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What Every Woman Needs to Know to Achieve Her Desired Body Composition Goals

Admit it, after plowing through countless resources, you’re nowhere near towards gaining clarity on how you can start changing your body composition.

One website will tell you to simply eat more protein and count calories. Meanwhile, a female fitness YouTuber swears by her ketogenic diet and daily kettlebell workouts.

Clashing views and information on women’s health and fitness will almost always leave you feeling more confused, helpless, and with more questions (rather than getting answers!). Instead of understanding how you can specifically change the way you look and feel, you’re left wondering if your body will respond in the same way as the guys working out next to you at the gym.

Just as no two humans are alike, there isn’t a single approach to changing your body composition as a woman.

First, there’s genetics to consider. Second, women have different body composition goals too — some might be keen about improving their running times or overall flexibility. Others may be more concerned with aesthetics, say getting their glutes in shape for a better-looking butt. 

Finally, eating habits and dietary preferences will influence the rate at which you accomplish your body composition goals.

Despite these differences, we’ve uncovered some common threads and insights from recent research that can truly help women who want to feel better and stronger, and show them how.

In this article, you’ll learn several important gender differences in terms of anatomy and physiology, and how these differences can impact your training and nutrition decisions, minus the bro science, of course (why isn’t there such a thing as sis science?).  

Let’s get into it!

What It Truly Means to Change Your Body Composition as a Woman

First off, let’s start with a simple matter of semantics  — what does it mean to change your body composition as a woman?

To change your body composition, you may want to focus on two different goals:

  • Reduce your body fat mass
  • Increase your lean body mass, which includes your muscle mass

If you’ll notice, most women tend to focus solely on fat loss and muscle mass gain often takes the backseat. This may have to do with a stereotype on gender and physique, wherein muscles are often associated with masculinity. 

Furthermore, as we’ve written in a piece before about being skinny fat, women are more likely to focus on fat loss because the mainstream diet and exercise advice given to women is essentially a prescription for becoming skinny fat — severe calorie restriction, excessive amounts of cardio, and minimal weightlifting emphasizing high-rep training.  Yet the true measure of body composition transformation, whether you’re male or female, is two-fold: focus on training/eating for both body fat loss and muscle mass development.

This begs the question — as a woman, is there something different that you need to do compared to men in order to make positive changes in your body composition today?

First off, let’s start with a simple matter of semantics  — what does it mean to change your body composition as a woman?

To change your body composition, you may want to focus on two different goals:

  • Reduce your body fat mass
  • Increase your lean body mass, which includes your muscle mass

If the terms body fat mass and lean body mass sound foreign to you,  hop over to this guide to body composition for a quick review.

If you’ll notice, most women tend to focus solely on fat loss and muscle mass gain often takes the backseat. This may have to do with a stereotype on gender and physique, wherein muscles are often associated with masculinity. 

Furthermore, as we’ve written in a piece before about being skinny fat, women are more likely to focus on fat loss because the mainstream diet and exercise advice given to women is essentially a prescription for becoming skinny fat — severe calorie restriction, excessive amounts of cardio, and minimal weightlifting emphasizing high-rep training.

Yet the true measure of body composition transformation, whether you’re male or female, is two-fold: focus on training/eating for both body fat loss and muscle mass development.

This begs the question — as a woman, is there something different that you need to do compared to men in order to make positive changes in your body composition today?

What Makes a Woman’s Body Different?

In terms of anatomy and physiology, we’ve listed down the differences between men and women’s bodies and how they can potentially impact your body re-composition efforts.

1. Women can gain the same relative amount of muscle mass as men.

If you’re like most women, you’re likely curious about whether doing the same routine as the other guys in your CrossFit class will give you the same results. Here’s what we know so far:

On average, baseline muscle mass in men is 36 percent greater than in women.  

In terms of muscle distribution, women tend have less upper body muscle mass compared to men.

Now that we’re aware that men have a slight genetic advantage over women because of their higher baseline muscle mass, particularly in the upper body, does that mean that you’ll gain less muscle mass than men despite lifting the same amount of weights?

Not so fast.

It turns out that when performing the same amount of time, men and women can accomplish the same amount of gains in muscle mass. While the increase in size was similar between men and women in the study, the relative strength of women actually increased more than men because they were starting with a smaller overall body size.

In addition, it’s worth noting that muscle mass gain may be more affected by individual variations  in terms of sensitivity of response to resistance training rather than gender differences.

