Male and female bodies vary in a range of physiological and hormonal ways. These differences affect your ability to lose extra body fat. The behavioural changes needed for a woman to drop weight may not work the same way for a man. If you’re interested in how sex differences play a role in nutrition and training, read below. This blog will explain the main considerations males should have when trying to lose fat and how these might be different for females.
Obviously one of the main differences between men and women are their hormonal profiles. Males naturally have high levels of testosterone whereas the main sex hormone for females is oestrogen. These hormones do different things to the body and can make fat loss easier or harder depending on your levels. Testosterone regulates sex drive, bone density and muscle mass. Those high in testosterone will make gains in the gym easily and may display more aggressive behaviour. Oestrogen on the other hand regulates the menstrual cycle, plays a role in heart health and can increase your level of body fat. Both men and women produce oestrogen and testosterone but their levels vary significantly. The fact that men are higher in testosterone explains why they have, on average, a higher muscle mass and are typically stronger than women. Those with more muscle have a faster metabolic rate and burn more energy throughout the day. This is why men typically find fat loss easier than women.
Not only do females have higher levels of body fat, they also store it differently to men. You might have noticed first hand that ladies typically store extra weight near the hips whereas men tend to rock the beer gut. This does not happen by chance. The hormonal differences outlined above are responsible for these variations in fat distribution. Oestrogen signals the body to store the extra kilos primarily around the femoro-gluteal region. Testosterone on the other hand says “send the fat to the belly!” Females are much better at storing fat because if they don’t have enough energy in reserve during pregnancy, they risk birthing an unhealthy baby. Men don’t have this issue so their bodies don’t bother storing much fat around the hip and arm regions. Although this might seem like a good thing, it does mean men are more likely to develop unhealthy, visceral fat and have an apple shaped physique.
Regardless of gender, training should be high up on your to do list. There are so many benefits associated with exercise. You’d be a fool not to do it regularly. In saying this, men and women might be better off utilising different training methods. Females have high oestrogen levels and predominantly type 1 muscle fibres. These type 1 fibres have a decent blood supply and can last much longer than type 2. Oestrogen also has an anti-catabolic effect meaning it’s a muscle preserving hormone. These two factors in combination mean that women can recover from exercise faster than men. If a male were to do a one rep max deadlift, he would need a long rest period afterwards before doing it again. A female could do a heavy lift and then superset it with another exercise. They wouldn’t need as much recovery time and can handle a greater training volume. Although having less type 2 muscle fibres means women tend to be less explosive than men, they can cope with feeling the burn much better and may be superior when it comes to endurance training. This would explain why you typically see men doing heavy gym sessions only three or four times per week and ladies doing daily fitness classes. Their bodies are better suited to high frequency training sessions and their recovery game is strong.
Finally when it comes to appetite, research tells us that women may find it harder than men to regulate food cravings. This matters for fat loss because if you can’t maintain a calorie deficit, you won’t lose any weight. One study analysed brain activity in women and men when they were presented with their favourite foods but not permitted to eat them. The brain regions that control one’s drive to eat lit up in the female brains but not as much in those of the males. From this study and a plethora of other research, we can conclude that women tend to be more food motivated than men. This would make sense because if pregnant females don’t get enough food, their baby will suffer. It is far more important that a woman gets sufficient energy for the sake of reproduction. Men can survive on lower calorie diets for longer periods of time and don’t feel the effects of starvation as severely. This means that females trying to lose weight should not drop their calories too low. They would also benefit from eating more protein as this has been shown to reduce hunger and increase satiety.
Sex is not the be all and end all but it may explain why males often find fat loss easier than their female counterparts. This doesn’t mean ladies should feel discouraged. There are plenty of benefits that come with being female. Women recover faster from workouts and don’t have to spend as much time resting between exercises. If you’re a lady trying to lose some extra fat, focus on high volume workouts, high protein intake and a modest calorie deficit. Remember that individual circumstances, goals and environment also play a huge role so find what works for you. Eat in a calorie deficit, train in a way you enjoy and the fat loss goals will achieve themselves.
Written by Lauren Carruthers