There is a list of things that runners need in order to succeed—and energy, healthy bones, proper rest and strong motivation are among them. According to Diana Bitner, MD, NCMP, FACOG of Spectrum Health Medical Group, Women’s Health Network, these are controlled in part by our hormones.
Because a healthy diet supports the ovary and stress response, with good ovary function, normal levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone keep us sleeping, coping and motivated. It turns out that good nutrition plays a huge role in keeping our hormones balanced. We spoke with her to find out what you need to know to keep your body healthy.
The Effect Of Poor Nutrition
You’ve probably heard of estrogen and progesterone—and that is because they are very important to the overall health of women. According to Dr. Bitner, the best way to support these hormones and normal ovarian function is through good nutrition.
“The ovary makes estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, and before menopause, a regular period is a sign of good health and a healthy level of body fat,” she explains. “Inadequate calories can lead to poor ovarian function, irregular ovulation, and low levels of female hormones.”
When you have low estrogen (because it isn’t being adequately produced) it can lead to symptoms such as rare periods, hot flashes and anxiety, along with bone loss, insulin-resistance and elevation of bad cholesterol.
Why The Mediterranean Diet Is A Good Place To Start
The Mediterranean Diet focuses on whole, real food with a balance of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. This makes it a great place to start when meal planning.
“Protein is necessary for muscle support and appetite control, and it is a healthy source of calories,” shares Dr. Bitner. “Complex carbohydrates are necessary for energy as healthy calories and for replenishing liver glycogen as longer term energy stores for a work-out lasting more than 40 minutes.”
So how does this relate to your hormones? Dr. Bitner adds that if a diet is high in simple sugar, calories not used immediately will be pushed into fat. This increases the risk of belly fat and pre-diabetes, which can leave even an athlete with low energy and poor ovarian function.
What Runners With Diabetes Need To Know
“If a woman has a history of diabetes in pregnancy or has ‘polycystic ovarian syndrome’ she has an increased risk of diabetes and consistent poor ovarian function,” notes Dr. Bitner. “Even a small weight gain or a weeklong sugar binge can cause her to not ovulate and to make excessive estrogen and not enough progesterone, leading to heavy irregular periods.”
This leads to excessive loss of blood and iron, which results in feeling tired and less tolerant of exercise. It you have any history of insulin resistance, eating simple carbs can cause blood sugars to wildly fluctuate. Dr. Bitner shares this can lead to fatigue, mood fluctuations and poor motivation to exercise.
What To Remember About Hormones
“To balance hormones it is necessary to support healthy ovary function,” summarizes Dr. Bitner. Your weight, diet and even amount of belly fat can disrupt your cycle—and with it, hormones—leading to lessened energy, lack of motivation and even weight loss. By keeping a healthy diet, you are promoting your ovary function and helping set your body up for balance.