It's no surprise that men and women burn fat very differently. Here are the six major differences between the sexes, as well as actionable fat loss tips for both.
Women are genetically designed to have a lower percentage of muscle and more body fat than men, principally to support the biological processes of pregnancy and childbirth. Because women naturally have less muscle than men, they typically have lower basal metabolic rates. This means that men, with a higher percentage of muscle, require more calories than women of comparable weight. Additionally, men are taller on average than women and require more daily calories to maintain their size.
Women are naturally predisposed to store and retain more fat due to higher levels of estrogen, a hormone that works to keep the fat on the female body in preparation for pregnancy. Men, on the other hand, have 20 to 30 times more testosterone than the average woman, which often leads to lower body fat and increased muscle mass. This disparity in testosterone, the male sex hormone, is largely responsible for differences between men and women in total body fat percentage, fat distribution, and muscle mass.
Women typically store fat in their thighs, hips, and limbs, known as “peripheral” fat, and beneath the skin, which is called “subcutaneous” fat. Men tend to store more body fat in the upper body and within the body cavity, which is called “visceral” or intra-abdominal fat. Although all body fat is chemically similar, where it’s stored on the body makes a significant difference in how hazardous it is to your health. While the female body tends to store the less-damaging peripheral fat underneath the skin, men tend to store damaging visceral fat that accumulates beneath muscles and surrounds organs. "Beer bellies" aren’t just unsightly, they’re downright dangerous. The visceral fat that wraps around organs and forms beer bellies drastically increases the risk of diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, impotence, cancer, heart attack, and stroke.
Many women hesitate to incorporate weight training into their routines because they believe it will lead to brutish, hulk-like muscles. Unless you’re taking growth hormones, testosterone, or steroids, that won’t happen to you. The female body does not naturally have sufficient levels of hormones to achieve anything close to “bodybuilder” size.
Men generally carry higher muscle mass and lower body fat than women, so they tend to need more protein to maintain their size. That said, most people do not eat enough protein for optimal health. To support the biological processes of ovulation, menstruation, and pregnancy, some nutrients that are only found in animal foods are arguably even more critical for women’s health. If you prefer not to eat meat, do your best to get protein from nuts, seeds, legumes, leafy greens, and whole grains.
Due to differences in hormones, metabolism, and body composition, males do tend to lose fat a bit more quickly while female bodies fight to hold on to it. Most of these sex differences stem from the fact that female hormones readily store extra fat to prepare a woman’s body for the significant energy demands of ovulation, pregnancy, lactation, and childbirth.
For both men and women, it is important not to measure success by looking at the scale but by how you look in the mirror, the way you feel in clothes, and/or by body fat percentage. Muscle weighs more than fat, water weight fluctuates according to a variety of factors, and weighing yourself constantly will drive you bananas. Forget the scale and measure your progress by how you look and feel instead. Watching the scale won’t help you lose fat more quickly but watching what you eat will.
Fat loss tips for women:
Excerpted with permission from The Wild Diet by Abel James. Avery, April 2015.