Most of the differences in muscle mass between men and women come down to differences in sex hormones. Testosterone is a key sex hormone that regulates fertility, muscle mass, fat distribution and red blood cell production in men. Women also produce testosterone, and it plays a vital role in the growth, maintenance, and repair of a woman’s reproductive tissues, bone mass, as well as human behaviour. However, because female testosterone levels tend to be somewhere between 1/10th to 1/13th of a male – their ability to build vast amounts of muscle is restricted compared to men.
Estrogen, alongside progesterone, is one of the main sex hormones in women, responsible for female physical features and reproduction. Men also produce estrogen in small amounts and it is equally important for their health. Studies show that estrogen plays a vital role in metabolic health, vascular remodelling and increasing muscle mass and strength.
There is also a difference in muscle type between the genders. Women tend to have more type I muscle fibres, bringing increased aerobic capacity and improved resistance to fatigue. Men tend to have more type II muscle fibres, giving them an edge in short-intense bursts of effort – this is why women often recover faster than men, who tend to see a higher accumulation of blood lactate (a lack of oxygen in working musculature).
Testosterone is an anabolic hormone that is responsible for increased muscle mass in men compared to women. However, when it comes to muscle protein synthesis (the breakdown and repair of muscle tissue), there is no difference between the sexes. So, while women naturally have less overall muscle mass, there is no reason they cannot also build muscle, albeit more slowly.
So is muscle gain different for men and women? In theory, no! When it comes to nutrition, the same principles of high-quality protein, lots of veggies and healthy fats still apply, it’s simply that women may not be able to eat as many calories for their goal. While training may differ in exercise selection, it should be just as purposeful, focused, and intense!
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