Female cyclists especially need to find a sensible approach to weight and body-fat loss. The casualties of excessive dieting can include a healthy menstrual cycle, strong bones and a comfortable feeling about food—for more information, read Chapters 2.6 and 3.5, and the story of Lola in the next chapter, on distance running. Although we need studies to investigate this, it’s likely that the negative effects of low energy availability on bone are more pronounced in cyclists than on athletes in other ‘thin-build sports’, since cycling is a non-weight-bearing activity and does not have the same protective effect on bone as running or gymnastics do.
Calcium intake is also important for building healthy bones (Chapter 2.6). Some female cyclists contribute to their weight problems by overdoing pre-race fuelling and post-race recovery eating. This is especially true of young riders who are stepping up to a higher level of competitive racing. The race distances in women’s cycling are usually much shorter than in men’s racing, and it’s easier to follow ‘male models
And take in more energy than is actually needed. Many young riders also over-fuel for fear of ‘bonking’ or being dropped from a race. A sports dietitian can help you to understand the real fuel and nutritional needs of racing and develop a plan that hits your individual targets. Sometimes it takes a season or two of racing before young riders develop the strength, endurance and tactics to stay with the pack.
Overeating will not only hinder this process, it will create another set of problems. Inadequate iron intake may be an issue for all cyclists with a heavy race program, since the focus on carbohydrate for fuel needs can override concern about overall micronutrient intake. This may be especially true for female cyclists, who need more iron than males but less energy. Read Chapter 2.5 and see how adequate iron intake can be meshed with other nutritional goals, such as a high fuel intake or reducing body-fat levels