Fitness Articles

Gender and Weight Loss: How Your Sex Affects Your Success

Fitness and Weight Loss Differences Among Men and Women

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No, this is not an article on that ever-popular question about whether sex counts as aerobic exercise. (It doesn't. Get over it.)

This article is about gender differences in exercise and weight loss. This is your chance to get the facts you need to answer such burning questions as:
  • Does weight training cause women to bulk up and look like one of the guys?
  • Is it really easier for men to lose weight?
  • Do men and women of the same weight need different calorie intakes?
  • Should men and women utilize different approaches to exercise?
  • Are men and women different in their reasons and motivation for losing weight?
  • Do men secretly worry that their outfits make their butts look bigger?
Let's get the facts!

Body Shape and Bulking Up: The Testosterone Factor
FACT: Most women (and many men, for that matter) will NOT build large muscles in response to weight training—especially while restricting calorie intake for weight loss. The ability to build large muscles depends mostly on levels of the male sex hormone, testosterone. Every person has some amount of both testosterone and estrogen, but the average man has 20 to 30 times more testosterone than the average woman. But even this amount is not enough to allow every man to build large muscles. The bottom line is that relatively few men, and very few women, will end up looking like bodybuilders, even with extensive weight training.

The difference in testosterone levels among men and women is also responsible for gender differences in total body fat percentage and fat distribution (where the body stores fat). On average, women have 7-10% more body fat than men, and correspondingly less muscle mass. Minimum ("essential") body fat percentages are about 12% for women, and 4% for men. This difference in body composition means that men typically have higher metabolic rates and will usually need more calories (about 300 more per day) than women of comparable weights, because muscle burns more calories than fat.

Men tend to be apple shaped, storing more body fat in the upper body (known as “central” fat) and within the body cavity, which is called “visceral” fat. Women tend to be pear shaped, storing more fat in the hips and thighs (known as “peripheral” fat), and beneath the layer of skin, which is called “subcutaneous” fat. This explains why women also tend to have visible cellulite more often than men.

Weight Loss: Not All Fat is Created Equal
FACT: Although all body fat is made of the same “stuff,” where it's stored can make a big difference in both how risky it is to your health, and in how easy it is to lose. As a general rule, visceral fat (located in the upper body cavity) represents a greater health risk, but is easier to lose than peripheral fat (located in the hips, thighs, and limbs). This is because visceral fat, which is metabolically active, is the body’s preferred energy source when fat is burned as fuel.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • Awesome. Thanks. - 10/2/2013 5:08:34 PM
  • Thanks - 7/19/2013 8:13:24 AM
  • NKOUAMI26
    I love the last comment! - 10/13/2012 3:58:40 PM
  • I really really had to laugh at the last question "Do men secretly worry that their outfits make their butts look bigger?" My EX and his brother had no butt to speak of and both would try to pad it with a thick wallet and look sideways in the mirror trying to see if it looked better. (Yeah, they used more hair products and spent more mirror time preparing to go out than I.) - 7/18/2012 12:27:44 PM
  • I definitely got some laughs from this article. Great article. I especially liked the part about body image perception. And of course men are just vain as women when it comes to their appearance! And to all the women out there, ST is so critical to our health. Don't worry about "bulking up"! - 3/28/2012 10:52:38 AM
  • Mr. ANderson: you are quite an inspiration. I have recieved such good advice from yor articles...THANKS
    ! - 2/2/2011 3:11:55 PM
  • This article was a pleasure to read - I got some good laughs AND learned some important information. Keep 'em coming! Would love a follow-up article on how woman are becoming such great distance event participants - fat has to be a factor there, don't you think? And you're right - I've seen people who run marathons and may become a smaller version of their basic body type rather than see a change in body shape. Reassuring and surprising... - 9/19/2010 5:32:38 PM
  • I wish more women knew that they would not bulk up from strength training. Too many women don't ST because they don't want to bulk up, when in fact most of them probably couldn't if they wanted to. - 9/19/2010 1:49:45 PM
  • I like all the points.. I always worried about having bigger lower body compare to upper, usually call as pear but never knew it's more advantage compare to apple! There are also new things I learned from this articles, quite surprising to know that some men probably not easily get bulk up - no wonder one of my friends after lots and lots of strength workouts, got defined but not excessive muscular body. And the part about body image, couldn't find any reason to disagree! - 9/10/2010 6:54:33 PM
  • Thanks for the info and I like your writing style--enjoyed the chuckles as well as the facts. - 9/10/2010 11:15:21 AM
  • Great article! - 9/10/2010 10:48:16 AM
  • Love the article! Informative, honest, and something both women and men need to know about their bodies! - 9/10/2010 9:50:31 AM
  • Thank you, Coach Dean. I appreciate how this article is informative and factual without having any negative spin. I learned quite a bit from you today. - 9/10/2010 9:35:10 AM
  • One of the best articles I've read in a long time! Thanks, Coach Dean, your articles are always informative and entertaining. - 5/24/2010 7:37:54 PM
  • Great article! I like to think of myself as pretty well informed about biology and health issues, but I got several "aha!" moments reading this one. :) - 3/24/2010 12:45:04 PM
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