Results from a recent study by a team of sports nutritionists suggest that women who are fit and healthy tend to burn more fat while exercising, compared to men.
The study, which included two new studies by scientists led by the University of Bath’s Center for Nutrition, Exercise and Metabolism, analyzed the factors that most influenced an individual’s ability to burn body fat while exercising.
How the body burns fat is important to all of us for good metabolic health, insulin sensitivity, and reducing the risk of developing type II diabetes. However, in endurance sports competitions like running or cycling, the way your body burns fat can mean the difference between success and failure.
Previous research by the same team has shown that the body’s carbohydrate stores replenish quickly as they exercise in endurance athletes participating in distance competitions. This means that an athlete’s ability to use their fat reserves to fuel them becomes essential to their performance.
The first study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Medicine, included 73 healthy adults aged 19 to 63 years (41 men; 32 women). It tested lifestyle and biological factors for optimal fat burning by asking participants to take a cycling fitness test and measuring key indicators.
Their results showed that women and those who were physically fitter across all age groups were more efficient at burning fat while exercising.
The second related paper, published in the journal Experimental Physiology, went further in this phase to examine what molecular factors in our muscles and adipose tissue determine how fat is burned. In this experiment, researchers took fat and muscle biopsies from the participants to analyze how differences in proteins in fat and muscle tissue could affect their ability to burn fat.
It has been found that the proteins in muscle that are involved in breaking down stored fat into smaller fatty acids and proteins that are involved in transporting these fatty acids to the mitochondria in muscle (the powerhouse of cells) are consistent with a larger one Correlated Fat Burning Ability. However, the molecular factors examined did not explain why women burned more fat than men.
Lead author of both articles, Ollie Chrzanowski-Smith of the University of Bath, stated, “Our study found that women tend to rely more on fat for fuel than men while exercising, helping explain why being female has a metabolic benefit for insulin sensitivity appears to be an important marker of metabolic health. “
The researchers found that the ability to burn fat for fuel appears to protect against future weight gain and ensures good weight management. However, they caution that the body’s ability to burn fat should not be equated with the ability to lose weight. Losing weight is mainly caused by an energy deficit (i.e. consuming fewer calories than we use). When it comes to weight loss, especially when people might be overweight, they emphasize the importance of diet and exercise.
Dr. Javier Gonzalez, also from the University of Bath’s Department of Health, added: “Weight management is mostly about energy balance. To lose weight, we need to eat fewer calories than we use through our resting metabolism and physical activity. A higher ability to fat than Burning fuel appears to be somewhat protected against future weight gain, which could be related to how fat burning affects food intake and energy expenditure.
“Ultimately, having a greater ability to burn fat for fuel has potential benefits for endurance athletes as it delays the time they run out of precious carbohydrates,” added Gonzalez.