"Battle-Ready Bites: Hormone-Informed Nutrition for Women in Uniform"

By CourtesyMarch 27, 2024

"Battle-Ready Bites: Hormone-Informed Nutrition for Women in Uniform"
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Air Force fighter pilots assigned to the 36th and 25th fighter squadrons prepare to fly an all-female flight at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 25, 2021 (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL
"Battle-Ready Bites: Hormone-Informed Nutrition for Women in Uniform"
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – See the table for a list of snack ideas and food options designed to meet the nutritional demands of women with consideration for their hormonal changes. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

When considering the food people eat and why, hormones are often overlooked. Yet, these chemical messengers and their fluctuations can significantly impact the body's nutrient needs. Unlike men who typically maintain steady levels of testosterone over time, women undergo a distinct monthly hormonal cycle tied to their menstrual periods. With the increasing representation of women in the military, comprising about 19.1% of the total military force, understanding these hormonal changes, their timing, and the dietary adjustments they necessitate becomes paramount.

Hormones and Nutrition:

A typical menstrual cycle consists of menstruation (day 1-7), follicular (day 8-12), ovulation (day 13-15), and luteal phases (day 16-28). Hormone levels fluctuate during each stage, influencing energy metabolism and nutritional needs.

- Carbohydrates: Women should maintain consistent carbohydrate intake throughout the cycle, increasing during the luteal and follicular phases to support glucose production, especially during high-demand exercises. Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grain breads, pastas and rice, fruits, and sweet potatoes.

- Protein: Adequate protein intake (0.8-1.6 g/kg) is crucial, particularly during the luteal phase when progesterone levels are increased. This is to counter elevated rates of protein breakdown and support muscle repair and growth. Good sources of protein include lean meats such as turkey and chicken breast, nuts, seeds, and low-fat yogurt.

- Fluid Balance: Hormones affect fluid regulation, with increased risk of exercise-associated hyponatremia, low sodium levels in the blood, during the luteal phase when progesterone levels are high. Proper hydration strategies are vital. Aiming for 1 ml/kg plus sweat and urinary losses for most women that is between 2-3 liters of fluid. Choosing water or low-calorie fluids that are free of additives and caffeine are the best choices.

- Iron: Maintaining optimal iron levels is crucial for aerobic adaptation, endurance, and overall performance. The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 18 mg/day for women 19 – 51 years old. Women, especially those engage in regular physical activity, have an increased risk of low iron levels. This can occur due to inadequate intake or heavy menstrual bleeding. Women should aim to eat foods high in iron to include dark green vegetables, sweet potatoes, eggs, lean meats, and seafood like shrimp and oysters.

- Vitamin C: Although the relationship between vitamin C and hormone fluctuations is less defined, vitamin C is important in its role to help with iron absorption. The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 19 mg/day for women. Women should ensure they are eating a diet that contains adequate amounts of vitamin C to support their iron needs.

Understanding how hormones affect the nutritional needs of women is important especially for women in physically demanding roles in the military. To optimize performance, dietary choices should align with these changing needs.