Honouring Female Physiology: why basing training protocols on male-centric research isn't cutting it
Updated: Jan 29
The research is out: women are not men. So why are we still curating nutrition protocols and training programs for women based off of research primarily done on men?
That’s an excellent question, with a lot of answers. In short, women are under-represented in research. Even in 2021, as it pertains to nutrition and training, the bulk of research isn’t female specific. Typically speaking, science takes male-centric research and applies to a smaller scale for women- which makes zero sense when we look through a biological lens.
To a significant degree, women and men are physiologically different. This is not new news. However, if we dissect these differences, it is as clear as night and day that when it comes to performance, weight loss and nutrition- gender needs to be taken into consideration.
Thankfully, we are on the brink of a paradigm shift. Female specific research is slowly surfacing- and people like us are putting it into practice. A new era is here: and to put it bluntly- those who aren’t taking female physiology into consideration, are doing a massive disservice to their female clientele (and likely setting them up for long-term adverse health outcomes).
Science is great, our entire mission is to bring the newest innovations, and clinical applications that science gives us to the mainstream. But science is not without its flaws. The jump from research to curriculum is anywhere from 5-10 years. An unfortunate phenomenon in medicine and the health fields is that when research counters the current narrative, or proposes a radical shift from the current understanding the lag between the research and clinical application can take even longer.
We are here to bridge this gap, to collapse the time it takes to bring forward female specific principles to training, nutrition and body composition. Far too many women are not getting adequate care. We see first-hand, the consequences of this in our individual practices- and we’re here to shift it.
Women menstruate. Men do not.
Menstruation isn’t just bleeding a few days of the month, it is a complex monthly cycle that governs the entirety of a woman's life from puberty to menopause.
The menstrual cycle is primarily run by two hormones, estrogen and progesterone. These along with other hormones talk to every single tissue and organ including the brain.
Progesterone and estrogen influence what macronutrients we use, our energy levels and micronutrient requirements. We can use these hormones to our advantage in both training and nutrition by understanding what is happening in the body and adapting exercise and nutrition accordingly.
Important Points to Consider
When we disregard the dance of hormones throughout the menstrual cycle, specifically in regards to training and weight loss, there are a few concepts to consider.
1. Restricting calories in men doesn’t go against their biology. Restricting energy in females without taking into consideration progesterone levels, and the fact the body is biologically preparing to grow a child for 2 weeks out of the month does. To apply this clinically: women are much more likely to suffer from mood swings, irritability, low energy and infections when restricting energy or not getting adequate macronutrients.
2. Red-S. While this can happen in men- it is more prevalent women as overtraining and under nourishing have a negative impact on estrogen levels. We know that when estrogen is altered as in the case of red-s we put clients at risk not only for osteoporosis but cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases and metabolic dysfunction. The literature shows that weekend warriors are affected by Red-S as much as athletes
3. Macronutrient requirements differ from men to women and they differ depending on the stage of the cycle.
4. The “ideal” body composition that most of our clients strive to achieve is not realistic for maintaining health throughout the lifespan. Women are meant to have more body fat. This is a conversation that we need to be comfortable, and good at having. Women can also have more body fat and still perform at a high level.
5. There is a way to schedule rest days and intense workout days using the cycle that increases performance AND allows a woman to feel good all month long. Is your client having an off day, or is your protocol asking her body to do something it biologically doesn't want to do?
Wrapping It Up
Women are different from men. There are more risks involved when inadequate training and nutrition protocols are put into place. Aside from adverse effects- current dogma is likely inhibiting full female potential. Women have been swimming up stream for too long, pushing through workouts, trying to exert willpower, eating 100 calorie snack packs. There’s an easier way to get profund results, increase performance and have lasting benefits. It begins with understanding female physiology.
When a client comes to us, it’s our duty of care to ensure our recommendations foster short and long-term health to the best of our ability. The cornerstone of this is continuing education- you only know what you know, until you know more. We created an entire course on this, it launches February 5th... Click Here to Learn more!
It's a self-paced course designed to help you get your female clients results faster. We Would love for you to check it out and help us in our mission to improve long-term health outcomes for women!
Lisa Kowalyk, Co-Founder, Fiore Health