The fit get fitter: Women and healthier people burn fat better when exercising

BATH, United Kingdom — Sorry guys, when it comes to burning fat, a new study finds fitness and females go hand-in-hand. Researchers from the University of Bath say women who are physically fit burn more fat when exercising than healthy men.

In two studies, a team of sports nutritionists examined what factors help people burn fat while competing in endurance sports. Whether you’re an athlete or not, the body’s ability to burn fat is key for good metabolic health and insulin sensitivity. Both of these are important in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

For an athlete, researchers say how the body utilizes stored-up fat can make the difference between winning and losing. Previous studies discovered that the body’s carbohydrate supplies run out quickly when someone exercises. When this happens, a person’s ability to tap into their fat stores for fuel becomes vital to performance.

What gives females the advantage in burning fat?

The team’s first study, appearing in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Medicine, examined 73 adults (32 women) between 19 and 63 years-old. Researchers studied each person’s lifestyle and biological factors which produce the best fat burning ability for them through a cycling fitness test.

The results reveal women and other physically fit participants, regardless of age, tend to burn fat more efficiently than their peers.

The second study, appearing in the journal Experimental Physiology, took the research a step further. The team examined the molecular factors in human muscles and fat which determine how the body burns fat.

Study authors took fat and muscle biopsies from participants to see how differences in each person’s proteins may explain why some people use their fat efficiently and others don’t. Those results reveal that proteins in the muscles help to break down stored-up fat into smaller fatty acids. The proteins which transport these acids to the mitochondria in muscle (a cell’s powerhouse) displayed a definite connection to greater abilities to burn fat effectively.

Despite discovering how proteins play a role in determining how well the body burns fat, the study could not explain why the female body is better at carrying out this process.

“Our study found that females typically have a greater reliance upon fat as a fuel source during exercise than males. Understanding the mechanisms behind these sex differences in fuel use may help explain why being female seems to confer a metabolic advantage for insulin sensitivity, an important marker of metabolic health,” lead author of both papers Ollie Chrzanowski-Smith from the Department for Health at Bath explains in a university release.

Burning fat and weight loss are two entirely different things

Although the studies help explain how the body burns fat in more detail, researchers caution that this doesn’t necessarily equal losing weight. Study authors say good fat burning ability can help defend against future gain weight. When it comes to losing extra pounds you already have, creating an energy deficit is key. This means consuming fewer calories than you expend each day.

“Weight management is mainly about energy balance, so to lose weight we need to eat fewer calories than we expend through our resting metabolism and physical activity. However, people with a higher ability to burn fat as a fuel seem to be somewhat protected against future weight gain, which might be related to how fat burning affects food intake and energy expenditure,” Dr. Javier Gonzalez from Bath’s Department for Health concludes.

“Ultimately, a greater capacity to burn fat as a fuel has potential benefits for endurance athletes, by delaying the timepoint when they run out of precious carbohydrate stores.”

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