While training for an endurance event can help you build stamina, strength and confidence, there’s no doubt that all the hard work is tough on your body. Running puts extra pressure not just on your muscles and bones, but also on your internal organs, including your heart.
To be safe, women should not only get the standard tests—from cholesterol screenings to chemistry panels—but also a few additional exams, said Pamela Peeke, a spokesperson with the American College of Sports Medicine and author of New York Times’ Best Seller Body For Life. With unique hormonal and endocrine systems, women need these extra screenings to make sure they’re ready to start training.
“Women walk around with iron deficiencies like there’s no tomorrow,” Peeke said. If your iron levels are low, you won’t have the energy required to train. Luckily, there’s an easy fix once you’re diagnosed: iron supplements.
Women are much more prone to urinary tract infections than men, and these can become a serious pain when you’re on the tenth mile of a marathon, Peeke said. If you have a urinary tract infection, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics.
An additional benefit to the urinalysis is that your doctor can check for diabetes and pre-diabetes. If you’re an undiagnosed diabetic, intensive training can lead to dangerous complications, Peeke said. If you’re pre-diabetic, your training and a healthy diet can help drop your blood sugar into normal range—great incentive for working hard.
“I always check the thyroid because women have a higher rate of [problems] than men,” Peeke said. If your thyroid is not working properly, you could have low energy, difficulty with weight management, bloating or other symptoms that can make intensive training extremely difficult, if not impossible.
In addition to these tests, Peeke also recommends talking to your doctor about any additional concerns, as well as visiting a registered dietician who specializes in sports nutrition.
"A lot of women go into endurance sports to drop weight," she said. "You should never do that."
Women in particular have a tendency to gain weight when they train as they eat more calories to compensate for the additional energy burned. By working with a nutrition expert, "you put together a plan that will give you enough fuel and enough protein to maintain an optimal weight," Peeke said.