Research Review: Nutritional Concerns of the Female Athlete

Excited to share that the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) just released a new position statement on Nutritional Concerns of the Female Athlete. This comprehensive literature review was authored by a team of researchers including Dr. Stacy Sims and Abbie Smith Ryan (and many others) and reflects the latest evidence-based nutritional considerations for female athletes and provides a framework and direction for future research opportunities (spoiler alert: there are still many!).

While much of the information presented in this article was not entirely new (thanks to the ongoing & amazing work of Dr. Sims, Abbie Smith-Ryan & others), I loved seeing it all come together into an incredibly informative resource for female athletes, their coaches and researchers! Am grateful to all on the research team for their hard work to get us to this point and look forward to future iterations as we learn more! Attached are some of my key takeaways:

  • Research demonstrates significant sex differences exist in mitochondrial function, substrate utilization (i.e. carbohydrate vs. fat utilization during exercise), insulin sensitivity, immune responses, muscle and body composition, iron metabolism, thermoregulation, hydration, appetite control, and energy availability and endocrine function, driven in large part by differences in sex hormones (Sims et al, 2023).
  • Each female athlete has a unique hormonal profile that influences her physiology and nutritional needs across her lifespan; tracking hormonal status against training and recovery is recommended to inform individual nutritional needs and requirements (Sims et al, 2023).
  • The highest priority nutritional consideration is to ensure the athlete is eating enough for what they are doing (i.e. optimal energy availability) with a specific focus on optimizing nutrient timing (carbs/protein) in and around exercise to ensure training adaptation, performance, recovery and health.
  • Menstrual cycle phase (follicular/luteal), use of oral contraceptives & life stage (pre, peri, post-menopausal) can influence energy intake and hydration strategy & warrant consideration after ensuring overall intake needs are met (Sims et al 2023).
  • Due to the lack of female-specific research on supplements, more research is needed to confirm the need for a female-specific supplement strategy. However, caffeine, iron (only if deficient!), and creatine have the most evidence supporting their use in females though several supplements are thought to be beneficial based on the mechanism of action and physiological considerations (read my summary of this research here). (Sims et al, 2023).
  • We need more high-quality research on female athletes across their lifespan (Sims et al, 2023)!  

This review clearly demonstrates that #womenarenotsmallmen and the need for female-specific research & approaches to the development of a sports nutrition strategy. Let us help! Schedule a complimentary introduction call to learn more.


Stacy T. Sims, Chad M. Kerksick, Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, Xanne A.K. Janse de Jonge, Katie R. Hirsch, Shawn M. Arent, Susan Joyce Hewlings, Susan M. Kleiner, Erik Bustillo, Jaime L. Tartar, Valerie G. Starratt, Richard B. Kreider, Casey Greenwalt, Liliana I. Rentería, Michael J. Ormsbee, Trisha A. VanDusseldorp, Bill I. Campbell, Douglas S. Kalman & Jose Antonio (2023) International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutritional concerns of the female athlete, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 20:1, DOI: 10.1080/15502783.2023.2204066