Book Review ROAR: How to match your food and fitness to your female physiology for optimum performance, great health, and a strong, lean body for life.
Ladies, the next time you are worried about the timing of your period for a race—or game or outdoor adventure—pick up a copy of Roar. Author Stacy Sims, Ph.D., offers a step-by-step guide to hacking the PMS blues while also offering a detailed explanation of how women’s hormones impact metabolic rates, brain function, strength, blood osmolality, and athletic performance in extreme environments. The theme of the book is “women are not little men,” and Sims spends the first two chapters explaining differences in women’s physiology and the importance of fueling and training differently than men. Her two biggest points are easy to remember: eat protein within the first 30 minutes of waking up to keep cortisol levels in balance, eat protein within 30 minutes of finishing a workout to keep your body from burning muscle.
Once you have worked Sims hormone-related advice on nutrition and training into your routine, toss the book under your bed and don’t look at it again until you are pregnant or going through menopause. Chapter 3—once again with a focus on hormone levels – offers simple suggestions and explanations for women athletes after menopause. Did you know postmenopausal women have a harder time digesting fructose than premenopausal women? After menopause, fructose leads to fatty acids building up in the bloodstream, metabolic problems, high triglyceride levels and insulin resistance! Chapter 4 presents similarly helpful information for pregnant athletes and begins with an interesting list of Obstetrics and Gynecology guidelines from the 1980s that have been debunked—including the old guideline pregnant women should keep their heart rates under 140 bpm and not exercise for more than 15 minutes a day.
Again, unless you have a hormone-related question, keep Sims book under your bed. The model on the cover of the book—dressed in booty shorts and layers of eye make-up—will piss off women who take themselves seriously as athletes. The bright pink highlighting of the title will pick a nerve with these same athletes. Why do women have to be athletes who are also dolled up and painted in pink? Despite my frustrations with the cover of the book, I failed to hide Roar from myself and obsessed over the information in it for weeks. Why? Because Roar is the only comprehensive-yet-easy-to-read book currently available for women athletes. I’d finish one chapter, then frantically flip back through previous chapters to highlight and make lists of all the tips Sims offers on training, dealing with PMS, racing in extreme environments, managing stomach complaints, and losing weight.
Yes, losing weight.
The book’s mission is to “empower” women to be in the “healthiest, fittest, strongest” shape of their lives. I had hoped Roar would fulfill this mission with examples of curvy women kicking ass. Part II of the book called Your Female Fitness Foundation attempts to tackle women’s body image issues with a message of “strong is the new skinny.” It begins with an interesting story about the cyclo-cross phenomenon Kate Compton and her eventual coming to terms with the number on the scale matching her big, powerful body capable of winning National and World titles. But after Compton’s story, Sims lapses into the same marginalizing message beauty magazines, advertisements, and the media have been telling those of us with curvy figures since we were toddlers: if you were born with a bigger body type, then you need to watch what you eat more than the other little girls.
Sims begins by telling readers not to worry about numbers on a scale but then proceeds to not only give women numbers to worry about in the form of a weight chart but also the option to match those numbers with a description of a body figure to worry about. The poor endomorphs—Sims describes them as “softer and rounder” and tending “to store fat more easily.” Sims introduces the categories for women’s figures below the heading “You Are More Than Just a Number.” Her message is clear: instead of a number, you are a shape. And if your shape is an endomorph, well then, too bad for you. “The most difficult challenge for endomorphs,” she writes, “is perhaps to find out that they are in fact an endomorph.” Up until this point in the book, Sims has created a consistent thread about why dieting is bad for women’s physiology—it slows metabolisms, spikes cortisol levels, and tricks women’s bodies into storing fat and burning muscle. But for the women cursed with the endomorph figure, she suggests a form of dieting: “eat the right foods that will fire your metabolism,” “limit your carbohydrate intake to maximize body composition,” and don’t snack.
Roar doesn’t do as much for the body positivity movement on the mind of many women athletes as I had hoped—especially women athletes with endomorph figures. But for women who are interested in feeling better—and competing better—in the throws of their menstrual cycle, Roar is an essential guidebook. It is also a useful tool for athletes and coaches interested in learning more about women’s specific recovery, stomach issues, and sports nutrition. And let’s face it: Roar is the only book on the market focused on women’s specific physiology written by a woman athlete. So, before your next period, I highly recommend picking up a copy.
Watch this video for a taste of what Sims’ has to offer about hydration for ultra endurance athletes.