What This Means for Women:

It’s possible to gain as much muscle mass as men but it may take more work on your end because of your slightly lower baseline muscle mass. However, if you’re worried about getting too big,  it's also unlikely to happen due to differences in testosterone (we'll cover that later), and how you train.

2. Women’s bodies tend to metabolize fat and carbs better than men.

It’s a well-established fact that the more muscle mass you have, the more calories (and fat) your body can torch over time. With that said, it’s easy to assume that men may have the advantage because their baseline muscle mass is a third more than women.

It turns out that this isn’t the case. 

Case in point: Women's fat and muscle tissues are more metabolically-equipped to break down certain macronutrients than men. 

This review article describing how gender differences can impact carbohydrate metabolism sums it up well:

“Women seem to oxidize more carbohydrates in the prandial state after meals, and when energy demands increases during physical activity, energy expenditure is covered by a greater fat oxidation in women. Together, these findings imply a high metabolic flexibility in women, as substrate oxidation is readily adjusted in accordance to nutrient availability in these situations.”

In short, women tend to use up their carbohydrates for energy during resting and recovery states, but turn to fat for energy during submaximal exercise (less than the maximum of which an individual is capable) more so than men.

Where does this high metabolic flexibility come from?

The aforementioned review article mentioned that it may have to do with the higher estrogen levels in women. Estrogen, it turns out, can help the body burn more carbs, particularly during the follicular phase (first half of the menstrual cycle) when estrogen levels tend to reach their peak.

Another noteworthy difference supporting women’s superpower of being more efficient in glucose (carb) and fat metabolism has something to do with gender differences in body fat distribution patterns. Men tend to store fat in and around the organs, also known as visceral fat, in their abdominal region (also called android fat distribution).  On the other hand, women’s bodies are more likely to squirrel away subcutaneous fat for rainy days in their hips, legs, and buttocks (also called gynoid fat distribution).

The unfortunate news for men is that visceral fat accumulation may be associated with reduced insulin sensitivity and progression of diabetes. As a result, men’s bodies are less likely to pay attention to rising blood sugar levels while women’s bodies are more sensitive to insulin due to less visceral fat deposits.

Finally, the same review on the differences between carb metabolism between guys and gals revealed that when eating isocaloric (same amount of calories), high-carb diets (increasing from 55% to 75% over the duration of the study), glycogen (stored glucose) concentrations in the body only increased in men and there were no changes in women. 

The researchers suggested that these findings possibly indicate that the excess carbohydrates consumed by women may be utilized more efficiently as fuel, instead of being stored as fat for future use, as in men.

What This Means for Women:

If you’re exercising regularly, don’t be afraid of carb or fat intake unless there is a medical reason to avoid them (say you’ve been advised to go low-carb by your doctor) because your body needs both to enhance your workout benefits.

Focus on eating whole grain carbs and refrain from consuming carbs that are highly processed. In the same stroke, make sure you are eating the right types of fat that will enhance the body composition changes you are looking for.

Most of all, don’t starve yourself! You are only going to drive your body into starvation mode, which tells your body to burn less calories (known as adaptive thermogenesis). And if you’re working out, that’s all the more reason for you to eat to gain muscle mass.

3. Research evidence reveals that women may have a higher distribution of type I muscle fibers and lower distribution of type II muscle fibers (which, in turn, are more prevalent in men).

Slow-twitch muscles, or type 1 muscle fibers, are extremely useful in long-endurance activities such as distance running. These same muscle fibers are also the first ones to be activated during any type of exercise. On the contrary, fast-twitch muscle fibers or type 2 fibers are activated when you’re performing powerful or explosive bursts of movements such as sprinting.

What This Means for Women:

Due to these muscle-fiber differences, it seems like men are (generally) likely to excel in training involving explosive, powerful routines. For this reason, changing up your routine may allow for greater muscle growth.  Don’t just stick to intense cardio training workouts as your sole workout routine - mix it up with resistance and strength routines. This study on the effect of a six-month resistance training between older men and women concluded that women can gain more muscle mass using a total body strength training program versus men.

4. Men and women have different proportions of sex hormones in their bodies.

Remember that we mentioned the influence of hormones like testosterone and estrogen a couple of times? 
When you hear the words estrogen and testosterone, you’re likely going to associate the former with women and the latter with men. And with good reason. 
Differences in muscle and fat between men and women can be traced back to women’s higher estrogen levels and men's’ higher testosterone levels.  Both males and females start puberty at about 80 percent lean body mass. By the end of puberty, females drop to 70-75 percent lean body mass due to a surge in estrogen, and males increase to 90 percent due to an increase in testosterone levels. 
As a result, males gain more muscle mass, and females gain more adipose (fat) tissue or essential fat. The increase in essential fat in women is the body’s way of preparing for pregnancy and breastfeeding. We can also surmise that the increase in muscle mass in men after puberty has to do with the fact that they are supposed to be the “hunters” in the tribe, as described in the hunter-gatherer theory. 

