Why You Need A Coach

As an athlete myself,  I know and value the role coaches can support our lives. And now as a coach myself over the last 10 years I have a positive bias towards that.

 

Here are four reasons I feel each and every one of us should have coaches in our lives.

 

#1 – For Their Expertise

The most obvious reason to seek out a coach is to find someone who is an expert in his or her field.

Even with the suspect of internet information overload nowadays, no one knows everything. And that’s the worse place to seek information along with youtube videos.

 

As a coach, I expect myself to be an expert in the world of coaching.

But on the other hand, I’m also a business owner, which leads to an entirely different set of skills I need to develop.

 

However, I outsource a lot of the business side of things because my skill is in coaching…not business.

The same could be said for your training.

So here’s something to consider: If you found someone who was a better coach than you are right now, and hired them to write your programming, how much could you fast-track your skills as a coach?

It’s definitely something to think about.

 

#2 – To Increase Accountability

You are instantly more accountable.

I’ve coached athletes for over 15 years now, and I’ve written more programs than I care to remember.

But when I write my own program? It’s like the laws of biomechaincs and physiology change.

Just because I know what a certain exercise or modality is supposed to do, I can rationalize a reason for myself not to do it.

It’s crazy.

It’s a well known fact, but the bulk of your success when it comes to training (and life) is simply showing up and putting in the work.

A coach, then, is essentially a way to “buy” accountability. If you write a program for yourself, or simply take one off the Internet, there’s no accountability built in.

But if you take some of your hard earned cash and actually hire the services of a coach, you’re immediately more likely to stay true to the program and put in the work.

 

#3 – To Provide Objectivity

Let’s be real here – it’s very easy to lose objectivity when it comes to your own training.

Again, I can use myself as an example: I’ve trained myself so long, and can get so stuck in my own head, that it limits my ability to program effectively for myself.

Here are some questions we should ask whenever we design a program:

What are this athletes goals?
What are their needs, both with regards to movement quality and capacity?
What do they need in the short term? What do they need in the long term?
Chances are if you’ve been training yourself for any extended period of time, your answers to these questions are not nearly as clear as they should be.

Or even worse, you’re stuck in the same rut, doing the same things month after month, year after year.

This is another great time to hire a professional. A quality coach can give you objective feedback on where you’re starting at, and what you need to do to get going in the right direction.

 

#4 – To Lighten the Load

With all the daily stuff to do inside and outside the gym…lives with family, job, kids activities, whatever … the answer is Easy – get a coach to lighten the load.

When life deals you a chaotic schedule it’s hard to manage time and your training roadmap hiring a coach to take some of that burden and stress off you would be a solid decision.

 

Summary

I think if you’re serious about achieving goals in your life, you should heavily consider hiring a coach to help you get there.

 

Tempurature Applications For Recovery

The age old usage of ice and heat for injury recovery has been a sound start in that process. The less than old usage of tempurature application for recovery from workouts such as ice and heat may not be so sound for recovery.

 

The thought is (mind you this is pending science based and evidence based truth..) that using long heat sessions and ice bath sessions will help recovery and performance.

 

WHOA! HOLD YOUR HORSES…

 

These temp applications used in injury recovery reduces inflammation. Ever stopped to wonder why we have this inflammation process in the first place?

It IS a part of the healing process. Trying to remove inflammation 100% prematurely lowers healing time if recovering from injuries. But here is the thing…what about recovery in the healthy form?

 

The Answer:

Doing so actually drops performance levels a bit. It will alter your adaptation response to the very training you did to improve performance for whatever it is you are doing.

 

Think about that for a minute. You worked really hard, busted your butt with your weight training, your tennis skill set work, your hitting or throwing program, anything just to limit some of the performance adaptations.

 

I know, most can ill afford these days to minimize results… Well we don’t need to help ourselves take a step back ever. There’s enoough out there that can affect those outcomes.

 

What are some better options with revovery?

 

We have passive recovery – sleep, non active time, naps – 15-20 mins is good, time to destress and relax and eliminate junk from your mind and bloodstrem maybe…

 

We have active recovery – play a different game than the one your are participating in most of the time, Light training days (technique work), deload weeks 50% of your loads and active rest – taking a walk, hike (not Mt. Evans) frisbee…

 

FRISBEE??

