IN the past few years, the rise of female participation in combat sports has been rapid, sustained and nothing short of inspirational. Boxing, the most traditional of sports, steeped in history and tradition, has adapted to welcome female boxers into gyms around the country, into our homes via the TV coverage of the luminous personalities at the London Olympics, and even into government-funded awareness campaigns such as “This Girl Can”. However, although diversity should be celebrated, differences do exist between male and female boxers. These differences extend to the advice around training, nutrition and psychology that should be provided to boxers of each gender. Here is a quick run-down of nutritional knowledge that should be given extra consideration by pugilistic females:

Eating for energy

Energy can be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. If you use the word “calorie” to describe the unit energy is measured in, it stirs up all sorts of negative connotations. Even in combat sports, where men are more likely than normal to fall into such negative thought processes, females are still at an increased likelihood of eating disorders. Having insufficient energy for training will obviously immediately threaten performance, but negative effects can persist throughout training. Losing weight too quickly will increase the likelihood of losing lean muscle-mass. Reducing lean mass will decrease metabolic rate, meaning that further weight loss will be even more difficult. In addition, it is likely that hormonal control of appetite (from hormones leptin and grehlin) will become less effective, perpetuating the cycle of disordered eating.

What you should do:

  • First of all, talk with coaches (even medical staff) to ascertain if you do really need to reduce your weight.
  • Any athlete looking to lose weight needs to plan their weight loss to be as slow as practical to preserve muscle, improve performance, and reduce the risk of getting into harmful habits.
  • Set yourself weekly targets; plan weight loss to be around 1lb per week as a starting point.
  • Consume enough carbohydrate to preserve performance without stopping weight loss.
  • Bone health

Rapid or severe weight loss doesn’t only cause the loss of lean-mass from muscle; but also from bone. Once energy intake drops below a certain level, dieting can threaten female reproductive health (stopping periods in the short term), with these hormonal shifts compromising bone health. Stress fractures for example, are a common problem amongst light female endurance athletes. Despite the protective effect of high-impact combat-sport training, the frequent use of long distance running for weight control makes this a real issue for light female boxers.

To reduce the risk of stress fractures, and decreased bone-density, it would be advisable to:

  • Consume high calcium sources of protein. Milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and tinned fish with small bones (sardine etc) are excellent sources.
  • Consider getting your vitamin D levels checked by a doctor (it helps bone formation) and supplement if necessary (using batch tested products)
  • Plan weight loss to avoid crash-dieting.

Eating for Iron

Athletes who train a lot have a greater iron turnover than non-athletes, as their bodies must replace tissues and blood cells at a greater rate. Female athletes are at an even greater risk of iron deficiency, partly due to losses from menstruation. Low iron levels will reduce endurance capacity, threaten immune health, and can lead to ongoing fatigue that prevents quality training; supporting a high iron intake should therefore be considered by female boxers.

Ways to increase your iron intake include:

  • Eating lean cuts of red meat, like stewing steak, cuts of lean beef prepared for stir-fries, or trimmed lamb.
    • o Although rarer and sometimes expensive, venison has a great combination of a low fat and high iron content.
  • Consider getting your iron levels checked by a doctor and supplement if necessary (using batch tested products)

Be flexible – but not too flexible! The strain of having female ligaments…

As a rule, females are more flexible than their male counterparts, and this is partly to do with their having stretchier connective tissue. The ligaments and tendons of women and girls more easily stretch, flex and extend. Although this may have some benefits, this is also something that needs to be considered when it comes to injury prevention and rehabilitation; women are at a higher risk of injuries to ligaments and tendons, with the ACL rupture being a greater threat in females. Female boxers and martial artists athletes are also at a greater risk of hyperxtension related injuries.

Eating (and training) for elasticity…

  • Consult a professional to help with training for injury prevention; plyometric power, biomechanics and technique, strength, balance, and core stability training can induce neuromuscular changes and potentially prevent injury in female athletes
  • Connective tissue consists largely of the amino acid proline; a small, building block that permits flexability. Consuming sources of amino acids used in the synthesis of connective tissue have been shown to aid rehabilitation of tendon injuries. Rather than risking non-tested supplements, gelatine will provide a similar amino content (about 2 small packets)
  • Jelly, home-made stock (made from boiling a chicken carcass) and dairy can all help

 Freddy Brown is now part of the Elite Sport Science team, working with motorsport drivers and boxers throughout the country. Make an appointment for a comprehensive performance screening by getting in touch on 07746075161, or visit our website;