Like all of our coaches, I’ve had the opportunity to work with young athletes of different genders and athletic ability. One of the questions that I’m frequently asked relates to the extent to which there are significant differences in training male and female endurance athletes. The simple answer is yes, there are, and understanding these differences is essential for coaches who work with young athletes.

This ‘bite-sized’ post sets out some of the key considerations that parents of an athlete may need to know.  I’ve written this from an Endurance perspective but many of these principles apply to other track and field events and if you have any doubts, speak with your coach!

This may seem obvious, but it is key to understand that males and females have different physical characteristics that can affect their athletic performance in endurance sports. For example, male athletes tend to have a higher percentage of lean body mass and a larger heart size which means they typically have higher aerobic capacity than most females. Women, by contrast, tend towards higher levels of body fat which means that they have higher energy reserves for endurance activities. Such differences affect how males and females respond to training and the type of training that they need to reach their maximum potential.

One of the main differences in training young male and female athletes relates to the intensity and volume of training. Academic research shows that males respond better to high-intensity training, while females respond better to lower intensity and higher volume training (1). This boils down to male athletes benefiting from shorter, more intense workouts with female athletes needing longer, less intense training sessions.  Currently in the club, we have many athletes still working on ‘fundamentals’ (this is a stage in our Athlete Development Model) so this is a little less of an issue for now but this is the reason that we adapt sessions real-time to ensure that pacing, load and recovery are varied based on age, gender, training response and ability.

Another difference between young male and female athletes is their nutritional requirements. Because males tend to have more muscle mass, they typically need more calories and protein to support their training and recovery. However, female athletes need to pay more attention to their iron and calcium intake, as they are more prone to developing iron deficiency anaemia and stress fractures (2). Therefore, we ask you to be aware of these differences and adjust the athletes’ diet accordingly where possible. (Focusing wherever possible on incorporating these suggestions into regular diet rather than supplementing an athletes’ normal diet).

Additionally, research has shown that female young athletes are at higher risk of developing Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport syndrome (you may hear coaches discuss this as the Female Athlete Triad) that consists of disordered eating, amenorrhea, and decreased bone mineral density (3). We need to be aware of the warning signs of RED-S and take the right steps to help prevent it from developing. This may include coaches working with parents and a nutritionist or a sports psychologist to help deal with any underlying issues that may contribute to an athlete’s disordered eating.  Since this is a complex subject, we are planning on running one of our Zoom sessions for parents and athletes in the near future and Mark and I will take you through the subject in much more detail to help you to be able to spot the signs yourself.

To close this short ‘Beagle Bites’ post, parents should also be aware of the psychological differences between male and female young athletes. Research shows that female athletes are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than male athletes and of course, this can have a dramatic effect on both performance and motivation (4). As a consequence, we need to be alert to the emotional needs of female athletes and help to provide the necessary support and encouragement to help them stay motivated and engaged in their training.

For now, it’s important to note that training young male and female athletes requires our team working with parents to be aware of the physical, nutritional, and psychological differences between the genders – this will help us to develop training activities that are specifically tailored to the needs of each individual athlete and help them reach their full potential.

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