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Women’s Relationship with Running Through the Ages

I have been a runner myself since I was in the 5th grade.  Running is like a long-term relationship and watching running evolve for women over time is exciting. It’s just as exciting to see a high school cross-country team nervous before a big meet as it is a woman in her 70s in the midst of an epic mountain run. But no matter how old you are, good nutrition, recovery and overall wellness remains important in going the distance.

Challenges and advantages for women running in their teens?
Teenage runners have a lot of advantages, namely their young and flexible muscles, joints and tendons! They also have intention and drive towards their sport which carries them far.  Learning about the role of daily nutrition and sports specific nutrition will help them carry on strong into the next decade.
That said, most teenagers have no clue about nutrition and how it effects their performance unless they are lucky enough to have a nutritionally knowledgeable coach, or even better a sports dietitian in their life. I personally began running competitively as a teenager, and didn’t know much except that carbohydrate-rich foods energized my muscles. I decided since I didn’t really like other foods like chicken, beef or milk, I would just cut them out. It took less than a year for this practice to catch up to me and result in low iron. At that point a doctor suggested I see a dietitian to help me learn about performance nutrition. Not only did this impact my performance enough to get me a college scholarship, it also laid the foundation for my career choice.

Another challenge as a female teenager is adjusting to your changing body. A women’s body changes a lot between the ages of 14-19. Seeking support from someone you trust like mom, coach, can help understand these changes. Just because you get boobs and hips doesn’t mean you have to slow down your running, in fact, adapting with the changes can make you a stronger runner in your 30’s and 40’s. I wished someone had told me that in way a 16-year-old could understand.
2. Challenges and advantages or women running in their 20s?
Women’s nutrition challenges here can stem from unresolved issues in their teens. Women in this age group tend to be at risk of the Female Athlete Triad. This Triad is a result of low energy intake that results in disruption of a normal menstrual cycle and declining bone heath. Running can be quite competitive at this age and some woman will purposefully consume low calories in an effort to be as lean as possible while other may simply/innocently under-eat because they have trouble keeping up with the demands of training.
Here is agreat resource on the topic put out by the Australian Institute of Sport and written by Dr. Melinda Manore whose research at OSU focuses on the female athlete.

This is also a critical age for bone health and maternal health to ensure 1) women are eating enough calories to still have their period and 2) that their daily intake of calcium, vitamin D, folate, iron and B12 is adequate.
3. Challenges and advantages for women running in their 30s?
After working through the challenges with in the earlier decades, women are primed to feel stronger and fitter than ever in their 30’s and 40’s.  Experience with how good nutrition can benefit them—both in their daily diet as well as during longer runs—plus stronger muscles today than the days of our underdeveloped teen muscles. On the flip side, the biggest challenge for women of this age is implementing good recovery plans that include plenty of sleep, down time, and hydration. Women often take on the role of care-giving in the household whether for aging parents or young children. With so many demands it is important for these women to set boundaries that help them also care for themselves as a woman and an athlete.
4. Challenges and advantages for women running in their 40s?
I hear people say “The day I turned 40 my body started falling apart”. I suppose it is possible you are more prone to injury at this age, proper training and stretching can be great prevention tools to slow down the process. Putting good nutrition and proper recovery practices in place can help women in the 40’s begin pushing the distance in longer races such as 10ks’ to half’s or half’s to fulls. I can think of countless examples of women turning 40 and signing up for their first half marathon, and then getting hooked on the longer distances and regular running regimens.
5. Challenges and advantages for women running in their 50s? 
Nutritionally the biggest challenge for women in their 50’s is bone health. It is hard to tell a twenty-something that if she focuses on building strong bones she is going to make things a whole lot easier on herself when she is 50, but it’s true! Folate and iron become less of a requirement after menopause which creeps in around this age. They are still important nutrients but you need lower amounts. 
I recently read an article that said running keeps you younger, particularly your muscles, than walking. So eating to maintain muscle strength and stamina is always important, but women of this age should focus on eating nutritious combinations of foods throughout the day to help deliver energy to the muscles. Great examples are fruit, nut butters, CLIF BARs, yogurt, carrots and hummus.
6. Challenges and advantages) for women running in their 60s and beyond?
With menopause behind you, the body’s hormones are now stabilizing a bit. Nutritionally, the need for folate and iron is less. Making sure vitamin D levels are good and getting a blood test to determine if supplements are needed is a good idea (even in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s). Focusing on eating to maintain the good health you achieved in the earlier decades, along with ensuring proper recovery (through recovery nutrition and appropriate down time) can keep your running for a long time. You don’t have to be running ultras, but I know many lifelong runners in their 70’s still setting goals for themselves, like running the Grand Canyon and other mountain runs.  Retirement affords more time for training for longer distances and more adventurous type ultra-runs they may not have considered before when training time was tight.
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Nutrition Strategist and Registered Dietitian with twenty years of experience creating nutrition strategies that influence and inspire people to accomplish big things.

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