 

We have nutrition – protein is always a good bet. Sometimes it’s over consumed so a good range is .08-1 gram per pound of bodyweight, taking in a surplus of calories for a bit of time cn help you get refreshed, but not the opposite like not eating enough, hydration is big too.

 

Be careful not to tap in to NSAIDS (tylenol, ibproferin, etc.) as a part of your regimen. It too has a adaptation response that is not on the proising side of your recovery and health and soon if taken too often you will be tapped out completely.

 

This topic can be touched on much more but these are some primary ways to help recover from workouts meaning exercise not the injured reserve. Different topic different day.

 

Give some of these things a thought and try them out !

Dodging The Holiday Weight HO HO

It’s been a week since Thanksgiving in America and many people still feel like they haven’t recovered from all of that food and fun.

If you’re one of those people who over-stuffed themselves, statistics say you will gain 5 pounds between now and Christmas. That’s just the way it is.

And according to the New England Journal of Medicine, you won’t ever lose the extra pounds. Depressing.

Yet, eating good food is an enjoyment in life. It’s a punishment if one is allowed to only look and not eat delicious, tasty food. But you know me: I like to eat more and burn more.

Want to know my 6-step secret to dodge becoming one of those people who never loses the extra pounds:

 

Relax – It’s a normal phenomenon that human beings store up energy to prepare for the long, cold winter. So don’t be hard on yourself.

 

Take a walk – No need for strenuous exercise. But a daily walk around the block is always pleasant and goes a long way to shed pounds.

 

Just Cook more – Cooking from scratch is the only way you can control what goes into your body. Spending time in the kitchen can be enjoyable if you are organized and make it fun. Put some music on, grab a glass of red wine, and bring the kids or your significant other in.

 

Eat more fiber – This includes, lentils and beans, leafy green vegetables, whole-grain ingredients, seeds and nuts…

 

No-fatten stews, soups, and casseroles – I don’t think I can say that enough.

 

I’m here for you – Seriously, ask me anything. I’m here to help. I’ll answer one-on-one questions on Facebook every single day. So don’t hesitate.

Client Katie R

 

Profile: Katie R.

Status: current client at Niks Performance

Photo: Before and After

Feeling: Awesome

 

IMG_4885

 

This is Katie. As you can see she has made some changes for herself! This is not uncommon at NP but everyone has their own situation going on for maybe many reasons. But the bottom line for her she had to make a choice. What did Katie want for herself? What was her WHY?

Everyone may have a similar reason and answer or a completely different one. But the bottom line Katie made changes and her results tell you so.

Great Job Katie you look fabulous!

5 Most Important Pillars For Fat Loss

No one really thinks about fat loss. They think weight loss and truly there is a difference. However, in your fat loss quest I urge a bit of a mindset change on how you will proceed in your workouts to lose fat without thinking burning fat. You’ll quickly see what I mean…

Pillar #1 – Focus On Burning Carbohydrate, Not Fat, During Your Fat-Loss Workouts.

Sounds backwards, right? But not when you look at how I structure my workouts. NP focuses on resistance training and interval training. Both of these use carbohydrate as the main source of energy. So it’s obvious the workout is designed to burn carbohydrates during the training session.

I have no interest in you trying to train in your “target heart rate zone” for fat burning (aka – the fat burning zone). The whole idea of a fat-burning zone is an over-simplified idea of how the body works during exercise.

Leave the inefficient fat burning zone to the mis-educated trainers in the commercial gyms (that not surprisingly, also want to sell you a heart rate monitor so you can stay in your “fat burning heart rate zone”).

If you want to get the most results in the least amount of time, focus on burning carbohydrates, not fat.

Why do my fat loss workouts focus on burning carbohydrate rather than fat? In order to burn more calories after the workout, that’s why. When you exercise with intervals and heavy resistance training, your body uses more calories in the hours after exercise than it would if you did traditional cardio and lifted lighter weights.

 

Pillar  #2 – Use A Range Of Repetitions In Your Strength Training Workouts.

