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ESTHER GOLDSMITH: Fitrwoman and the Science of Training Smart

Esther Goldsmith is the KOTWF sport physiologist and, in the day, works for sports science & data company, Orreco, and FitrWoman, the app that enables female athletes to track their menstrual cycle and adapt their training to what their body needs. Discover Esther's thoughts on the power of accurate and relevant numbers, her relationships with her clients at KOTWF and FitrWoman, and the undersold power of rest.

Esther grew up as a dancer and the high performance behaviours day in day out that working as a professional dancer involved led to her completing an MSc in Applied Sport and Exercise Physiology. Here she found a real love for endurance sport. Now a pilates instructor and sports physiologist her love for understanding the numbers and what goes on inside an athlete's body are what really interests her, "Physiology is a great way to avoid this over-training/under-recovering trap." This has taught her that people are individuals with specific needs and this is what she aims to bring to her practice and work.

It hasn’t always been appreciated, but men and women are fundamentally different in how their bodies work and what they need to optimise performance (in sport and in life). The power of testosterone and male hormones have long been a well-accepted topic in any conversation about athletic performance, but the power of female hormones is still vastly overlooked. "Estrogen and progesterone can have positive and negative impacts on the female athlete. Our aim is to help athletes understand how their body works so that they can best navigate their cycles and limit the potential negative effects of these hormones." When she's not doing her amazing work at KOTWF, Esther works with female athletes as part of Orreco’s female athlete programme and their app, FitrWoman, which is designed to help women understand their bodies and how the hormonal fluctuations that occur in the menstrual cycle can affect their unique physiology.

The different hormonal profiles seen at different times in the cycle may mean that specific training, nutrition and lifestyle considerations should be applied. The app is designed to help users embrace these so that they can perform at their best on any given day. Esther and her colleagues at FitrWoman help "females train likes females."

One of the first thing Esther and her colleagues looks at when taking on a new client is their nutrition. She explains that "the power of nutrition is incredible!" The vast majority of menstrual cycle symptoms that can negatively impact athletic performance stem from an increased level of inflammation in the body that occurs pre-menstrually and during menstruation; nutrition is one of the best ways to address this.

Putting an emphasis on antioxidants (e.g. berries, leafy greens, citrus fruits, green tea, dark chocolate) and anti-inflammatory foods (e.g. those high in Omega 3’s like oily fish, nuts and seeds, olive oil) can really help women manage their symptoms and recover from exercise.

One of the other key nutritional considerations for females is protein intake. In the second half of the menstrual cycle, progesterone is increased and this can mean some women are more prone to a catabolic state (i.e. muscle protein breakdown occurs quicker). Bolstering exercise with protein beforehand can help to offset this.

But it’s not just about nutrition. Recovery modalities and sleep patterns are crucial too, and likely to be different for everybody. The key thing is to start tracking and logging recovery properly. By doing this, athletes can work out what is best for them as an individual and get the most out of their training. Most importantly, by using data from questionnaires, wellness trackers like Oura ring and Whoop bands, and blood biomarker analysis, the team at Orreco/FitrWoman can assess the athlete's wellbeing, map out their menstrual cycle in phases and help implement interventions. The coaching platform, FitrCoach, allows the athlete and their coaching staff to adapt training, recovery and nutrition as necessary throughout the cycle to make sure they get the most out of themselves when it matters.

In a Strava poll answered by over 14,000 users in 6 different countries, FitrWoman discovered that around 2/3 participants regularly experienced negative effects on their training because of their menstrual cycle. More worrying still is that if they had a coach, 81% of women didn't speak to them about it. "The conversation about periods and menstrual cycles has increased in the past years, but we need to re-frame menstrual cycles and periods in a more positive manner and break the taboo," concludes Esther. "After all, it’s something that sets us apart from males and is a really great sign of health."

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