all, as I have friends and know good runners who are vegans and some who are gluten free, however it is very important that you make sure you are getting in the appropriate nutrients that your body needs while doing so. Whatever nutrition plan you follow, make sure you are getting in everything your body needs for your higher level for training. Your loyalty should be to your body first, not a certain diet!
When you are an athlete who trains a lot you actually need all the different types of food groups. You need the fruits, the veggies, the proteins, the grain, the oils, the salts, and even the fats. Sometimes by doing certain diets you could actually end up hurting yourself by not giving the body enough of want it needs without realizing it. Many runners, especially vegans and vegetarians, struggle to get enough protein or iron in their diet, and if you try to lower your salt consumption too much it could hurt you severely as when you are sweating you lose a lot of the salts in your body and it is very important to replace all lost electrolytes. These are just a few things of some of the issues you need to be aware of as you look at your nutrition in terms of your training and general fitness.
For me personally I don’t follow a strict diet. What I try to do is just make sure I am eating a good amount of food from every food group. I try to listen to what my body is craving, because cravings take place for a food are actually your body’s way of telling you what it needs. If you look at what is in the type of food you are craving it can tell you what your body needs. For example if you are craving potato chips, your body may need salt; if you crave chicken, your body may need protein. As an athlete in training it is very important to listen to what your body needs. I know that as teenagers sometimes we become insecure about how much food we are eating especially around friends, I have seen it so many times. However it is super important to know that you always remember if you are hungry then don’t be afraid to go get something to eat. It doesn’t matter if that means you eat a bigger meal than your friends or having more snacks than them, if you are still hungry after a meal you NEED to eat more, you have to remember that you are an athlete in training and you have to refuel your body properly in order to stay healthy.
I, by a large margin, eat more food than all my friends, because by running 110 miles a week I have to. I feel that sometimes I am constantly eating but I know that that is just me refueling my body to get it prepared for the next day. You cannot be afraid to eat more if you need to, even if it is occasionally “junk food” because your body needs those fats as well, it’s just another way for your body to get energy. However did you know that there are healthy fats you can eat as well that your body actually really needs to help it function properly? Some types of foods with healthy fats include different nuts and seed; my personal favorites are peanuts and sunflower seeds. They would be great substitutes for the traditional chips or candy to have a healthier snack. While eating healthy is important don’t compromise what your body needs, you are an athlete in training, if you need to eat a lot then eat a lot, that’s what I do. ;)
Always remember that your diet and nutrition is as much a part of your training as getting in your mileage is. It is very important that you are making sure you are giving your body the proper nutrients it needs to be able to recover and refuel in order to keep up the rest of your training.
Supplements are something that not that many teens think about including in their diet though I have found that they can be super important, especially for female runners. The first supplement I recommend looking at is calcium. The average American teenager doesn’t get nearly enough calcium in their diet and as a teenage runner it is very important that you make sure you are getting enough to help strengthen your bones and lessen your chances of getting a stress fracture. Another good supplement to take with calcium is vitamin D, which also helps to strengthen your bones and is required for the calcium to be absorbed, and typically we don’t get enough vitamin D in our diet or absorb enough from the sun. While Calcium is something everyone should think about the next supplement I suggest is more geared toward females in particular.
That supplement is iron. It has been found out that female distance runners or athletes are more likely to be deficient in iron, which makes sense since iron is carried in the hemoglobin found in your blood and with females losing blood during our period every month, we are also losing iron that we need. Having a low iron level can actually be dangerous for you because if it gets too low you can become anemic. Having low iron can leave you feeling weak and easily fatigued which can greatly impact your training and life in general. Once you mature and start having your monthly period, or once you enter high school and training is getting more intense I recommend going and having a simple blood test done to check your iron levels. Such a simple procedure as that can end up majorly helping you in the long run. I suggest getting a blood test done 2 to 4 times a year, that’s what I do, to ensure that your iron level isn’t changing too much or is going in the proper direction if you are trying to raise it up after seeing it’s low. Just like you should take vitamin D with calcium, you should take vitamin C with iron as it helps your body absorb the iron, whether that means taking a vitamin C supplement as well or drinking orange juice with your iron is up to you. Something important to remember about iron is that you can’t take it with calcium as calcium blocks the absorption of iron. I recommend taking them how I do it, when I take calcium and vitamin D supplements I do it in the morning with breakfast, when I take iron I take it with a glass of orange juice and take it about 30 minutes to an hour before I go to bed to insure the foods I had at dinner have digested and that I won’t end up eating anything with calcium in it afterwards.
