Re-Thinking Gender Based Nutrition

gender based nutrition

Dayton Kelley

Gender Based Nutrition

This article was adapted from a combination of speeches given at the European Sports Science Conference 2017, most notably Emma Stevenson PhD (Newcastle University, UK).

The world of sports is rapidly growing and evolving with more people involved in organized exercise and sport than ever before. International competition in men’s and women’s sporting events engage followers from across the globe and yet much of the research done in sports science does not reflect this. More precisely, much of the research done does not reflect one-half of this: an abundance of literature regarding male performance and nutrition has seen publication, yet little is representative of females. This is an important concern for female athletes as sex differences in optimal training and nutrition have previously been reported. How do you know the guidelines you are following are tailored to you?

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Why the Disproportionality?

woman-nutritionWomen have long faced a reduced representation in near all fields of scientific literature due to the historic predomination of the academic field with men. Experimentation was reserved for male participants as females were thought unfit for such matters and sex differences were largely ignored. This difference was exacerbated in sports medicine because females, for much of recent history, did not have organized sport as men did. While both academia and athleticism now include a multitude of females, research in this demographic is still impeded.

Firstly, because estrogen and progesterone levels have been shown to influence some aspects of performance, any study including females must account for menstrual cycles as performance may be different depending on the proximity of testing to ovulation. Secondly, oral contraceptive use may interact with performance or supplement use. Thus, any study using females must either have them discontinue contraceptive use, prescribe all participants the contraceptive or accept a potential methodological flaw. Such variation in drug use and hormone levels makes studying females quite difficult!

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Solutions:

So what is the answer? Are we to abandon the current literature or assume no differences and continue to slap a pink label on male products and sell them as is? The answer appears to lie somewhere in between. While some of the limited research conducted displays differences between males and females – for example, females burn more lipids during submaximal exercise as compared to males – other research finds no difference between the two sexes. Currently, glycogen recovery and protein anabolism appear insignificantly different across the sexes and identical recommendations post exercise can be suggested. Thus, we can only continue to assume negligible differences between the sexes and support research that endeavors to elucidate differences between males and females. Samples of female participants continue to grow!

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