(This article was written by former MuscleTalk Moderator Nikki & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2003 edition)
There has been a debate in the Female Bodybuilding forum about whether us girls get the best results when we train like men. So what's the answer? Well, the answer is both yes and no.
To settle this argument we must initially establish that there is a difference between the make up and composition of males and females. Furthermore, each and every one of us is different. But that's a whole new topic...
First let's have a look at the general differences between men and the fairer sex.
*Hormones: Women have more leptin which regulates the breakdown of body fat. Females also have lower testosterone (test) levels but higher levels of growth hormone (GH). To compensate for this, women's GH levels remain stable when exercising rather than peaking like men's, and females have a higher level of the test-trapping protein SHBG. Men release more fat-burning hormones such as adrenalin and noradrenaline giving them a greater muscle 'pump' and higher fat burning when training.
*Composition: Generally females have more fat and less lean muscle than males. However, fat in our breast tissue and surrounding our reproductive organs alone make up around 7-8% of our body fat percentage (BF%), making it important that women do not let their BF% decline lower than this for a sustained period. It is also clear that males and females store fat differently. Men generally get the 'beer gut', while everything gets pear shaped for women!
*Glycogen stores: Us women tend to have smaller livers than men meaning that we store less glycogen. However, we protect our glycogen stores more than men, meaning we require lower carb intakes.
*Muscle Fibres: Often girls have a greater proportion of fat-burning slow-twitch muscle fibres that boys. This is not always the case, though.
*Blood: Less small blood vessels in women's blood compared with men make it harder to reach a high intensity when training.
*Genes: This is unexplored territory. But it is known that men have more genes that produce proteins relating to structure and metabolism of muscle cells.
*Metabolism: Our generally higher BF% and less muscle mean we burn fewer calories than men. However, this fluctuates with our hormone levels meaning that women can require an additional 300 calories per day just before menstruation.
So what does this all mean? Basically the difference boils down to BF%. Men have less and find it easier to pack on lean mass then women. But does this mean that women can't train like men? Well that depends on goals.
Most women hope to achieve the 'toned' look, i.e. low BF%, greater muscle mass. If this is the goal then shouldn't women also go back to the basics of building muscle – heavy weight, low reps in order to overload the muscle and stimulate growth? This would enable women to build the muscle they require. Despite the fears of many women, they are not going to become the incredible hulk overnight without hormonal assistance.
Now to address the issue of BF%. As we have established the fact that women find it harder to burn fat then men, this is the area of our training that could differ from that of men. It cannot be argued that the basics steps to lose weight are diet and exercise. So this means that in order for a woman to keep her BF% lower she will need to be more careful with her diet and perhaps include more cardio in her routine. Also, as females store more glycogen then men, the proportion of carbs their diet might need to be lower.
The bottom line to this argument is that a woman and man can train the same way to achieve muscle growth. However, woman will need to keep a closer watch on their diet, keeping carbs lower, and include more cardio in order to achieve the 'toned' look that is so desired.
This is what Arnold says in his 'Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding': “Aren't there any programs developed specifically for women in this Encyclopedia? The primary reason is that the fundamentals of muscle training and diet programs are essentially the same for both sexes...True, it's a fact that the female body responds somewhat differently, but every individual is going to find the need to adjust training and diet programs to suit his or here personal needs. So my advice to women is to learn the bodybuilding techniques in this book...The goal for men and women is the same: to create the maximum possible aesthetic development of the physique. My advice to women interested in serious training is simple: Your muscle cells don't know you are a female. They respond to progressive-resistance weight training, as does a man's. And as far as the training experience is concerned, all that counts is getting through the next rep, the next set, the next workout. The correct approach to training is what produces the best results.” References:European Journal of Nutrition. Lipolysis, fatness, gender and plasma leptin concentrations in health, normal weight subjects.Journal of Applied Physiology. Post exercise protein carbohydrate and carbohydrate supplements increase muscle glycogen in men and womenJournal of Applied Physiology. Skeletal muscle adaptations during early phases of heavy resistance training in men and womenJournal of Applied Physiology. Gender differences in glucose regulatory responses to intense exerciseEuropean Journal of Clinical Investigations. Gender differences in resting metabolic rate and noradrenaline kinetics in older individualsSchwarzenegger A. Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding (This article was written by former MuscleTalk Moderator Nikki & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2003 edition)3 comments