In order to train more muscle fibers and burn more carbohydrates, I have clients use a range of repetitions within the same workout. My workouts now use 6, 8, and 12 reps per set in order to work the muscle the most effectively.

This will burn more carbohydrates and promote as much muscle growth as possible when you are keeping the calories low.

 

Pillar #3 – Use The Stationary Cycle For Interval Training.

I choose the stationary bike for intervals whenever possible because cycling against a resistance can help maintain muscle mass.

Cycling against a resistance also allows you to perform a large amount of mechanical work, and that is a key determinant in my training.

But please note: I don’t use low-intensity, fast pedaling ‘spinning’ intervals as I’m convinced that the hard, resistance based intervals are more effective for fat loss. My clients only cycle against a strong resistance in their intervals.

I really like the bike, but there are many other ways to do intervals. Use what works for you, but if you are at a plateau, try the bike.

 

Pillar #4 – Increase Meal Frequency

Okay, so this isn’t really a secret to anyone that has read about fat loss. But a 2005 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating 6 times per day was associated with eating fewer calories per day, lowering cholesterol levels, and lowering post-meal insulin levels.

Combine an increased meal frequency with an increased protein and fiber intake, and you’ll see your body composition improve rapidly.

 

Pillar #5 – My Elevation Training Workouts

My Elevation Training Fat Loss workouts are fast becoming the most effective way to burn fat, build muscle, and get lean. The flow between strength training-interval training workouts are efficient and effective – getting you in and out of the gym in under an hour.

Here are some tips that you can use for an advanced training phase

– use these tips for 2 weeks then return to your normal training schedule:

a) Add 10 seconds to each interval but maintain the intensity

b) Add in some bodyweight circuits (10-20 minutes per day) done in the morning or evening (if you do your regular workout in the AM, do your bodyweight circuits after dinner; otherwise, do the bw circuits first thing in the AM, and then do your regular workout at lunch or later in the afternoon or evening)

If you are advanced, you can use squats, pushups, and bodyweight rows for your circuit.

If you are a beginner, you could use lying hip extensions, modified pushups, and bent over reverse flys (no weight).

c) Add an extra set to each exercise in the first superset you do
in each workout.

Again, use these three tips for an advanced fat loss period of two weeks, then return to a normal training schedule.

But always stick to the best fat loss nutrition plan possible.

If you have any other questions, just let me know. Email me or on Facebook I’ll answer your questions!

 

 

Deadlifting Styles

Many lifters have a hard time dead lifting. Ok so what now…. there are 3 different types of dead lifting that a lifter can “choose” from. I purposefully emphasized choose for a reason. Dead lifting strength, pain intolerances, comfortability and frankly if you should or not lies in assessing the best we can on pelvic alignment.

The Key Determinant – Hip Structure

Whether you’re stronger in the conventional deadlift or the sumo deadlift (hip flexion with hip abduction sometimes depends, on your hip structure. And beginners most likely if they are cleared to deadlift should start with the trap bar deadlift. To keep things simple there are several variables to recognize. Pelvises come in all shapes and sizes, socket location… i.e farther forward or farther back on a pelvis, are they shallow or deep, and the angulation of the femur.

Those five distinct variables will determine both the range of motion your hips can go through, and the amount of muscular tension you can develop in different hip positions.

09_angles_of_inclination_edit1311818202628

Image 1 shows what a “normal” angle of inclination looks like. Image 2 shows a coxa vara hip, and image 3 shows a coxa valga hips.

Number 2 will almost certainly need to deadlift conventional (especially if they have deep hip sockets), and they’ll probably squat with a pretty narrow stance as well. With too much hip abduction, the top of their femur will be encroaching upon the pelvis itself.

Number 3 probably has no issues doing split work, and they may be better off pulling sumo.

 

Notorious differences particularly between the conventional and sumo deadlift?

When looking at the demands there are only two major differences.

  1. Conventional deadlifts are harder on your spinal erectors off the floor.

2. Sumo deadlifts are harder on your quads.

How do you know whether you’re meant to pull conventional or sumo?