What This Means for Women: 
Most the time, we assume women have a harder time gaining muscle than men since women do not produce as much testosterone. However, research reveals that although men exhibit a greater muscle hypertrophic response (faster results) to strength training than do women, the difference is small.  As noted in the study we linked in Point #1, it’s possible for men and women to accomplish the same amount of gains in muscle mass when doing the same routine.

Next, there’s birth control to consider. One study concluded that women who are on certain types of oral contraceptives (OC) have a harder time gaining muscle in comparison to women not on OCs. This may have to do with reduced levels of testosterone when ovulation is suppressed.

The same goes for menopause. Menopause, which literally means the “pause” (end) of your “menses” (period), comes with many physical changes.  The ovaries gradually reduce estrogen production as you transition to menopause. Animal studies have shown that lower estrogen levels will not only increase your appetite and possibly lead to overeating, they may be associated with changes in fat distribution, storing it more in the abdominal region instead of the lower body.  Even if you lift weights or perform resistance training, it may require more effort on your end to make changes in your body composition if you’re on birth control pills or if you’re about to enter the perimenopausal stage/or officially on menopause.

Putting It All Together

In a nutshell, if you’re a woman who wants to improve her body composition, the key points to remember are:

  • Women can make as much muscle gains as men. Don’t be afraid of strength training-- you’re not automatically going to look jacked like The Hulk if you lift weights as a woman.

While protein often gets a lot of attention as part of a diet to change body composition, don’t be afraid of carbs and dietary fat. All the work you put into the gym may be fruitless if you don’t stick to a solid meal plan with the right balance of macros.  Since physical activity can help your body effectively burn and use carbohydrates, don’t be afraid to consume carbs. You don’t even have to give up carbs altogether for long-term weight loss.

You are likely to see positive body composition changes with higher load volume (and less explosive tempo) paired with shorter rest periods when weight training.

  • Even if you lift weights or perform resistance training, you might find it difficult to gain muscle mass if you’re on birth control pills and about to enter the perimenopausal stage/or officially on menopause. Keep in mind that hormonal changes might affect your progress and don't lose hope if you don't see changes right away.

Finally, keep mixing up your workouts and challenging yourself. When your body is forced to do new things constantly, accomplishing your desired body composition outcomes are just around the corner!

https://www.inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/what-every-woman-needs-to-know-to-achieve-her-desired-body-composition-goals?_ke=aGFpQGVsaXRlLW1tYS5jb20%3D&utm_campaign=weeklyblog&utm_medium=email&utm_source=blognewsletter

 

 

Greenway Student Highlight: Gwen Chew

What is your name and age?

Gwen Chew, 41 years old

When did you join Elite MMA?

July 2013

Why did you decide to start taking martial arts?

I took a self-defense class thru Elite MMA after being threatened and harassed to a degree where I felt so stressed and afraid that it made it difficult for me to function. This was right before they opened the Greenway location. During that class, I was told that I had good hits and asked if I’d ever thought about taking a kickboxing class. The truth is, I had; just wasn’t sure of my physical capability, if I’d enjoy it, or if I could become good at it. Shortly after, I did a one on one at the Westheimer location and became hooked; signing up that very day. I tried BJJ about 4 months later after some of my kickboxing classmates encouraged me to do so. It was awkward for the first 3 weeks but then everything clicked and I started to enjoy it.

In the past what had caused you not to take martial arts?

Aside from kickboxing, I was never really interested in any other martial art before trying BJJ.

Is this your first time taking martial arts and what classes do you take?

Elite is my first MMA school. I primarily take cardio kickboxing. I’m trying to work back into taking kickboxing fundamentals and BJJ full time.

If you had any concerns about joining Elite MMA, what helped you with your decision?

I didn’t have any concerns when joining Elite.

Since you have been part of Elite, please share what you have been able to accomplish?

