Being a female athlete isn’t the novelty it once was (thank goodness). We’re seeing women of all ages participating in every sport you can think of, and at high levels, too. Despite the surge of female representation in sport, many of the misconceptions about female athletes remain prevalent. We wanted to get to the heart of the matter, so we talked to four female athletes in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s about how they're training, eating, and managing balanced lives.
RONI REMME is a Canadian Alpine Ski Racer. She races on the World Cup tour and was a 2018 Olympian. She skied for the University of Utah and graduated in the spring of 2020 with degrees in psychology and business.
What do you love about being an athlete?
For me, so much of the joy of being an athlete is about the competition, whether it’s in my sport or just playing pickleball with my friends. I’m a very competitive person, and sport brings that out of me in a way that nothing else does. I love the intricacy of sports. I like diving into the details and really picking at those little things that make big differences.
I like diving into the details and really picking at those little things that make big differences.
What kind of relationships do you have with your coaches and your teammates?
Both can be challenging, like any relationship. Ski racing is predominantly a European sport, so we work with a lot of European coaches. I think women from North America share their opinions a lot easier than men are used to in Europe. When European coaches start working with us, it’s new to them. Their way of coaching is historically more one sided. They’re expecting us to just hear what they’re saying, take it, and try it. That’s difficult for me because I need to understand something in order to do it. I need to know all of those little pieces before I’m able to really take it in, believe in it, and do it properly.
What’s your nutrition like?
I manage my own nutrition. My process is researching things on my own, trying it out, and seeing what works for me. Working closely with a nutritionist took out so much of the guesswork, and I’m lucky to have had that experience.
What about supplements?
I try to meet my nutritional needs with food choices I make. That being said, when I’m traveling—and especially when I’m in Europe—they have a very different diet than I’m used to at home. When I’m on the road all winter, I’m living off whatever the hotel has. So I’ve become pretty reliant on a lot of vitamins and supplements. I regularly take Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and a variety of B Vitamins.
I also went plant-based this year, so I researched things I might be getting low on and, when possible, I choose foods with more of those vitamins and nutrients. When not possible, I find a supplement to take.
There are also sport and competition specific needs. I know from experience that in my sport, vitamin D is super important. Vitamin D is usually quite low among snow athletes, which you don’t expect because we’re spending so much time outdoors. But I guess we just aren’t soaking up the nutrients we need. With all the time zone changes of being on the road, melatonin is also super helpful for getting my sleep schedule regulated.
So, while I think it’s always best to get your nutrients from real foods, there are circumstances when it’s necessary and even important to supplement.
As an Olympic athlete, are you always motivated?
Honestly, that question hits close to home for me. There have been times when I’m stuck at home and I don’t want to do my workouts, or I don’t even want to get outside and move. But I always try to remind myself that after a tough workout, you feel so good. It feels backwards, but after you work out is when you feel energized and motivated, so sometimes what I need is to just be more active. For that reason I think it’s so important for women to stay active. It's just one part of a healthy balanced lifestyle.
JAELYN WOLF is a Fully Certified Gym Jones instructor, a nutritional therapy practitioner, and Head of Community at LMNT. An athlete her whole life, she competed in snowboarding in her teen years, as a Regional Crossfit athlete in her 20s, and in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in her 30s.
Your athletic career is so diverse! Tell us how you got into sports and what fuels your passion for competition.
I’ve been a competitive athlete my entire life. Every sport imaginable, I’ve done it: mountain biking, climbing, basketball, volleyball, softball, horseback riding. Performance and success were definitely celebrated in my house. That’s not what motivates me now, but I would say that started my love for sports. My parents were both very active and very competitive and encouraged me to be the same.
Being that competitive so early in life, how did that shape your relationship with sport and with your body?
I was always really muscular, and that definitely set me apart from my friends. There was always this struggle between being a female athlete but not feeling feminine. I think in this generation, it’s changed quite a bit and it’s cool to be a strong female athlete. But that wasn’t the case when I was growing up in sports. That definitely defined me and still does.
