HOW TO LOSE FAT: MEN VS. WOMEN
We can all see the obvious differences between men and women, including how they store body fat. But they also lose fat differently.
Does this provide a way to change training and eating?
Nature dictates how men and women store fat, but the good news is that by using the right training and nutrition, we can boost fat loss and change body composition in both women and men.
Weight loss strategies differ a little for men versus women when it comes to types of exercise activity. As you’ll see, resistance training can be a more effective strategy for fat loss for women than it is for men.
While nutrition is key for weight loss in both genders, it is the biggest key for men to lose stubborn body fat and have a healthy metabolism.
Let’s take a quick look at the differences in fat storage for men vs. women.
Then we’ll go into training strategies and forms of exercise to optimize fat loss for each gender.
And finally, we’ll review some simple nutrition strategies that work for everyone regardless of gender. The best part is that they require no counting, weighing or measuring at all!
BODY FAT DEPOSITS IN MEN
When we look at a man and a woman who both have a small excess amounts of body fat, we can see the difference in fat distribution.
For men, fat tends to accumulate in the waist and chest, even at lower body fat levels. Man boobs start to develop when men are carrying way too much body fat. The waistline or “love handles” is another area of concern.
Perhaps the most notable trouble spot is the excess belly fat in the mid section, adding waist circumference. A classic example is a protruding rock-hard beer belly.
This is ‘visceral fat’ which occurs inside the abdomen, and it impinges on the internal organs, making it a more dangerous type of body fat than subcutaneous fat. Increased storage of excess belly fat in men is often associated with higher risk of heart disease and other health problems.
Even relatively lean men will store fat in very specific areas of accumulation of belly fat, like their lower belly, upper back, and low back. I have a very low body fat percentage, and I still have remnants of fat in my low back that I will probably never get rid of.
Men tend to not have body fat storage in issues in their calves, legs, and arms providing they’re not extremely overweight.
BODY FAT DEPOSITS IN WOMEN
Women tend to store more body fat in their lower bodies than men do.
This includes fat deposits in the butt, hips, thighs and sometimes even the calves.
Fat storage appears in the upper body for women as well. Women also usually store more fat in their arms than men do. This is especially true in the case of the triceps area, creating that ’bat wing’ effect.
Excess fat deposits are also common in the upper back around the bra area.
Finally, women also tend to store fat in the mid-section… the famous ‘muffin top.’
What causes the difference in fat storage between men and women?
Let’s dig into the science a little further.
WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS
You should feel encouraged that there’s an identifiable cause for these differences in fat storage, and it’s the hormonal differences between men and women.
We all carry the male and female hormones testosterone and estrogen. Those ratios are different between men and women, and it’s these ratios that impact what happens with body fat storage.
Women have more subcutaneous fat, often driven by the binding of estrogen. Subcutaneous fat located right underneath the skin frequently leads to that pock-marked look of cellulite.
You may even sometimes see cellulite in thin women with a lower percent body fat. While this type of fat is less dangerous than visceral and belly fat it can still be troublesome, and if you have it, you likely want it gone!
How do we fix this problem? Through training and nutrition, with emphasis on healthy diet.
In the case of men, higher testosterone typically creates more visceral fat, and belly fat stored behind the muscle surrounding the organs. Visceral fat is more androgenic, with more receptors in this adipose tissue that bind to testosterone, which promotes the deposition of this fat.
WOMEN, TRAINING, AND FAT LOSS
Women are likely to see more immediate reductions in body fat percentage from training than men, even without changing their diet.
Men can train, train, train, but without getting their nutrition in check, they really won’t see much of a difference in the levels of body fat that they’re carrying. However, because women naturally carry lower levels of lean muscle mass which burns fat even during rest, they respond well to almost any training and can reach a healthy weight more easily.
Women should follow a three-pronged training approach for healthy body fat loss:
- Focus the majority of your training on resistance training (weight training workouts) to increase muscle definition
- Do some low-intensity exercise like steady state cardio for an additional calorie deficit
- Add some high-intensity training like HIIT
The most effective form of physical activity for women to lose fat and reverse unwanted weight gain is with strength training, using progressive overload to build muscle mass and increase metabolic rate.