Even though I’ve had several setbacks over the last 4 years since being with Elite MMA (injuries, physical therapy, the “pinecone incident”, weight loss, weight gain, more weight loss, etc.) I’ve always gone back when I’ve been physically able to. It’s changed my outlook on what I can do and who I can be by giving me a focus and confidence in myself that I didn’t have before. And thru that, I was no longer afraid. Some days I go into class focused solely on taking all of my stress, anger and/or anxiety out on the bag and other times I go in just looking forward to sharing this intense experience with a community made of up people who are encouraging, kind, funny and who are also going thru their own journeys. And it’s that sense of community that makes Elite MMA special. You get to know people outside of class and form great friendships with people you may not have met otherwise. And inside of class, you get to know each-others physical limits. You know when to push each other when one (or both) partners are slacking. You also know to recognize when someone needs to back off and take a break for a few seconds. You encourage each other and correct each other’s forms, etc.

Anything else you want to share with someone who is looking to get involved with martial arts or looking to change their current lifestyle?

Don’t give into self-doubt or talk yourself out of it. If you want to try it then jump in and give it 110%. You may feel awkward and you may lose your balance and fall occasionally. Sometimes on your face…been there. But you get back up and keep moving and in that you will find strength in yourself that you may not have known you had.

You also may find that you love something that you never thought you would. That you can do something so intense that most people would shy away from it. And even if you do try it and find that it’s not for you, you will feel a sense of pride in yourself for at least giving it a try.

 

 

 

Westheimer Instructor Highlight: Trevin Giles

Birth place: San Antonio Texas 

Profession: Student and instructor 

What classes do you teach: Kids BJJcardio kickboxing, Muay Thai, and MMA 

What martial art(s) have trained in: BJJ, Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling

Number of years of training martial arts:  Started training in December 2011

When did you start teaching at Elite MMA? Started teaching 03/25/15 

What is a memorable moment for you at Elite MMA? Winning my first amateur MMA fight. 

In your own words why do you enjoy Elite MMA? I enjoy Elite MMA because of all the positivity that comes with being a member.  I enjoy the fact that when I am here I know that everybody is here to help me through any problem that I am having. That kind of energy really makes Elite a comfortable learning environment.

Do you have any martial arts accomplishments that you are proud of and why? An accomplishment that I am proud of is stepping into the cage to fight because it is something that not many people are willing to do and it was a fear of mine that I conquered with the help of everyone at Elite. 

Are there any professional accomplishments that you are proud of and why? I am proud of being one of the few people in my family to go to college and stick through it as long as I have and I am proud knowing that soon I will be the first in my family to graduate. 

What hobbies do you enjoy and why? I enjoy all sports from MMA to basketball. I am an athletic person so I pretty much enjoy any sport I get the chance to play.

Any memorable family moments that you would like to share? A memorable family moment that I have is when my first niece was born.  It felt great to have her as a new addition to the family and it felt great to be an uncle.

Academic accomplishments: An academic accomplishment that I have is graduating high school and currently finishing up my undergraduate degree.

If you could walk us through a day or week in your life what would it consist of? A week in my life would consist of going to school in the morning, doing homework when I get home, going to work or training after I’m done studying or sometimes before, and going home to prepare for the next day.

 

Baytown Student Highlight: Cristian Lemus

What is your name and age?

Cristian Lemus and I am 21 years old

When did you join Elite MMA?

I joined Elite MMA on September 2009

Why did you decide to start taking martial arts?

Yearn to learn martial arts and weight loss. Even though before I joined I never heard of the UFC or Jiu-Jitsu I still had an interest in martial arts and was willing to learn despite my weight.

In the past what had caused you not to take martial arts?

I was playing sports prior to taking martial arts, which was my main source of exercise. Before I joined I played baseball, soccer, and football so my focus was more towards sports than martial arts.

Is this your first time taking martial arts and what classes do you take?

Yes, this is my first time experiencing martial arts, and I take the adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes.

If you had any concerns about joining Elite MMA, what helped you with your decision?

I was concerned that I would be joining a school with students and instructors that would be more focused into beating me up than teaching me, but after doing Jiu Jitsu for so long I’ve come to realize that that’s not the case. They taught me to take care of not only myself but my partners and others around me while focusing on safety and community.

Since you have been part of Elite, please share what you have been able to accomplish?

I’ve accomplished goals that I never thought I could reach. Such as reaching to brown belt at my age. Losing weight has also been an accomplishment for me, which has resulted in me finding that self confidence that I’ve yearned for that has given me the opportunity to set even higher goals with the drive to achieve them.

Anything else you want to share with someone who is looking to get involved with martial arts or looking to change their current lifestyle?

Yes, the first step is always the most important one when it comes to lifestyle change, whether its weight loss or just learning something different. Being placed in uncomfortable situations is common but once you’ve reached your goals the rewards will be so gratifying.

 

 

 

 

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