Try them out and see…if sumo is indeed a good option for you I still would cycle them in and out of your training program. Neither variation is inherently easier or harder than the other, and hip extension demands are virtually identical; however, one or the other will likely be noticeably stronger for you in the long run, based largely on your personal hip structure, which determines the range of motion your hips can go through comfortably, and the tension on the muscles around your hip at varying degrees of flexion, abduction, and external rotation. The big key here is not to squat the sumo that so many try to do. You need to hip hinge the sumo just as you do the conventional. The last thing with the sumo…foot stance can largely depend on leg length so longer legged individuals will stance themselves a bit wider than shorter legged individuals. As you grab the bar hip hinge abduct the femur and externally rotate the legs.

 

Hope this helps!

 

Standards In The Fitness Industry (Cross Fit Included)

I’ve been in the strength and conditioning field for many years now. I have mentored with some outstanding people. It has paved the way for me to better at what I do for my own programming and especially for my athletes and general fitness folks.

 

crossfit-fuengirola-slide03

One size fits all programs don’t really work in the long run…

What I have seen over the years with incoming trainers, proclaimed trainers and crossfire gyms of all sizes is this…WOD. While I will say some people hate to plan or don’t know how to plan for workouts, and some people who want to work out don’t want ‘repeats’ because it’s boring. You won’t be bored with WODs but you won’t necessarily get the results you’re seeking either. Randomness can only work for so long. Then what? Where do you go? You don’t even know where you’ve been LOL..(I am laughing but with frustration too). All people, all gyms, all cross fitters who want your money will say the catch all phrase  ‘RESULTS DRIVEN’. ” We are a results driven gym. Best in town”. While you should expect that, know this… WODs and Results Driven do not equal each other.

CrossFit-Tuluka-gana-terreno-en-Buenos-Aires

Unfortunately, what I see most and hear even more than that is how people get hurt in the these particular WOD cases. While WOD often means Cross Fit it also is and has been apparent in every gym I’ve ever been to such as 24 hour fitness, Bally’s, 1 gym private owners, etc… WOD just sounds better the than just throwing a bunch of exercises together to smash you. Every gym has “trainers” like these. 90% of them are this and worse because they have no idea about you and your should and should nots. If you walk in a gym pain free (though doesn’t mean you don’t have issues, you just can’t feel them at that point in time) you definitely should not be walking out in pain…with ice packs on the low back or in the shoulder region. And though the misnomer is because it kicked your a$$ it was a great workout. Listen it doesn’t mean it was good for you. Seek better. Expect better. Period.

 

lower-back-pain-chiropractor

 

One last comment I feel is necessary to put forward…the cross fit methodology applies to one sport…Cross fit. Its use should not be applied for any other sport to improve performance in that sport.  Cross fit for baseball? No. Cross Fit for volleyball, basketball, football, NO. Just cross fit.  Think carry over. Needs. It’s not happening. It is easy to think it will help but nope.

Remember words are words. Proclamations can be made, but time will tell the truth.

Throwing Prep Program

One of the most common mistakes I see in young and amateur players is improper throwing programs that may be hurting them more than helping them. Improper warm up is one likely element. Throwing is aggressive..it’s dynamic and the body should be prepared appropriately before you throw as hard as you can.

By not using a progressive method of warming up the arm before they start throwing hard, it diminishes arm care and you don’t prepare your body for the demands of throwing.  Trust me, big leaugers are not throwing as hard as they can on the 5th throw of the day.

In order to reduce the risk of injury first and then improve performance one must know the difference between putting in work and preparation.

 

pitcher

Your throwing prep program really requires two things:

1) Prepare your body

2) Prepare for throwing.

Coming up I will be posting a pair of articles on these two preparation needs.

In-Season Programs

Nike Performance is offering in-season strength and conditioning and arm care programs this spring. Maximize your performance, recover better between games, and reduce your chance for injury. If you are serious about baseball, contact us now for more information, including info on our current special pricing for in-season arm care programs.

Aging Athletes Keeping Muscle

Being A Life-Long Athlete Keeps Your Mind And Body Strong.

 

I think we all know that as we get older our mental and physical abilities start to decline. But the study of sciences have shown this.

Between the age of 40 and 50, the sedentary can lose more than 8 percent of our muscle mass. And the percentage of atrophy can increase to 15 after 75 years of age and years after.