Resistance training workouts will allow women to add muscle mass to their frames, which is not only anabolic, but will also help increase their existing levels of testosterone which aids in fat loss.
Women are often afraid weight lifting workouts will make their legs big. Don’t be afraid. Women don’t produce enough testosterone for that to happen. As long as you’re focusing on a healthy eating plan, your legs will get toned through strength training, and lose the body fat that is making them look big now.
I’m not a fan of steady state cardio, but it does allow you to increase fat-burning effect to lose some extra body fat and hit your weight loss goals.
Sometimes just the act of doing any training at all for some period of time, even walking on a treadmill at a level of incline, provides enough resistance and overload to start to develop some lean muscle mass.
The more muscle you have, the more you can reap its benefits: greater insulin sensitivity, greater glycogen storage capacity, and increased metabolism.
Women definitely need to focus on nutrition as well, even though physical activity will have more of an impact for them than it will for men. The good news is that it’s not necessary for you to obsess over food, count daily calories or worry about measuring and counting calorie intake. In the nutrition section, you’ll see that there’s a much easier way!
MEN, TRAINING, AND FAT LOSS
Men are wasting their time doing additional low-intensity aerobic exercise such as walking on a treadmill at a low speed if they’re trying to lose stubborn body fat.
There are cardiovascular benefits to cardio exercise if you’re training at a high enough level, and you’ll burn extra calories. But if you want to make a significant difference in your body fat percentage, these forms of cardio won’t do it. Don’t waste your time.
Studies have shown that for men to lower their percent body fat, the focus should almost always be on nutrition.
Since men already have larger amounts of testosterone, and likely carry more muscle mass as a result, they should focus first on getting their nutrition in check. This will help lower their body fat stores, especially when done in conjunction with a smart training program, which should include weight lifting.
NUTRITION: TIPS THAT WORK FOR FAT LOSS
I said nutrition is the most important factor when it comes to reaching your body composition goals, and I meant it.
Training is important, but if you had to choose between training and nutrition, a healthy eating plan is what both men and women should be focusing on to reverse weight gain. All. The. Time.
I’d like to give you a structure to follow that doesn’t include things like monitoring caloric intake or intermittent fasting.
Here’s a very simple nutrition tip that works for making food choices. Take your plate and divide it visually into 40%, 40%, and 20%. That’s 40% lean proteins, 40% fibrous carbs and 20% starchy carbs. Simple.
High-quality protein intake can be from either plant or animal protein sources, so it’s OK if you’re following a vegan diet. Find protein-rich foods that you enjoy and that taste good because this is not about depriving yourself from your favorite foods. Some excellent sources of protein include chicken and fish, dairy products like Greek yogurt, or plant-based protein foods like beans or soy. Supplementing with protein drinks can also be helpful to make sure you’re getting enough high-quality protein in your diet. Protein is the most important energy source for muscle synthesis. To build muscle, you should be looking to consume about .8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight daily.
However, as you can see this isn’t a low-carb diet, nor an extremely high protein diet. The majority of the plate is carbohydrates, 40% fibrous and 20% starchy carbs. Fibrous carbs are all the leafy greens and colorful vegetables like peppers with cellulose which are high-fiber foods.
You’ll notice that we’re not looking to limit starchy carb consumption, especially for athletes. Carb intake as part of a balanced diet is important for fueling performance. My favorites are sweet potatoes and whole grains like brown rice. These are higher in nutritional value than refined carbs like refined grains and refined sugar, which can mess with blood sugar levels and cause more sugar cravings. As you can see, I don’t advocate a low-carbohydrate diet or a low-calorie diet to help you hit your weight loss goals. If you focus instead on adopting healthy habits and a balanced nutrition plan, you’ll improve your metabolic rate and insulin levels you’ll get rid of the excess weight in a much more sustainable way.
I don’t advocate a low-fat diet either. When it comes to fats, it’s not necessary to avoid them, just be careful to not overdo them for calorie intake. One of the biggest mistakes I ever made early on in my fitness journey was avoiding fats.