Remember that everyone if different and how often they take each supplement (or if they take it) may vary, there is no cookie cutter way to do this and if you have further questions about this I recommend talking to your parents, your doctor, or a nutritionist to figure out the best plan of action for you and your body.
Now for the section I’m sure everyone can’t wait to hear about – LOL. While talking about having your period maybe a slightly awkward topic for some girls, it is something I feel needs to be talked about. Teenage female athletes need to understand the importance of starting your period at a relatively normal age and having it regularly after that.
I will start with myself as an example; I started having my periods the week before my 15th birthday and have been regular since then and have never missed a period in the two and a half years since I started. That may surprise many people as many assume running the amount of mileage I do would hinder my starting or regularity of my periods, however they would be wrong, and I think my nutrition and slow approach to adding my mileage (see the next section) has shown you can train at high level and still be healthy in other aspects of your life (like growing and menstrual cycles) as well.
The normal age range for girls to start their period is 12- 14, however if you have been very athletic all your life that naturally may push back that range to 14-16 years old. If you have reached 18 and still haven’t started then you should see your family doctor about it for sure. After you start having your period it maybe be a few months before you start to become regular, so it is a good idea to keep track of when you start and stop having your period as it will help for keeping the pattern and noticing if something different occurs such as longer than normal periods or longer/shorter periods of time between cycles.
From looking at past star high school female runners you see that quite a few actually went to college without having started having periods and now more and more you are seeing college coaches red shirting star freshman their first year and don’t allow them to compete until they have their first period because it can be very dangerous for your health (bone heath especially) to have not started your period yet. Another thing I have seen is some girls starting their periods at the normal time but then they only have 2 or 3 a year, another thing that is dangerous. Doctors have said that if there is more than 3 months between each period then you need to go and get an examination done.
It is very important to have yearly checkups with your doctor especially during the teenage years. You should be able to talk to your doctor about your period if it hasn’t started yet or if it has become irregular. These problems could be due to low estrogen levels, low iron levels, or too much stress on the body. Low estrogen levels are dangerous because estrogen is necessary for good bone mineral density and strong bones, so having it low could leave you more susceptible for stress fractures. Whatever the case maybe it is extremely important to see your doctor to figure it out and get the problem solved because you want to ensure that you are staying healthy first and foremost!
Now to a topic I know really well, how to safely run a lot of mileage. Lately more teens seem to be trying to run higher amounts of mileage than they used to without giving themselves enough time to adjust to it. Whether it is because they see me running my high mileage and think that means they would be able to as well, I do not know, however I want to take the time to explain just how I came to running my high mileage. Hopefully this will help everyone, teens and adults, be able to safely increase their mileage in a way that will help to prevent injuries.
When increasing mileage you can’t make huge jumps in quantity, you have keep the jumps small and do it slowly to allow your body plenty of time to adjust to the change. I have been running since I was 6 years old and am now 17 so that’s 11 years of running. Each year I only add approximately 10 miles to my weekly mileage, normally 5 miles per week every 6 months. By doing this my body has had plenty of time to adjust to mileage increases and thus explains why I can now handle running 110 miles a week without having a problem. Your muscular-skeletal system out of all your body systems takes the longest amount of time to adjust to increasing mileage and that is why it is important to give your body enough time to fully and completely adjust to your new mileage every time you increase. Jumping up too quickly just causes problems.
I recommend that if you want to run higher mileage than great, I love it and think it helps, but be careful and get there slowly over time, that way you can get there safely and get the most out of it and enjoy every step along the way. :)
I have enjoyed writing this blog for you and hope that you find at least some of this information helpful. I felt like this was an important blog to write and share some of the valuable knowledge I have gained through my experiences. Us runner girls gotta stick together!
If anyone has further questions, personal or general, or would like me to elaborate on anything for them please don’t hesitate to either comment, message me on my Facebook athlete page (link on side) , or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a fantastic week! :)