These are stunning results to some though the reality that most don’t know is the target of these test studies are on sedentary adults , as Andrew Wroblewski and his colleagues point out in their recent study published in The Physician and Sports Medicine Journal.

 

grandmas

 

The question that should be asked is what about those life long athletes… Masters athletes? Limited research has been looked into how the muscles of masters athletes, whose life involves daily exercise,  decline, or don’t, as they get older. Wroblewski et. al. took muscle and body composition measurements of 40 high-level recreational athletes.

The subjects, 20 men and 20 women, ranged in age from 40 to 81 years and practiced their sport, primarily running, biking and/or swimming, four to five times per week.

 

Aging Alone Does Not Affect Muscle Mass Or Strength.

 

By measuring lean muscle mass, body fat composition and mid-thigh muscle area, along with taking MRI scans of the athletes’ quadriceps, the researchers observed that these masters competitors preserved muscle mass even as they aged.

The results showed that mid-thigh muscle mass and lean mass did not increase with age. But it didn’t decrease either. And, the older athletes seemed to maintain their muscle mass even though their body fat increased, relative to the younger competitors in the study.

These observations suggest that body fat was accumulating in places other than within the muscles, which is better for maintaining muscle strength. Tests on the subjects’ quads strength also showed that it did not decline with age either.

 

TRUTH: USE IT or LOSE IT

 

In other words, this new study flat out contradicts all of the previous research suggesting that all of us will lose muscle mass and strength simply by growing older.

Instead, the authors argue, the muscles atrophy because they aren’t being used. They also suggest that if more individuals stress their muscles as they age, it may reduce the physical decline, falls and loss of independence that frustrate and inhibit many senior citizens.

The authors also note that it’s these aspects of aging that tend to increase health care costs, so if each individual continues to develop their muscles as they age, the exercise could channel those unspent billions back into the economy.

 

MRI scans of the quad of a 40-year-old triathlete, a 70-year-old triathlete and a 74-year-old sedentary man. Credit: Wroblewski et. al.

psm.2011.09.1933_fig5

 

Citation: Wroblewski, A., et. al. Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. Volume: 39, No.3. DOI: 10.3810/psm.2011.09.1933

 

Metabolic Men And Metabolic Women

Key Points:

1. Most of the major differences in performance and metabolism between genders can be explained by size and body composition, not gender itself.

2. Of the true gender differences, the most important ones have to do with differences in sex hormones and fiber types.

3. Additionally, womens’ fat and muscle tissue is better equipped than mens’ for handling both carbs and fat.

4. All of these differences make women better metabolically suited for… just about everything related to health and performance except for short, intense bursts of activity that rely on glycolytic capacity.

 

It’s no secret that most strength, fitness, and nutrition content out there is by men, for men. That’s shifting somewhat, but powerlifting, bodybuilding, and sports science have traditionally been, and still are, male-dominated pursuits.

So, just for starters, how much of a difference IS there between men and women? Or at least, how large are the physiological differences in major parameters that relate to strength and performance?

Not very large at all.

For starters, men and women are very metabolically similar, at least when looking at metabolic rate. About 90% of daily energy expenditure can be explained by fat-free mass, fat mass, and activity level. Women *do* tend to have slower metabolisms than men, but the difference is primarily a function of muscle mass and body size, not gender.

In terms of muscle mass differences, women tend to have about 2/3 the muscle mass men do, with a larger difference in upper body muscle mass (about 1/2) than lower body muscle mass (about 3/4). And although men tend to be stronger than women, that difference is explained *almost* entirely (97%) by muscle mass differences. That means if a man and woman have the same size muscles, they should have roughly the same strength.

On the aerobic side of things, men tend to be slightly faster than women with equivalent levels of training. However, the difference is almost entirely explained by body composition differences (men tend to be leaner), hematocrit differences (higher levels of testosterone lead to slightly higher red blood cell counts), and differences in heart size.

So, just to get this out of the way early, the VAST majority of the differences between men and women that are relevant to performance aren’t necessarily gender differences, but rather can be primarily explained by differences in body composition. A woman and a man with similar training and similar amounts of muscle and fat will perform similarly. The point of this article is to delve into those differences that DO exist and talk about the difference they can make in training and diet.

