Female and Male Bodies Are DifferentJan 06, 2024
100 Year Athlete Book Club: ROAR, Chapter 1
Two men in their thirties host a podcast discussing a book about how women athletes should eat and train. It sounds like the setup to a mansplaining joke, doesn’t it?
Stick with us. We’re here to learn rather than explain, and there’s no one better to learn from than Stacy Sims, MSC, PhD, author of ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life.
Alex and I are not experts on any aspect of womanhood (just ask our wives). Frankly, the differences between male and female athletes were an afterthought in our college courses on exercise physiology.
We chose to read and discuss ROAR because we care about women in the 100 Year Athlete community, we want to be better coaches, and we both have a mom, sister, daughter, or other person in our life who can benefit from this information.
The new edition of ROAR comes out January 9, 2024, so pre-order it now if you’d like to read along. In the meantime, here are our biggest takeaways from the first chapter. If you find these takeaways interesting, listen to the 100 Year Athlete podcast for a more in-depth discussion.
- Women naturally have a higher body fat percentage than men. Women need a minimum of 12% body fat to function optimally, while men require 4% or higher. This means that a healthy female body will have a higher ratio of fat to muscle than a male body, which relates to the next takeaway.
- A well-trained woman is typically 70% to 80% as strong as a similarly sized man. When that number is corrected for lean body mass, however, the difference in strength is only 2.5%. Female muscles are just as strong as male muscles. The difference is body composition.
- On average, women have a relatively higher proportion of Type 1 fiber (slow twitch) while men have a higher proportion of Type 2 fiber (fast twitch). Women are better optimized for endurance sports than men, while male bodies are more optimized for strength, speed, and power. That is part of why the top women regularly outcompete the top men in the longest ultramarathons and open-water swimming events.
- Women have a harder time recovering from training than men, particularly when their estrogen levels are high. Thus, menstrual cycles have a significant impact on training—a topic Sims will cover in depth.
- Women are more catabolic than men, meaning they turnover protein more rapidly in their muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments. To get into an anabolic state—one in which those same tissues grow—women need to be more strategic with protein intake. Sims recommends 15-20 grams of protein within the half hour before training and up to 60 grams post-training. Whatever you do, don’t use soy protein (more on that in future chapters).
What’s the big point here? “Women are not small men,” as Dr. Sims puts it, and men are not more athletic, as we are often misled to believe. Some sports favor male physiology, and some favor female physiology. The fitness industry has overwhelmingly pushed training and diet protocols that are optimal for men and suboptimal for women.