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Female Athletes and Women as Cyclists

Women in Sport series of articles by Mg. Jocelyn Retamal

There is no doubt that women and men are different, and that those differences also extend to sports such as cycling, which is no exception.  But what are the physiological characteristics that differentiate us from men?

I'm imagining what came to mind;  height, weight, sex, etc.  Yes, although it is obvious, we are going to deepen a little,  and so girls and boys can understand,  and also understand our differences.  It will help to consider them when we train, so that we are not so hard with ourselves and we go hand in hand with the process!

 Just by looking at ourselves, the difference in body composition becomes visible.  And yes, it is that men and women have different anatomies (lengths and diameters of bones), and different body mass (muscle mass, fat mass), which translates into numbers in the balance and differences in performance. Simple so far…

 The amount of muscle mass is greater in men than in women, and this difference is marked at puberty;  that moment where they raise the production of testosterone, a hormone that gets along very well with the synthesis of proteins to form muscle!  (Being happy and honest, is it something we really enjoy?) Continuing the discussion then, we thank our oestrogen friends, who have a "passionate" relationship with fat, but calm down, because in adulthood this relationship is no longer so "passionate". It stabilizes and we can better control our amount of fat mass, as long as our good habits accompany us and the bad ones are left behind.

 The high concentrations of testosterone also influence the concentration of red blood cells and the production of haemoglobin (responsible for transporting  oxygen in red blood cells). In 100ml of blood an adult man has a 6% more red blood cells and 10% more haemoglobin - with this we can do better putting together the puzzle of why women also have a lower oxygen uptake or VO2max.Take women, in a 50km run for instance; we will have to provide a greater amount of blood to the tissues (eg, muscles) to equalize the amount of oxygen a man can supply in the same task.  Although in sports history some exceptions have occurred, our blood volume is lower and our heart is smaller, so I say to our companions and friends: understand why sometimes we cannot put more accelerators! 

And girls please be patient with yourselves, because this, with the right training is improving!

If we divide in two;  one upper extremity (trunk up) and one lower extremity  (trunk down) in women,  the upper limb is 40% weaker, but only 25% weaker in the lower extremity!  This is good news – trust me and stay with it girls. It is very possible that with your companion or friend, you can slowly go to the rhythm or even the most disciplined can overcome it! Not bad hey, once you understand things a bit more deeply.

But let's go back to the hormones!  In relation to testosterone, a range of normal values in men would be between 300-1000 ng / dl, while in women it would be between 15-70 ng / dl.  These differences make athletes including at amateur level, use artificial testosterone (anabolic) to improve their body composition, their brands or physical abilities related to the sports discipline they practice; but that will be another issue to review later, because the use of these substances have serious risks in the short and long term to the health of both women and men.

Regarding oestrogen in men (men do not be surprised that you also have estrogen), the normal ranges are between 10-50 pg / dl, and in women 30 - 400 pg / dl. This wide range in women is the response to the menstrual cycle, which is where I finally wanted to go, because it is already known that the hormonal variations that occur during the cycle have relevance in training.

Another hormone to consider is progesterone, one that in men has a value lower than 1ng / dl and in women it varies in the period of ovulation, half cycle, and pregnancy.

For now I leave this brief picture in summary, where it relates to these hormones with some physical abilities, to help us to better understand how some can be altered in relation to hormonal fluctuation.

You may ask yourself;  what happens with energy expenditure?  The answer is that it also influences things, and there is an energy variation during the menstrual cycle between 10% and 14%. Therefore, we must consider this when we are accumulating weekly training on our bike and putting in the kilometers (150-400 km) for longer distances, as these affect Iron levels in the blood and the decreases can affect our aerobic capacity by up to 20% - enough to not neglect it!

On the other hand, our health in general in the long term is more important than accumulating kilometers!  With this, I do not mean that people should stop pedaling, but rather that they think about how they are feeding themselves, to tolerate those kilometres better, and to ensure that they will not fall into deficits or excesses, which sooner or later will make them have to stop the activity.  An adequate energy intake (Macronutrients, Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats and Micronutrients, Minerals) will ensure a better reproductive, bone and muscular health. So yes, it all links in and food and diet is critical to overall understanding. Our health & lifestyle editor Ana isa nutritionist, and has some useful recipes on the health and lifestyle section of our website.

The menstrual cycle and its relation to training and performance in cycling, as in other sports, will be the next topic to continue clarifying or deepening in the section of articles on  "Women and Sport" and how we can optimize our diet and training in relation to the cycle menstrual.

I hope to have clarified some doubts, helped to show detail behind some concerns or simply to help you to review what makes us different as women who are physically active, and how to understand each other better, so that our fellow cyclists can be more patient when it comes to riding together, and accompany us in the training rides, since without a doubt they help us improve our performance.

Finally and because since women got on the bike, with different goals, we want to see ourselves healthier, stronger, more beautiful and continue to improve our performance!

And remember - we are already on the "Libertarian Machine", so let us support other women to get up and let us help each other to improve!

References :
 -            Peniche, C. 2011. Nutrition Applied to Sport.