Metabolism

To discuss metabolic differences, the main source for this article is this recent (absolutely fantastic) review article.

The article starts out with an interesting quandary. Women tend to have about 2/3 the muscle mass and 2x the fat of men, but tend to have substantially better metabolic health. On the surface, you’d expect someone with more muscle and less fat to be more metabolically healthy. However, the numbers tell a different story. In men, depending on the study, rates of elevated fasting blood glucose are 50-100% higher, whole body blood glucose clearance is ~15% slower, and the rate of glucose uptake in muscle is ~30-50% slower.

image

So the obvious question: Why the difference?

Short answer: Women are more metabolically equipped for just about everything.

Longish answer: Keep reading.

 

The Role of Estrogen

When discussing gender differences in just about any realm, the first place most people think to look is sex hormones, and for good reason. The majority of the difference is muscle mass is attributable to mens’ higher testosterone levels, and a lot of the difference in metabolic characteristics can be explained by womens’ higher estrogen levels.

Your muscles have estrogen receptors, and, in fact, there’s good reason to believe that estrogen plays a major role in the beneficial adaptations that occur with aerobic training. When compared to sedentary men, endurance-trained men have 3-5x as many estrogen receptors in the muscles (suggesting they become more sensitive to the effects of estrogen), and it’s been found that, at least in mice, estrogen receptors on mitochondria increase the rate of glucose uptake into the muscle when activated.

Now, I’m sure men reading this are starting to get a little uneasy. The last thing you’d want is estrogen affecting your muscles, right? Isn’t this just another reason to avoid cardio forever? Wrong. Men who are born with abnormalities in the estrogen system (faulty aromatase enzymes or mutated estrogen receptors) are more prone to insulin resistance and diabetes. As long as your estrogen levels are normal, the only major thing that happens due to increased muscle sensitivity to estrogen is improved glucose uptake into your muscle and improved metabolic health.

Another major reason to believe that estrogen is a major player in womens’ superior metabolic health is that gender differences in insulin sensitivity don’t arise until puberty (at which time, it decreases in men and increases in women per kg of lean body mass). Furthermore, womens’ insulin sensitivity declines again after menopause, but is often improved when they go on estrogen replacement therapy.

However, as with most things, too much can be just as bad as too little. Some studies have shown that women using oral contraceptives have about 40% lower insulin sensitivity than women not on the pill, when matched for BMI, body composition, and physical activity.

(Note: HRT and hormonal contraceptives don’t follow those trends in all cases, and the literature isn’t unanimous. As always, don’t base medical decisions on blog posts. Ask your doctor about your options and the potential risks and benefits)

So the major takeaway: Estrogen is a good thing for metabolic health, within the normal physiological range. It’s a major reason women are more metabolically healthy than men (and increased sensitivity to estrogen is one reason metabolic health improves in men with endurance training). When it’s too low (like after menopause), when something in estrogen system is out of whack (like nonfunctional aromatase or estrogen receptors), or when it’s too high, metabolic health suffers.

Difference in Fat

Though women tend to have more fat, there are differences in where that fat is stored, and also the characteristics of that fat.

For starters, men tend to have more visceral fat (fat stored around the organs in the abdominal cavity), and women tend to have more peripheral subcutaneous fat (fat stored between the muscles and the skin). This gives rise to the “apple” and “pear” shaped, or android and gynoid fat distribution patterns.

 

android-gynoid-obesity

This is a very important difference. Visceral fat is the particularly nasty kind that increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and all sorts of nastiness.

A major reason that visceral fat is particularly nasty is that it’s more sensitive to catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline), meaning more of it gets broken down and released into the blood stream. Subcutaneous fat goes directly into general circulation, but visceral fat is sent first to the liver. Your liver and your pancreas are the major organs that regulate blood glucose, and the increase in fatty acids sent to your liver from visceral fat can decrease your liver’s insulin sensitivity, which can throw off glucose homeostasis.

Since women tend to have less visceral fat, they’re less prone to fatty acid-induced hepatic (liver) insulin insensitivity.

