Considerations For Female Runners


by John Stanton

Running is a great activity for men and women alike, although female runners do have a few additional responsibilities to address when it comes to their gear and nutrition.

Kris Acker

Choosing the right sports bra
A properly fitted sports bra is a must for active women. It certainly isn’t a situation where “one size fits all,” nor is it a case where one bra fits all activities. A sports bra worn for a yoga class may not provide the support and stability needed for running and walking.

Two important factors to consider are compression and style. Compression, or the amount of support provided by the bra, is available in varying degrees, from low impact to high impact. In terms of style, sports bras with “racer back” straps (also called “cross back” or “T-back”) are very popular and believed to be 10% more supportive. Alternatively, an open back or “U-shaped” strap design can be easier to manage when dressing and undressing.

At your local Running Room store, each change room is equipped with a large step-by-step poster to guide you through the bra fitting experience. You can also ask the in-store staff for suggestions about brands and styles.

Depending on the amount of wear they receive, sports bras generally last six months to a year. A recommended strategy is to replace your sports bra when you replace your running shoes. Timing these two purchases together allows you to easily track the age of your sports bra.

Getting enough iron
Many women do not get enough iron in their diets, which can result in anemia, or low blood iron levels. Symptoms such as fatigue, listlessness, irritability and difficulty concentrating are common in women suffering from iron shortages or deficiencies.

In food, iron comes in two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron, which is found in red meats, fish and poultry, is readily absorbed and used by the body (approximately 20 to 30% of the food’s iron content is absorbed). All other foods—including eggs, vegetables, fruits and whole grain products—contain the non-heme form of iron, which is not absorbed as easily (approximately 5 to 12% absorption).

It is recommended to include sources of heme iron in one’s diet three to four times a week. Consuming heme and non-heme sources of iron (for example, red meat and spinach) at the same meal can aid the absorption of non-heme iron. A tip for vegetarians or anyone whose diet is mainly comprised of foods containing non-heme forms of iron: consuming foods high in vitamin C will help the body absorb the iron more effectively.

Tara Postnikoff, a Registered Nutritional Consultant (and a regular contributor to this magazine) points out that calcium-rich products compete for absorption with iron, so if you are trying to increase your iron levels, it is best not to consume iron-rich foods and dairy products together. She also notes that certain substances like antacids, tea and coffee can decrease iron absorption.

Maintaining healthy bones
Calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone health at all stages of life. If we do not get enough calcium in our diets, the body “tops up” blood calcium levels by withdrawing calcium from our bones in much the same way we withdraw money from a savings account. Over time, too many “withdrawals” can lead to bone breakdown.

The national health recommendation for women aged 19 to 49 years is to take in 1000 mg of calcium each day. This translates into three to four daily servings of calcium-rich foods. Traditionally, we’ve been taught that the top sources of calcium are found in the dairy case, and milk, yogurt and cheese are certainly excellent choices. However, the Dietitians of Canada also recommend non-dairy foods such as spinach, sardines, salmon, beans and tofu (prepared with calcium sulfate) as strong sources of calcium. For a drinkable, dairy-free source of calcium, look for fortified orange juice as well as calcium-enriched beverages made from rice, almonds or cashews.

Vitamin D is calcium’s partner in bone health. Without adequate amounts of vitamin D, the body cannot effectively use the calcium it gets from food. As with calcium, many North Americans do not meet the recommended daily amount of vitamin D (600 IU for adults). Food-based sources are fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and herring, as well as vitamin D-fortified beverages.

Bone health and osteoporosis prevention are important health topics for women. Osteoporosis is a chronic condition where, over time, bones become weak or brittle. Consistent physical activity helps to stimulate bone growth and development. As a result, women who are active on a regular basis tend to have stronger bones and a lower risk of osteoporosis. While all forms of physical activity help to promote bone health, weight-bearing activities such as running and walking are especially beneficial. They place mild stress on our bones and cause the body to respond by building and strengthening them.

Our Run For Women Training Program
At Running Room, we offer a variety of in-store training programs, including a “For Women Only” option. The training schedule is the same as the co-ed Learn to Run program, but the discussion topics are targeted specifically for a female audience.

For more information about the For Women Only training program, visit, locate the “Training” tab and select “For Women Only”.


John Stanton is the President and Founder of the Running Room. He is the author of 10 books about running, walking and family fitness.

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