In 1967, for the first time in history, a woman participated and completed a marathon. That woman, Katherine Switzer, enrolled in the Boston Marathon, omitting her name, to prevent her entry from being rejected, as women were not admitted at the time. K. Switzer, number 261, completed the marathon, making the history of the long-distance race, and showing to the whole world that women are perfectly capable of withstanding an endurance effort, just like men. Five years later, thanks to her battles, women were officially admitted to competitions.
Many years have passed, and the progress of scientific research has been able to highlight the molecular mechanisms through which hormones can influence the metabolic response to exercise between the two genders.
In 1992, Nature magazine published an article entitled "Will women soon outrun men?". The hypothesis was that women’s race time improved faster than those of men since time’s gap was progressively reducing, thus projecting these data into the future, women's performance would have exceeded those of men in the years to come. In a nutshell, not only women’s performance can be considered as that of men, but someone thought that it could be better in absolute terms.
The most recent data show that women use more fats than sugars during exercise compared to men, and they also have a lower capacity for the oxidation of amino acids. This substantial difference, probably due to female hormones such as estrogen, has led to the hypothesis that female athletes can excel in resistance and ultra-resistance competitions, in which the oxidation capacity of muscle lipids becomes crucial. Indeed, it is still unclear whether a higher predisposition to use endogenous fats can be an advantage in endurance sports, where the ingestion of exogenous energy sources is essential to maintain high performance.
However, the difference in the use of energy substrates in the two genders raises other questions: do the nutritional indications for training, competitions, or recovery provided to men apply to ` too?
A precise indication for women still does not exist, and the sports nutrition guidelines keep being general. However, we can make some interesting thoughts if we base our speculations on the available data.
Here is a simple example: let’s start with the indication of providing 60 g of carbohydrates every hour during a marathon. This amount corresponds to about 0.8 g / kg / h for a 72-kg man, while it amounts to about 1.1 g / kg / h for a 55-kg woman. This difference may result in difficulty in absorption, heaviness in the stomach, and gastrointestinal disorders for a minute more athlete.
Also, as regards to the carbo-load, men and women are different. Indeed, to store glycogen in the muscles, women’s carbohydrates intake should be higher than 8g / kg per day, which is likely to be difficult and impractical to manage.
This fact does not mean women should take fewer carbohydrates than men; instead, it follows that any nutritional advice should be personalized since every athlete, regardless of gender, is different from another. It also highlights the importance of training your body to maximize the digestive system’s ability to tolerate large amounts of carbohydrates during exercise to avoid problems easily.
The marathon runner Kipchoge tried to run the 42.195 km in less than two hours. He did not succeed for just over twenty seconds.
What if a woman will smash this barrier first?
Author: Nutri-coach Francesca Deriu
See also "Older athlete? Better performance"