CYCLING: specificities of the female cyclist.

Fiona Kolbinger, 24, has just completed the 4000kms of the Transcontinental Race in front of all the men in 10 days 2 hours and 48 minutes, i think it's good to remember a few things about the functioning of the body of a sportswoman. Here are some points that a male coach can forget or overlook.

There is still a difference of between 10% and 15% in performance or, at least, in endurance records. We thought we saw women crossing a finish line before men; but women have arrived late in the elite competition (marathon, ultra-trail, LD triathlon, etc.), and their quick progression tends to be steadily reduced with the professionalization of coaching.

Women have a VO2max deficiency due to a lower hemoglobin mass: it implies less red blood cells to deliver oxygen to the active organs. And men have always possessed a higher VO2 than women, but the differences are to be relativized. What are we talking about? VO2 relative to the weight or not? We can found results over 90 ml / min / kg (french cyclist David GAUDU = 92ml) versus 70 ml / min / kg for elite woman athlete, so a 22% difference.

The man have got more muscle than the woman and we know that the woman has a higher fat mass rate than a man. If VO2 is reported per kilogram of lean mass, the differences are smaller: 10% to 12%. But this gap is still significant!

But the woman is good for endurance activities, with a more economical heart function (compensation for the lower Hb mass?). There is also a preferential use of fat during endurance activities and, most importantly, a best muscle damage protection, although still poorly understood[1].

A woman is less strong than a man. With dumbbells, there's no way; but related to the body weight, the difference becomes relatively small. In cycling sport, when we take the combo bike/cyclist body weight, it’s always against the female cyclist because of the UCI weight limit of 6.7kg: for a woman of 55kg, it represents 10.4% of his weight when for a man of 68kg, he represents only 8.4% of his weight.

Weight gain at puberty is normal: training for an endurance sport can be a way of control of the body mass for a young athlete, but requires certain precautions in terms of nutrition, especially when we think about the demands of the body during the menstrual cycles. Fat is necessery for woman to fulfill her future role as a mother. 

Menstrual cycles are sometimes troublesome: every 28 days in case of oral contraception but sometimes, more distant without contraception (up to 40 days), the periods appear; some athletes can be greatly inconvenienced by pre-menstrual disorders (heavy legs, water retention, gastrointestinal problems, loss of energy) and bleeding in random quantities.

Even with light periods (intense training can lead to amenorrhea), intimate hygiene is a problem with the bib shorts. As coach, we can propose a cycle of training based on the monitoring of menstrual cycles; we will discuss it later.

A second problem related to the periods is their occurrence during a major competition. Continuous oral contraception can be used to prevent the onset of menstruation, but this procedure must be exceptional, and the control and advice of a gynecologist is essential.


[1]Laurent Bosquet - Ultra-endurance : la femme dépassera-t-elle l’homme ? - 4e Forum européen Cœur, Exercice et Prévention.

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