I recently purchased Roar, published in 2016 by Dr. Stary Sims, based on glowing reviews on Amazon. After consuming most of the information in the book in a span of 24 hours, I can say that it is, without a doubt, one of the best book purchases I’ve made recently.
Personally, I was (am still) working on honing in my own nutrition as a female athlete but was completely overwhelmed by the amount of information out there on the Internet. I found that I had trouble fueling for my climbing workouts, felt like I was hungry all day (despite eating the recommended ~2,000 calories) and in general, had a lot of questions about how to best fuel myself. How many daily calories do we need? How much protein do I really need daily? What is a good daily meal plan for an active female in her late 20s?
I knew, deep down, that to get most of the answers to these questions, I needed to talk to a professional about my individual needs. I consulted with a local registered dietician that accepted my health insurance. However, one hour later, I left my appointment feeling confused and underwhelmed. During this consultation, I told the RD about my activity levels, what I usually ate in a day, and what my goals were from that session. I walked away with an incredibly generic assessment that told me I should be eating 1,750 calories daily. As someone who climbs or trains for climbing up to 20 hours a week, this felt restrictive and did not feel right for my body at all. I did not feel enlightened and honestly still felt a little lost.
I had heard about the book Roar through social media, and ended up purchasing it shortly after my visit with the RD. The catchphrase for the book is aptly put, “women are not small men, stop eating and training like one.” While the book does not strictly focus on a female athlete’s nutrition needs, it does comprise a good chunk of the topic matters addressed in the book (Dr. Sims also discusses the topics of menstrual cycles, menopause, pregnancy, strength training, and recovery as well).
One idea that Dr. Sims makes early on in the book is that for female athletes that want to get lean, the scale isn’t the best measurement of success. She encourages women to identify their somatotype, which is your natural shape and size. Dr. Sims writes that most of our overall builds can fit into three general categories, as depicted in this photo below.
For each somatotype, Dr. Sims recommends specific eating and training advice. For example, after taking a somatotype quiz online, I discovered that I am a mesomorph. This means, according to Roar, that I can gain and lose weight easily and am also able to build muscle quickly. Mesomorphs tend to excel in explosive sports (such as bouldering!), because we have a higher percentage of fast-twitch fibers. Dr. Sims recommends mesomorphs focus on moderate endurance training, HITT training, and Plyometrics for females with this body type that are looking to get lean. Dr. Sim’s nutrition recommendations for this type of body composition is to eat good-quality fats with moderate carbohydrates and to consider the timing of protein/BCAA intake. She even provides a sample daily eating plan (that includes a morning training window) that might work for a female athlete, as myself, with this body type. I personally found this incredibly interesting, especially as her nutrition/training recommendations vary between each body composition type. I definitely have been trying to incorporate some of her ideas for mesomorphs, such as HIIT training and a high protein snack before bed, into my daily schedule.
Additionally, right now it feels like EVERYONE is obsessed with the keto diet. So it was also refreshing to learn that for women especially, carbohydrates are incredibly important for performance. Dr. Sims writes “high-fat, very low-carb eating elevates levels of cortisol, which increases catabolism and harms protein synthesis. In other words, you’re eating your muscles and not making more, which is obviously bad for performance.” While this doesn’t mean that women should load their plates up with carb-heavy foods, it does mean that we should be eating carbs throughout the day, timing them correctly before, during, and after exercise.
She also emphasizes the need for attention to protein for female athletes. This is personally the topic I was most curious about. As someone who doesn’t eat a whole lot of meat, I’ve been recently more conscientious about how much protein I really need to fuel and recover from my workouts. According to Dr. Sims, most active women aren’t eating enough protein if they’re following general dietary guidelines, which call for eating 0.8 gram of protein for kilogram of body weight (ie, 50 grams for a 110lb female). Her main reasoning for increasing protein amounts for females is that it is needed for immunity, hormones, enzymes, sleep, digesting, ovulation, and of course, building muscle. As outlined in the chart below, she recommends 1 to 1.2 grams of protein/lb/day for strength/power phases of training and .8 to 1 gram of protein/lb/day for endurance phases (ie, 110 grams for a 110lb female, over TWICE the amount that dietary guidelines suggest). Dr. Sims also emphasizes the timing of protein sources as well. Most athletes probably know that a snack that contains at least 20-25 grams of protein is critical for recovery after a hard workout. However, I was fascinated in another of Dr. Sim’s recommendations where she suggests women have a casein-rich bedtime snack, as “a nightly dose of protein boosts protein synthesis by 22 percent.”
Overall, she recommends female athletes getting roughly 40-45% of their calories from carbohydrates, 30-35% of calories from protein, and 30% of calories from healthy fat sources. Dr. Sims also provides daily meal plan examples for what that macronutrient breakdown might look like in real life. I also appreciated that she didn’t recommend any daily calorie intake- that was refreshing. It seems like, in her view, as long as your focused on fueling your body with high-quality food that is low on the food chain, it will translate to better performance, energy, and overall health.
Lastly, she also includes an entire chapter on sport-specific fueling. This is also something I definitely struggle with- somehow I can never find a good way to fuel evening climbing sessions without feeling like I ate too much beforehand or ending my session starving and depleted. Luckily, Dr. Sims provides ample recommendations for fueling for training, includes the night/morning before, 1-3 hours before, 0-1 hours before, during, and after/recovery. In my example, I learned that I should be eating a carbohydrate-heavy snack (ex: banana) 1-3 hours beforeI train, and then consume 10-15 grams of protein (ex: almond milk with whey protein) approximately 30 minutes before my workout. If my workout last 60 minutes or longer, I should be consuming 40-50 grams of carbs per hour of exercises lasting more than an hour (ex: for a 2 hour bouldering session, I may want to consume something like a Lara Bar mid-session for energy).
Honestly, to me, this book feels like a bible for female athletes, and I can’t recommend this book enough for anyone out there looking to improve their performance and learn more about their physiology. I think every female needs to read this book. If you want to learn more about Dr. Sim’s work, please check out her very fascinating Ted Talk. Anyway, that’s all I have. Have a good Thanksgiving everyone!