Men have to work harder to burn fat, study suggests

Men have to work harder to burn fat, study suggests

03/16/2021

Men have to work harder to keep off their beer bellies as women burn more fat during exercise, study reveals

  • A team of sports nutritionists have found women tend to burn more fat than men 
  • The team observed 73 adults between the ages of 19 and 63 during cycling tests 
  • Women have ‘a greater reliance on fat as a fuel source’ during exercise than men

Men have to work harder than women to burn off their fat reserves, a new British study suggests.  

During cycling tests at the University of Bath, 73 adults between the ages of 19 and 63 years, 32 of whom were women, had their fat oxidation levels measured.

Overall, the women tended to burn more fat when they exercised compared with men in a set time period, likely because they have a greater reliance on fat as a fuel source during exercise than men, the experts reveal. 

Participants ranged from healthy to overweight and obese, suggesting this sex-based difference occurs regardless of body weight. 

Females who are fit and healthy tend to burn more fat when they exercise than men, according to new research from a team of sports nutritionists at the University of Bath (stock image)

Study author Dr Javier T. Gonzalez and his colleagues included people with a wide range body mass indexes (BMIs) – from 18.6 to 32.9.

‘[Our sample] should be applicable to a large proportion of the general population,’ he told MailOnline. 

‘Some were obese but no-one had any diagnosed metabolic condition like diabetes.’ 

WHAT IS BODY MASS INDEX (BMI)? 

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height. 

Standard Formula:

  • BMI = (weight in pounds / (height in inches x height in inches)) x 703

Metric Formula:

  • BMI = (weight in kilograms / (height in meters x height in meters))

Measurements:

  • Under 18.5: Underweight
  • 18.5 – 24.9: Healthy
  • 25 – 29.9: Overweight
  • 30 or greater: Obese 

The team tested the lifestyle and biological factors for optimal fat burning by asking participants to take part in a cycling fitness test and measuring key indicators, like ‘peak VO2’ – their highest possible oxygen uptake.  

Their results, detailed in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Medicine, found that females and those who were physically fitter, right across the age ranges, burnt fat more efficiently. 

How the body burns fat can make the difference between success and failure in endurance sport competitions, such as running or cycling. 

The University of Bath team have published a second related paper in the journal Experimental Physiology this month.

For this study, researchers took fat and muscle biopsies from 36 healthy adult participants of both sexes to analyse how differences in the proteins in fat and muscle tissue might affect the ability to burn fat. 

They found that the presence of proteins in muscle that are involved in breaking down stored fat into smaller fatty acids correlated with a greater ability to burn fat. 

Proteins involved in transporting those fatty acids into the mitochondria of cells in muscle also consistently correlated with a greater ability to burn fat. 

The molecular factors explored did not explain why females burned more fat than males, however. 

Women displayed higher relative rates of fat oxidation than men, but this was unexplained by the proteins measured in this study, suggesting other factors determine sex‐differences in fat metabolism.  

‘Understanding the mechanisms behind these sex differences in fuel use may help explain why being female seems to confer a metabolic advantage for insulin sensitivity, an important marker of metabolic health,’ study author Ollie Chrzanowski-Smith. 

Insulin sensitivity, which is is beneficial to the body, refers to how sensitive the body’s cells are in response to insulin.

High insulin sensitivity allows cells of the body to use blood glucose more effectively, reducing blood sugar. Low insulin sensitivity can lead to a variety of health problems like diabetes.

Researchers caution that the body’s ability to burn fat should not be equated with an ability to lose weight. 

Losing weight is primarily produced by an energy deficit – when we consume fewer calories than we expend.  

Researchers stress the importance of diet and exercise, particularly for overweight and obese individuals. 

‘Weight management is mainly about energy balance, so to lose weight we need to eat fewer calories than we expend through our resting metabolism and physical activity,’ said Dr Gonzalez.

‘However, people with a higher ability to burn fat as a fuel seem to be somewhat protected against future weight gain, which might be related to how fat burning affects food intake and energy expenditure.

‘Ultimately, a greater capacity to burn fat as a fuel has potential benefits for endurance athletes, by delaying the timepoint when they run out of precious carbohydrate stores.’  

Scientists confirm a marked difference in weight loss between the sexes even when they stick to same amount of calories 

In 2020, researchers observed a difference in weight loss between the sexes even when they stick to same amount of calories. 

Men found it easier to lose weight than women, they revealed. 

The findings came from The Direct Trial, a project led by Newcastle and Glasgow universities involving almost 300 men and women with type 2 diabetes.

They were put on a low-calorie (850 calories a day) diet to see if this would help them quickly lose 15 kg (about 2 st 3 lb) — a drop in weight it was hoped would reverse their diabetes.

‘Both men and women were on the same amount of calories so there should be no confusion,’ says Dr George Thom, a research dietitian at the University of Glasgow and co-author of the latest research.

The initial results, published in 2017 in The Lancet, found that half of the participants went into remission from type 2 diabetes.

But a new analysis (based on studying participants for another three years, published in the journal Diabetic Medicine) found that despite being asked to stick to virtually identical soups and shakes, there was a marked difference between the sexes.

After a year on the diet, the men had lost, on average, 11 per cent of their body weight. Women, by comparison, lost 8.4 per cent.

And the gap continued. After two years, men lost 8.5 per cent of their body weight and women lost 6.9 per cent. So why might this be?

‘We had asked people to stop all their normal foods and replace them with four formulated shakes or soups a day, so it’s really quite strict, and this ‘black and white’ approach to weight loss may suit men better,’ said Dr Thom.

In other words, they stick to it.

‘That’s possibly because the diet culture targets women from an early age, whereas men are more likely to feel the need to lose weight in middle age, so women are more diet-weary,’ he adds.

Men also typically carry more weight in visceral fat — the invisible fat around vital organs — whereas women typically have more subcutaneous fat (stored under the skin) around their thighs, bottom and hips.

This fat distribution pattern in females tends to be protective against a host of metabolic health problems — a combination of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, according to various studies which have shown that subcutaneous fat is associated with better health.

On the other hand, the visceral fat seen in men leaves them at greater risk, particularly from cardiovascular disease.

The result is that when men lose fat, it’s visceral fat, which improves metabolic risk factors leading to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Women who diet are successfully losing subcutaneous fat, but without the same impressive results in either weight loss, the new study suggests, or marked health improvement.     

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