Visceral fat is also more active in producing inflammatory cytokines as well. Inflammation (and how it’s affected by and interacts with fat tissue) is a big topic, so for the purposes of this article, just be aware that that’s also not a good thing, and we’ll leave it there.

So the fat distribution pattern in women is a more beneficial one, and the fat itself also helps women metabolically.

Fat produces two hormones that positively impact metabolic health: leptin and adiponectin.

Leptin helps suppress appetite and improve insulin sensitivity. Interestingly, although women have up to 4x higher leptin levels, they have greater central leptin sensitivity than men, largely due to the effects of estrogen. However, its effects seem to be mainly central (i.e. altering hunger), at least in humans. Resting leptin levels don’t seem to affect metabolic rate in humans the same way they do in animal models.

Adiponectin is associated with better insulin sensitivity. Depending what study you look at, women have somewhere between 34% (obese women vs. obese men) and 127% (lean young women vs. matched men) higher adiponectin levels. Adiponectin works by activating AMPK (the AMPK pathway is implicated in many of the positive effects of aerobic training), increasing glucose uptake and fat oxidation in muscle. However, women have fewer adiponectin receptors than men, and a strong correlation between adiponectin level, AMPK activation, and glucose uptake is only seen in men.

Taken as a whole, though women DO have higher levels of leptin and adiponectin, they probably only play a minor role in the metabolic differences between men and women.

One last little tidbit before we move on from fat differences: Fat tissue absorbs glucose from the blood at roughly 40% of the rate of muscle tissue, meaning that although muscle is a more important factor for glucose disposal, fat tissue does play a non-negligible role. When you culture male and female fat cells in a petri dish, the rate of glucose uptake is higher for female fat cells than male fat cells, which could (potentially, though you shouldn’t put too much faith in in vitro research) also play a role in womens’ superior glucose handling.

Muscle Differences

The most important muscular difference is that women tend to have a greater proportion of Type 1 fibers (roughly 27-35% greater Type 1 fiber area relative to total fiber area) and greater capillary density.

Those are two major factors. More Type 1 fibers and greater capillary density mean better tissue perfusion (ability to get more blood to the muscle to provide oxygen and clear metabolites) and greater capacity for glucose and fatty acid oxidation (because Type 1 fibers are the ones with more mitochondria and aerobic enzymes). Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are negatively correlated with Type 1 fiber percentage and capillary density in both lean and obese people.

(As an aside, that’s a major reason why black people – particularly of West African descent – tend to do exceptionally well in power-dependent sports like football and basketball, but also suffer from higher rates of diabetes and heart disease. On average, they have a higher proportion of Type II muscle fibers, which are awesome for explosive sport performance, but not so great for metabolic health. Just one example here.)

So women have a greater proportion of Type 1 fibers and the assistance of higher estrogen levels, which largely explains how their muscles handle glucose better. However, it doesn’t end there. Female muscles also handle fat better, even when comparing female Type 1 fibers to male Type 1 fibers.

Women have roughly 40% higher plasma fatty acid concentrations than men, and they’re able to put those fatty acids to good use. FAT/CD36 is the most important protein for bringing fatty acids into muscles and transporting them to the mitochondria. FAT/CD36 concentrations increase in both genders as a result of aerobic training, but they’re higher in women regardless of training status.

This is a great thing for cardiac risk factors. After you eat, triglycerides and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein, which primarily functions as a transport vessel for fat) levels increase. They return to baseline faster in women because their muscles can absorb more fat, and do so quicker.

Building off that, women have greater stores of intramuscular triglycerides than men. Now, these aren’t the nasty sort described in the last article, but rather the beneficial sort I briefly mentioned in the footnote.

Just a little aerobic physiology 101 – the greater the proportion of fat you can burn at any given exercise intensity, the better. It spares glycogen, reduces rate of perceived exertion (which is strongly related to glycogen levels), and pushes back how long it takes to “hit the wall.” Most importantly, there’s a strong relationship between how much fat is stored in the muscle (not independent fat cells interspersed with the muscle tissue as the last article mainly dealt with, but fat stores within the muscle fibers themselves) and how readily available it is to use during exercise.

