We regularly point out how women runners differ from their male counterparts. We’ve seen that women runners have different caloric requirements, carbohydrate needs and frequently require greater recovery periods from hard training.
In the June 30th New York Times article What Exercise Science Does Not Know About Women, author Gretchen Reynolds writes how exercise physiology research conducted using male subjects sometimes yields different results when repeated on female subjects. Therefore, conclusions drawn from studies conducted exclusively on male athletes often do not apply to women.
Research repeatedly shows that male endurance athletes can enhance recovery from training and increase subsequent performance by ingesting protein along with their carbohydrates after hard exercise. Including protein seems to increase the amount of glycogen that muscles can store as fuel for future training. Eating carbs and protein post-run has become a generally accepted training principle. women’s wellness blogs
But wait! Does research on women subjects yield the same results? The answer is “no”. Research conducted by Dr. David Rowlands at Massey University in New Zealand shows that women did not derive benefit from including protein during recovery.
- Women runners that carbo-load (eat a high carbohydrate diet during the days leading up to a race) are able to store only about half the glycogen in their muscles than their male counterparts.
It is becoming evident that estrogen has a stronger effect on metabolism and muscles that what was commonly believed:
- Some studies have indicated that post-menopausal who take estrogen replacement have healthier muscles than women who do not supplement.
- When researchers at McMaster University (Hamilton, Canada) gave estrogen to male athletes prior to strenuous exercise, the men developed a metabolic profile that mimicked women – burning more fat while using fewer carbs for fuel.
Ms Reynolds points out that an obstacle that researchers face in conducting more studies using women subjects is that there are much fewer women athletes available for research. In the meantime, female athletes should view with skepticism the results from exercise studies that use only male subjects. As Dr. Rowlands concludes- echoing a chorus of men before him – when it comes to women, there’s a great deal that sports scientists “just don’t understand”.