As an adult, I’m able to think about it differently, but when I was young being called manly led me to feel really uncomfortable with my body, even though I was an athlete. It was a painful battle for sure, being at war with myself because of what I looked like instead of celebrating the fact that I was a high-level athlete.
There was always this struggle between being a female athlete but not feeling feminine. I think in this generation, it’s changed quite a bit and it's cool to be a strong female athlete.
What changed your perspective?
CrossFit definitely shifted my perspective because it celebrated strong women. All of a sudden it was cool to be strong. Until then, it was a fight between performance and aesthetics. But then all of a sudden I was part of this community where strength was celebrated. That was over 10 years ago. Now it’s much more mainstream to be a strong female athlete.
Is it safe to assume that all of this also shaped your relationship with food?
It colored everything when it came to food. I had a tenuous relationship with food growing up. I never thought of it as fuel. All of the food in our house was very “clean,” and we definitely didn’t have soda or candy. But food was never framed as something to fuel your performance.
When I started CrossFit, that relationship changed quite a bit. Food became what fueled me, and it was so much more than calories to be counted. It became more about how I can perform better. Over the last decade, I’ve experimented in terms of what works for my body. It changes based on the year and even the season. It changes based on what sport I’m competing in. It changes depending on my hormones. So you have to check in a lot and make sure you’re listening to your body and giving it what it needs.
You have to check in a lot and make sure you’re listening to your body and giving it what it needs.
As a nutritional therapist, how has your journey as an athlete informed the way you help your clients?
It helps to be able to draw from personal experience. Everybody is different, but people are unilaterally surprised when they start working with me because I rarely start with the goal of dropping body fat. I think it’s safe to say that everyone I work with is generally underfeeding themselves. Some have bad relationships with food, and some just don’t know how much they need to be eating and what kinds of things they need to be eating. So it’s almost always changing the narrative, shifting people’s perspectives from counting calories or macros to learning to fuel themselves. I look for ways to measure progress that don’t involve numbers on the scale. Losing weight can be a healthy goal, of course, but if we don’t have a healthy relationship with food, any change is not going to last.
It’s also recognizing that there are so many other progress markers to look at besides weight. I’m way more concerned with how you feel, how you’re sleeping, what your energy is, what your mood is.
MIYO STRONG is a current Master Worlds Brown Belt Champion in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She is also the Program Director for Smart Defense, Elizabeth Smart’s foundation aimed at teaching women and girls self-defense skills, and a mother of two.
You have so many great things going on in your life. What are your goals and how do you prioritize them?
I train and move my body every single day because I’m teaching Smart Defense. I’m very lucky that my job aligns so closely with my athletic career. I want to compete at the highest level in my sport for as long as possible, so longevity is always on my mind. I’m in my 40s, but in my sport, I could compete with anyone from 18 to my age. So high-level performance is important, but ultimately I want to be able to continue doing what I love forever.
As I got older, I realized that if I'm not taking care of myself, it affects my other roles, such as a mother and a partner and at work. All my other responsibilities suffer when I'm not taking care of myself. So training has become more of a priority than it was when I was a younger athlete, even though I have less time and more on my plate.
All my other responsibilities suffer when I'm not taking care of myself. So training has become more of a priority.
Has your nutrition undergone a similar transformation?
For me, nutrition definitely came to the forefront about seven years ago. I was getting really severe migraines because I was training at a high intensity, I was under a lot of stress personally, and I wasn’t recovering properly. At first I thought my migraines were caused by a brain tumor. They were that bad and that often. I was in the hospital frequently, and I finally found a really good neurologist. Just in passing, he said something about doing a food journal and tracking my macros. So I looked into keto. I did a ton of research and experimentation and talked to other athletes I knew who were strict keto, but the problem was that they were all men, and women’s bodies work so differently. So ultimately it was just a process of trial and error. I was a strict keto athlete for a while. After lots of experimentation and feedback, I decided that I was better off being a fat-adapted athlete because I can use glucose or fat for fuel during training or, especially, competing. So while I'm not a strict keto athlete anymore, my nutrition is still based around high fat, low to moderate carbs, and moderate protein. I’ve tried just about every diet there is, but keto is what has worked for me.