What’s more, it’s not just that women have more intramuscular triglycerides than men, but those fatty acids are also more accessible. Men tend to have a few large lipid droplets, and fewer perilipins (proteins on the outside of the lipid droplets that break down the triglycerides and help transport them to the mitochondria). Women, on the other hand, have more numerous, smaller lipid droplets, and more perilipins. Smaller lipid droplets have a higher surface area to volume ratio, meaning they’re more accessible to perilipins and lipases to break down the stored fat to be oxidized in the mitochondria.

Going a bit further down that rabbit hole, women also have higher levels of the protein Stearoyl CoA desaturase 1, whose role is to (as the name implies) convert saturated fatty acids into unsaturated fatty acids. There is some data to suggest that muscle lipases have a higher affinity for less saturated fats.

So now to the important stuff: how all this actually affects training.

Regardless of training status, women use more fat at any given exercise intensity than men do, meaning that, all other things being equal, they’re more resistant to fatigue.

Conversely, men have a higher glycolytic capacity than women. That means that they can burn through more glucose in the absence of oxygen, which lends itself to better performance for short-intense bursts of effort, but which also means more lactate accumulation and longer recovery times after all-out efforts. This is related to both the higher percentage of Type II fibers, and also higher levels of glycolytic enzymes (glycogen phosphorylase, pyruvate kinase, phosphofructokinase, and lactate dehydrogenase in particular).

More on this later.

 

Differences in Substrate Use

There are some interesting differences in the proportion of fat and carbs men and women use at different times.

In the fasted state, men and women tend to burn about the same proportion of fat and carbs. However, after eating, women tend to preferentially store more fat and oxidize more glucose immediately, relative to men. When eating isocaloric, high-carb diets (increasing from 55% to 70% over the duration of the study), glycogen concentrations increased in men, but not in women because the additional carbohydrate was immediately used as fuel instead of stored.

In the fasted state, plasma triglyceride levels increase in both genders, but after a 48-hour fast, muscle triglyceride storage increases in women, and liver triglyceride storage increases in men.

During training, as previously mentioned, women burn a greater amount of fat relative to glycogen at any exercise intensity. However, after training, that reverses. Women then tend to burn an increased proportion of carbs, whereas men burn an increased proportion of fat.

Takeaways

Just to reiterate, gender differences related to acute performance aren’t that huge, and are less a function of gender per se, and more a function of body composition. Furthermore, be aware that everything in this article is representative of trends, but may not hold true when comparing individual men and women, obviously.

Of the differences that do exist, the largest contributing factors are fiber type differences and sex hormone differences. And, in essence, they set women up to be more metabolically suited to just about everything. They clear VLDL and triglycerides better, have better insulin sensitivity, have a more favorable fat distribution, and burn a greater proportion of fat at any given exercise intensity, making them less fatigueable. The only place where men have the edge is in glycolytic capacity and explosive (but not maximal strength) performance (both related to Type II fiber proportion).

 

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So what do we do with all that?

For starters, ladies, do not be afraid of carbs. Not only are they delicious and awesome, but you have better insulin sensitivity, and the more of them you eat, the more of them you burn.

Second, you do not have a harder time losing weight because you’re a woman. Yes, you’ll probably have to eat fewer calories than a man who weighs the same amount you do, but the primary factors in determining your calorie needs are body size, body composition, and activity level, with gender playing little to no role. If you’re more jacked and/or more active than a guy who weighs the same as you, then you can eat more than him. If not, you can’t.

Finally, as far as training goes (though we’ll get more into training as this series progresses), odds are pretty good that you can do more work and benefit from more work than a guy can. Your muscles are inherently more glycogen-sparing and fatigue-resistant. You can probably do more reps with a given percentage of your 1rm before fatigue sets in, and do more total work (relative to 1rm) before you hit a wall due to higher proportion of Type 1 muscle fibers, greater proportion of fat being burned instead of glycogen, and lower glycolytic capacity.

So with that, I’ll put a bow on Part 1 of a (planned) 4-part series. This article was to set a basic groundwork with metabolic differences, Part 2 will cover structural differences and delve into training implications much more, Part 3 will mainly be about the menstrual cycle and contraceptives, and Part 4 will cover the female athlete triad.