Gender Differences

It's very clear that there are distinct differences between men and women and they cut across nearly all domains including diet, nutrition and fat loss.

Let me state up front that the differences I will be discussing, especially many of the physical differences represent no more than averages. Usually researchers study a huge number of subjects and look at the average response. But an average response says nothing about any given individual and it's trivial to find an exception to just about any topic.

For example, despite the fact that women are, on average, shorter than men, clearly you can find a woman who is taller than a man. Despite the fact that the average woman typically has narrower shoulders and wider hips than a man, you can find a woman with narrower hips and wider shoulders. As frequently as not the variation within a gender is actually greater than the difference between genders. And at least in some area, women may show even more variability than men.

In the coming articles under woman's health I will address gender differences and I will put it in terms of "Women show such and such of a difference compared to men." and I want to address my choice of that phrasing.

That is, typically speaking, women are compared to men in terms of their physiology, biomechanics, response to training, etc. instead of the other way around. And strictly speaking it would make just as much sense to reverse it. For example, women tend to handle heat better than men (at least during some phases of the menstrual cycle) and it would be just as accurate to state that "Men handle heat worse than woman" as "Women handle heat better than men." That said, when examining gender differences I will still discuss them in terms of a woman's response relative to a man's.

A Snapshot of Gender Differences

In no particular order of importance, here is a brief look at a a few of the (again, average) differences between women and men. On average, women are lighter, with less lean body mass and more body-fat than men. They also carry their fat differently with a more lower-body fat patterning. Their bodies utilize protein, carbohydrates and fats differently than men both at rest, after a meal and during exercise.

They regulate what is called energy homeostasis differently than men (ultimately sparing the loss of body fat).

Physically, women's wider hips alter their knee biomechanics (predisposing them to certain kinds of injuries). Women tend to be more flexible with relatively more mobile tendons and joints. And while women's muscles are physiologically identical to male's for the most part, there are differences in how they generate force or fatigue in response to exercise.

On average female athletes perform at a level roughly 10% below that of men in most sports (with two exceptions). While women typically start out with lower levels of fitness than men, they respond similarly if not identically in terms of the relative improvements that they make in response to training.

Perhaps the most major difference between women and men has to do with hormones, especially the existence of the menstrual cycle. Discussed in detail later in these articles, this represents the roughly monthly cycle of hormonal variations that a woman undergoes (in contrast, a man's hormones are relatively stable across the month). This changes her physiology at a fundamental level and introduces a complexity that simply isn't seen in men. This can also be modified in a stunning number of ways with what I will call hormonal modifiers changing a woman's physiology subtly or not so subtly.

The Cause of The Differences

This raises the next important question which is what the genesis of these differences is. Of some interest is the fact that most parts of a woman and man's bodies are actually identical in a physical sense. Under a microscope, a woman's bone is the same as a man's bone in terms of it's cellular structure, it's just not as dense. A woman's muscle is almost identical to a man's in terms of it's cellular structure, it's just typically smaller.

A woman's heart, lungs, etc. are all identical in cellular structure (albeit smaller) with the largest physical difference arguably being in the genitalia. Of course there are clearly differences that appear in terms of the relative amounts of fat, muscle, etc. So if the underlying structures are more or less identical, why are these differences seen?

Whenever a fairly large scale difference between women and men shows up, it's been traditional to assume that it is due to underlying genetic/chromosomal or hormonal differences. In recent years, the idea that all physical differences between women and men, especially the differences in strength or sports performance, are culturally generated is being more commonly heard. As usual, the truth lies between the two extremes. Certainly it would be absurd to dismiss the role of environment or society and culture on women's, or for that matter anyone's, overall nature.

But it's equally absurd to dismiss the differences between the sexes in terms of biology. Because not only are those changes significant, it's actually the case that many of them are set in place before birth, before any social or cultural influences are present.

A woman and a man's genetic code differs a lot and we will be going more into this in the following articles.

Coach HB


The above information is taken from the The Woman's Book by Lyle Mcdonald with Eric Elms

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