Would you recommend keto to everyone?
Definitely not! In fact, when I'm not preparing for a competition, I’m not even strict keto, although I still maintain the guidelines of a fat-adaptive nutrition program. But ultimately if someone is interested in keto, I would tell them to ask themselves first: Are you currently drinking soda? Are you currently getting enough sleep? How much water are you drinking? Are you eating processed foods? What's your fruit, veggie, whole food intake?
I believe that the cornerstone of health is eating simply, cleanly and consistently. After that, there are definitely benefits to fat adaptation, but always start by getting your eating and sleeping in order.
I believe that the cornerstone of health is eating simply, cleanly and consistently.
Tell us about the process of coming back to competitive sport in your late 30s. What drove that, and what was it like?
It’s totally cliche, but I would say it's never too late! I went back to the sport to test myself, and then I realized how much I loved it, how much joy it brought me. So I just started setting little goals, and I stated publicly what I was doing so that I had no way of backing out. My Instagram account actually started as an accountability journal for myself. So I would say, trust the process, listen to your body, but understand that it's never too late.
MONIKA MCKAMEY is the fitness manager at EoS. She has a long career in the fitness industry, both as a coach and as an athlete. She has competed in CrossFit, bodybuilding and powerlifting.
Tell us about your career as an athlete.
I started in fitness early in life, as a hobby and side job while I was raising my kids. I just always kept after it, and in turn my passion and even my career moved that direction. I have always focused on strength sports because that’s what I love. Most recently I worked with a coach learning how to deadlift really heavy weight. It was a challenge, and that’s how I’ve always decided what to do next: what’s going to challenge me the most? I’ve done everything from CrossFit to bodybuilding competitions.
Just for something new, I decided to pursue training for an IFBB Pro Bikini competition through the National Professional Bodybuilders Association a few years back. I did that just to see what I could do, what would happen if I did it. I’ve done several National competitions, the last one in 2018. I learned a lot from it. Everything I’ve tried has made me a better trainer.
Talk to me about your diet and how that changes based on what goals you’re pursuing.
Bodybuilding requires a very, very specific diet. My diet was extremely restrictive. I basically ate chicken, asparagus, eggs, spinach, and I got one Quest bar every day. For four weeks leading up to the show, literally every meal was tilapia and asparagus. The process isn’t necessarily healthy, but I think the end of any race isn’t super healthy. Your body is always pretty taxed.
That obviously looks very different than when I’m doing a sport like CrossFit, or preparing for this deadlift competition. With bodybuilding I was running on about 1200 calories, with very few carbs. So of course you do not have the glycogen in your muscle to be able to lift any sort of significant weight. With the deadlift competition, you have to eat enough food to make sure that you have the energy in you to be able to pull it off. When you’re concerned about performance, you have to have the fuel. With powerlifting, food is fuel. When you’re on stage for bodybuilding, you don’t have any fuel at all but that's what it takes to get down below 10 percent body fat and have that look. It’s not sustainable.
What are the biggest benefits you see from consistent training and healthy living, in your own life and with your clients?
I think most of it is mental and emotional. The benefits of being physically stronger are nice, but what training consistently has taught me about how I think has been really transformative. It’s allowed me to shift my perspective because I've been uncomfortable physically. I think that carries over to being able to sit with yourself and be still with those issues that everyone has between their ears that they don't really like to talk about.
You talked earlier about longevity, tell me a little more about that and why it’s an important goal for women to have.
I think when we’re younger, there’s a lot of societal pressure to look your best. So many young women start working out with the intention of looking their best. But then after a few months, you figure out that you feel better. Maybe you can think a little more clearly, or you’re sleeping better. So then with that comes things like, what happens if I change my nutrition a little bit? What happens if I get a little more sleep? What happens if I drink more water and less soda? And throughout that whole process you start moving a little better, looking a little better. And then you just repeat that cycle. That’s the basis of longevity—making little changes over time that add up to a lifetime of health.
That’s the basis of longevity—making little changes over time that add up to a lifetime of health.
*This article was edited for style and length.