Many books and articles about running are written with a cookie-cutter approach to both genders. This does not negate the value of the advice given (excellent training advice can apply to a broad audience), but it does leave out female-specific issues. You may find yourself wondering why you can’t recover quickly enough in time for two hard workouts per week plus a long run in some training plans or why the heck you feel more energetic and run better at certain times of the month than others.
I’ve shared here before that I have some women’s health issues. While my laparoscopy came back negative for endometriosis, I have an ovulatory disorder and primary dysmenorrhea – meaning that I don’t have regular periods but when they do happen, they come with a vengeance. Amongst the many issues, navigating training can be frustrating and bewildering – and I know that many female runners can relate.
Tired of a medicine with awful side effects, I resolved this year to find better solutions to dealing with dysmenorrhea, especially as a female athlete. One of the solutions came in Dr. Stacy T. Sim’s book (co-authored by Selene Yeager) ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life.
The thesis statement of ROAR is that women are not small men – and therefore we should not train or eat like them. We have different hormones, after all! Instead, Sims argues for working with your female physiology to optimize performance, fueling, strength, and more.
If you are a female athlete (or a coach to female athletes), I highly recommend this book. The language is accessible, not esoteric, and the advice is practical yet revelatory. Honestly, Roar is one of the best books I’ve read on running yet – and as a coach, I’ve read a lot of books on running. What makes Roar a must-read for the female athlete? These were my top takeaways from the book that can provide you with a glimpse into this book before you buy.
Your menstrual cycle isn’t necessarily a curse to athletic performance.
The second chapter of Roar – and I would argue, the most valuable chapter – discusses how to work with your menstrual cycle as an athlete. Sims explains how the two different phases (follicular phase, which is from the first day of menstruation to ovulation, and luteal phase, the high hormone phase between ovulation and menstruation) can affect your athletic performance – and how to work with each cycle to optimize your performance. Sim also discusses Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport and amenorrhea in this chapter.
Healthy gut, healthy bones, healthy athlete.
More female athletes complain about GI distress than men and female athletes are more prone to stress fractures than men. Roar discusses gut health and bone health as specific to women in their own respective chapters to help you run comfortably and injury-free.
Artificial hormones work against your physiology.
Unlike some sports professionals who quickly give women hormones to delay menstruation (see this article from the BBC), Sims advocates against taking the pill or other artificial hormones, which honestly was a breath of fresh air. She doesn’t shy away from explaining the deleterious effects of the pill (such as an impaired ability to gain muscle mass and a heightened risk of deep vein thrombosis). Instead, she argues for working with your female physiology and your cycles, rather than suppressing them. She shares how exactly to race on your period or during the high-hormone luteal phase.
If you are taking artificial hormones for dysmenorrhea or endometriosis, Sims offers advice on how to supplement and medicate during your luteal phase to minimize cramps instead of taking potentially dangerous medications.
That’s why your hands turn purple in the cold.
Do you ever feel like you dehydrate easily, overheat in the summer, and turn into a purple-hued popsicle in winter? Estrogen is the answer! Well, it’s more complicated than that (progesterone comes into the mix as well), but Sims helps you navigate various extreme conditions so you perform well and avoid dangers such as hyponatremia and hypothermia.
Strength train like a woman.
The chapters on core strength/stability and strength training were two of my favorite in this book. Sims offers a wide array of exercises utilizing bodyweight, medicine balls, and kettlebells, along with suggestions on how to create strength workouts using these exercises. I started utilizing these exercises last week – and am having fun with my strength training right now. Most of the exercises are functional total body exercises, from medicine ball slams to kettlebell high pulls.
Sims also discusses pregnancy and menopause in separate chapters. If you are in either of these phases, Sims offers practical advice and dispels many myths, especially about pregnancy.
No matter what your goals are, ROAR is a must-read book for female runners. It’s eye-opening to how your physiology functions and affects exercise.
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Disclaimer: This review is not affiliated with Dr. Sims or her publishing company. I received this book as a Christmas gift and am reviewing to share my own opinions. This post does contain Amazon affiliate links.
Have you read ROAR? What do you think of the book?