Us female athletes are lucky. Our bodies provide us with a clear signal that our energy needs are on track via our monthly cycle. Missing a period, cycles longer than 45 days (28 days is more common), or a complete loss of your period for several months (athletic amenorrhea) is a sign that you might not be meeting your body’s energy needs.*
Athletic amenorrhea is common amongst female runners because we need a tremendous amount of fuel to keep up with the energy demands of distance running. When our bodies are under-fueled, our brains slow the release of important hormones to conserve energy. A skipped period should not be ignored or considered a normal response to training. Estrogen, the hormone that controls our cycle, plays a vital role in keeping our bones healthy and our moods high. Low estrogen levels put you at a higher risk for stress fractures in the short-term and osteoporosis in the long-term (not to mention other health issues that can result from poor nutrition).
The good news is that getting your cycle back on track can be fun and delicious. Maybe you just need to add more butter into your repertoire, and who doesn’t love butter? All joking aside, grass-fed, organic butter is an extremely nutrient-dense food as its high in healthy saturated fat, vitamins A, D, and E, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)—a fatty acid proven to help your body repair its hardworking muscles. But butter isn’t the only healthy fat to incorporate into your cooking (there are plenty of vegan and non-dairy options, see list below).
Adding a variety of healthy fats into your diet can help balance your hormones and avoid athletic amenorrhea. Fat (even whole food saturated fat) is essential for a healthy metabolism, balanced hormones, and satiation (less snacking!)—all of which prevent weight gain. Nourishing fats are essential for brain function, and studies show fat helps prevent depression, balances our emotions, and improves concentration. Plus, fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K can’t be digested without fat in our diets. Fat helps transport these essential nutrients to every system in our body!
For athletes looking to go the distance, fat is one of the best sources of usable energy for endurance endeavors. It provides balanced energy, instead of a sugar high and crash. Medium chain fatty acids (found in coconut oil and butter) are especially efficient since they’re metabolized faster than long-chain fatty acids.
To incorporate more healthy fat into your day try adding nuts and seeds or an avocado with sea salt as a snack, add yogurt and nut butter to a smoothie, top a Power Bowl with a homemade sauce (the sauce recipes in Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow are easy to make and delicious) or try my new favorite soup recipe.
Besides cooking nutrient-dense balanced meals, reducing stress, regular exercise, and good sleep habits can all help keep your hormones happy.
Elyse’s Favorite Hormone-Balancing Foods for Female Athletes
- Grass-fed butter
- Virgin coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil
- Nuts and seeds (nut butter, homemade nut milk)
- Free-range eggs
- Grass-fed red meat
- Organic dark meat chicken
- Wild fish, wild salmon, canned sardines
- Organic whole-milk yogurt, full-fat Greek yogurt
- Aged cheeses like parmesan
- Dark chocolate
*Elyse is not a doctor and always recommends working with a health care provider to address other underlying medical issues that can cause amenorrhea or irregular periods.