When formulating sports nutrition products for women, is the concept to merely give them a little bit less of what you’d give a presumably much heavier man under similar circumstances? Or are a female athlete’s needs subtly different? No one really knows, says a deeply frustrated expert.
Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD is a scientist, product development consultant and nutrition counselor based in the Seattle area. She says she has felt stymied by the lack of data surrounding the question of what women’s needs really are, and how best to serve those needs.
“I’m looking through the program of the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. I looked through 35 pages of the program and only two presentations have the word ‘woman’ or ‘female’ in the title, and only one of those is about nutrition (the other is about ACL tears),” Kleiner told NutraIngredients-USA.
“It’s purely an assumption that women need what men need, only less. In fact we have hardly any data. There isn’t a product out there (specifically marketed toward women) that is designed off of data. None.
“So I’ve had it. If no one else is going to do it I’m going to do it myself,” Kleiner said.
Kleiner is in the process of launching a company (with a partner) aimed at women called Vynna LLC. The goal is to design products specifically for women, and to convey a message of healthy nutrition. A future goal is to fund research in the area, Kleiner said.
“Are women hormonally different? I think men maybe can tolerate a wider margin of error than women can. In general women are smaller than men and typcially pound for pound have less muscle mass. The muscle cells themselves appear to function identically in both sexes,” she said.
One of the company’s fundamental principles will be to counteract what Kleiner sees as the superficial way in which women-specific products have been designed in the past. Rather than being based on health, strength, power and performance, Kleiner said the overall message up to now has been about reducing body mass index.
“I want to get away from the ‘pink it and shrink it’ approach. If you go to any of the four or five websites of companies marketing products to women, the women are asking for strength and speed and the answer from the companies comes back we are going to make you skinny and sexy. It’s degrading. I want women to be strong and powerful,” Kleiner said.
Don’t cut the carbs
Another foundational principle of the company will be to address what Kleiner sees as a dangerous trend in the sector. In the interest of helping women lose weight, a trend toward extremely low carb diets for athletes has taken hold. Even though the low carb craze seems to have run its course on the grocery store shelves, the idea is alive and well in the sports nutrition sphere via a ketogenic diet approach, Kleiner said.
Kleiner views this approach with alarm. Training hard without sufficient carbohydrates to fuel the muscles can not only be unproductive, but actually dangerous, she said. The body shifts into a starvation mode and hormonal pathways governing metabolism start to shift. It can be hard to get those pathways to return to normal, she said.
“Women are following low carb diets because they are worried about getting fat. I saw a blog post in which a woman who was riding her bike across the US asked what kind of diet she should follow so she wouldn’t gain weight.
“These women have turned their metabolic pathways on their heads. They train hard without sufficient carbohydrates and their bodies think they are starving and their thyroids shut down. They eat less and less and they still gain weight. They show up on my doorstep really quite ill,” Kleiner said.
Kleiner’s first product will be based on the Vitargo molecule, and was developed in concert with Genr8speed, the company that has commercialized the molecule. Its a fractionated starch whose proprietary technology means the molecule can enter the muscles as fuel faster than competing carbohydrates.
“I go where there is data. The data for the Vitargo molecule shows it can get to the muscle cells almost twice as fast as any other carbohydrate molecule,” Kleiner said. Faster fuel means a better workout, she said.
Giving the information away
Kleiner said she’s excited to step across the divide from consulting on products and training approaches to actually putting out a product.
“For years I have sold information. I am so excited to now sell a product and be able to give information away. Nine times out of ten the information out there (on women’s sports nutrition) is from a man telling a woman what she should do. I want women to be able to feel better, to think better and to be able to train harder, because that’s how you sculpt your body. And you need carbohydrates to do that,” she said.