It’s important to realize that fats are very high in calories (9 calories per gram, versus 4 calories per gram for lean proteins or carbs), and they can add up to lots of calories quickly. Many people like to use virgin olive oil which is a healthy fat. That’s great, except that it has 120 calories per tablespoon, so if you put 6 tablespoons on your salad, you just added 720 calories to that salad!
Coconut oil also has nearly 120 calories per tablespoon (about 117 calories per tablespoon). Sometimes a bit of excess healthy fats can put you at risk of weight gain or failing to reach your fat loss goals.
As far as beverages are concerned, a glass of water is best. Although there’s debate over exactly how much water you should drink, you need it to survive, and it has no calories at all. Sugary drinks and other calorie-rich drinks like alcoholic beverages add a lot of calories and have very little, if any, nutritional benefit.
NUTRITION: GREAT FOODS FOR FAT LOSS
In addition to the fat loss tips above, you can also try incorporating some of Mother Nature’s secret metabolism boosting foods for weight loss.
These include healthy foods like ginger, red grapes, mushrooms, oysters, and cruciferous vegetables. Don’t think of any of these as a magical fat burning ‘superfood’. However, incorporating all of these things regularly over time can make a difference when it comes to loss of belly fat.
The active compounds in ginger, namely ginger oil, help you boost immunity and reduce stress. Since stress hormone accumulation can increase fat deposition for both men and women, we want to be sure to control our stress levels and exercise recovery.
Studies also show that this will have the ability to increase testosterone levels a little. So, incorporate ginger into your diet.
Grapes are an excellent source of resveratrol, which acts favorably on estrogen, and shifts the focus a little bit away from estrogen-driven fat storage. Studies have shown resveratrol has other health benefits as well, for heart health and reducing inflammation.
Mushrooms are another helpful ingredient that prevents the production of aromatase, which is responsible for converting androgen (e.g. testosterone) to estrogen.
Remember, we’re trying to boost testosterone, so including mushrooms in your diet will be helpful in influencing that transition with your hormones.
Oysters are a excellent sources of zinc which has testosterone-boosting effects. There’s more zinc per serving of oysters than any other food.
It’s important it is to have cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli in your diet. A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables is high in phytochemicals, which block estrogen production.
So, there’s a comprehensive look at the differences in how men and women store and lose fat. How they store fat depends a lot on hormones, which we can’t do much about,
Remember, there are no diets, no supplements, no calorie counting, no fasting, no gimmicks, or shortcuts to lose weight and gain muscle. Get your nutrition in check and have a smart training plan to allow you to build muscle progressively and reduce your body fat measurement over time. As I always say, with a scientific approach to nutrition and training both men and women can achieve their body mass and fitness goals.
If you’re looking for a training program that can help you build muscle and lose fat at the same time, let me be your trainer! I’ll help you reach your lifestyle goals and fitness goals. Check out our ATHLEAN-X programs to see which is the best fit for your goals and fitness level.
- Men and women store body fat differently. Men tend to store it in their chests and bellies (“man boobs” and “beer bellies”). Women tend to store it in their hips (butts), thighs, arms, and just above the waist, creating a “muffin top”.
- The male and female hormones testosterone and estrogen are largely responsible for how the genders experience weight gain. Men and women have both these hormones in differing ratios.
- There are no quick fixes to hit your weight loss goals. Diet and training are how you lose fat, with diet being the most important.
- Women will see more of a fat loss benefit from training than men. Women should focus on forms of exercise like strength training to lose fat and build muscle. Lifting weights will not make women “big”, it will make them toned. Women should also include some fat burning high-intensity cardio like HIIT into their training plan.
- Men should concentrate first on nutrition and a healthy eating plan. Train with weights. Don’t waste time on cardio for fat loss.
- When it comes to food, the “divided plate” is a helpful visual: 40% protein, 40% fibrous carbs, and 20% starchy carbs. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, substitute plant proteins. Shoot for .8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. There’s no need to limit carb intake. Instead choose to eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nutrient dense carbs like sweet potatoes, and try to avoid refined carbs. Stay away from a low-carb diet and any of the usual diets that restrict specific food groups.
- Additional foods for weight loss are ginger, red grapes, oysters, mushrooms, and cruciferous vegetables.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.