WOMEN ARE NOT SMALL MEN – Dr. Stacy Sims
You probably wonder what I mean with “how to eat like a woman”? Don’t we just eat the same things as men? I thought so too for years until I came across the amazing researcher Dr. Stacy Sims. She is the first person doing research on the female body, how it works and what we need to eat in order to feel, perform and look our best. Most research out there is (surprise, surprise – Drumbeat…….)
……done on MEN! This means that diets that work for your husband, boyfriend, brother or guy friend might NOT work for you!
Girl, you need to eat like a woman and you need to fuel your body and your female physiology the right way and not try to get in shape by eating like a man. As Dr Sims says – “WOMEN ARE NOT SMALL MEN” – Women are women! Why do you think we look a little different? Probably because we are not exactly the same, and don’t get me wrong, we all are unique and different and things that work for me might not work for you. BUT, in general all women are more the same than a man and a woman because of our physiological and hormonal differences.
Our body’s hormonal composition is not the same, women have different hormones than men because we are built to reproduce. We have a different composition of hormones in order to be able to get pregnant and carry a baby, we are after all built to reproduce. That’s also the reason why we need a higher body fat percentage than men in order to stay healthy.
Studies done by Dr. Stacy Sims has shown some interesting findings such as that intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets and low carb diets does not work as well for women as for men. Women need to have more carbohydrates in their diet, studies have shown that a minimum of 120 g of carbs should be in a woman’s diet in order for her to feel and perform her best. This also what our brain require to function optimally.
When it comes to fasting, what DR Stacy Sims says is that “the longer women stay in a catabolic state, the more they disrupt their endocrine system and their resting metabolic rate.” You stay in a catabolic state as long as you are not eating because you are not fueling your body with any new food.
Downside In Fasted Training for Women
The increase in oxidative activity (fat utilization) that is shown in men when they perform fasted training does NOT apply to women. Instead fasted training seem to create a greater post-exercises inflammation and immune stress for women when they perform fasted training compared to men. Potential lean muscle mass loss is also seen due to an increase in muscle tissue damage and breakdown. The theory is that women are already at a maximum capacity for fat oxidation since estrogen promotes fatty acid utilization. Read more HERE
“For example, a female athlete that does a 12-hour fast, and then gets up to do a training session fasted, and doesn’t eat afterwards immediately, the large catabolic state that she was in when waking up plus the additional state during exercise, will not be beneficial for her adaptation.” – Dr Stacy Sims
How to Eat?
- High Protein Diet
Protein is what helps us to build muscles and prevents us from losing muscle mass, it includes EAA – essential amino acids. The more protein you eat the more lean mass you will incur, which will help you to perform better, feel better and look better. Protein also helps with repairing muscles which is critical after working out, because when we workout we damage the muscle which is why it needs protein afterwards in order to build the muscle up again.
How much protein?
Based on current research, most active women should aim for 1.9 – 2.2g of protein / kg of bodyweight per day and 2.2 – 2.5g of protein / kg of bodyweight per day.
If you know your weight in pounds, divide it with 2.2 and you get your body weight in kilograms.
- Don’t fear GOOD carbs
The reason why low calorie, low carbohydrate and intermittent fasting diets can be counterproductive for women is because from an evolutionary standpoint, it was more advantageous for women to store fat during periods of low food supplies to require less food while they cared for the children. Even though we are far from this way of life now, our hormones still operate with this “survival instinct” in mind.These type of diets done for a long time can lead to menstrual, endocrine and/or thyroid dysfunction. Not to mention it can cause the body to want to store fat versus shed it, the later generally being the goal for most women I work with.
How much carbs should I eat?
Women are encouraged to go no lower than 120 g of carbohydrates per day in order to maintain healthy cognitive, hormonal and endocrine function. A low carb diet is discouraged even for short amounts of time, because it will throw off the balance of hormones and you end up putting fat back on.Severely low calorie or intermittent fasting elevates your cortisol levels which stresses the body out. Cortisol has a direct effect on abdominal adiposity, and therefore, adhering to a very low calorie diet or fasting for a long period of time can have the opposite effect on weight loss than women usually desired.The baseline is 120g but the ideal number is shown to be 3 g of carbohydrate / kg of body weight. If you know your weight in pounds, divide it with 2.2 and you get your body weight in kilograms.
- Your nutrient timing
If your goal is fat loss, remember that the two most important factors to creating change are eating a high protein diet and being in a caloric deficit (but not too low!).After a workout it is more important for women than men to eat or drink something protein rich in combination with some healthy carbs in order to maximize recovery. Preferably within 30 minutes from finishing the workout, so if you can’t have a meal, drink a protein shake together with a banana or berries. Avoid fats right after your workout because it will slow the digestion of the food down, and after a workout you want your body to digest the food quicker so it can use it to restore your body.
If you still want to fast even though I don’t recommend doing it for an extended periods of time, you can fast overnight. Stop eating at 6 pm and have your breakfast at 6 am when you wake up and you will have fasted for 12 hours.
Eating during your menstrual cycle
The two weeks before your period starts it is even more crucial to think about what you eat, how you eat and when you eat. We have a different set point and a different return time to baseline or pre-exercise conditions than men as I mentioned above, so we need more protein after exercise.
One of the best recovery foods is actually nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt with a little bit of maple syrup or honey according to Dr Stacy Sims. This provides the protein we need and a little bit of carbohydrates.
You really need to think about your recovery in order to maximize your training adaptation across the menstrual cycle. As you’re getting closer to the onset of your period, think of having some protein before and after your training and really think about having watery fruits and veggies and a little bit more sodium or salt in your diet to offset that drop in your plasma volume and the drop in the effect of circulation of your blood.
A female body is different from a male body, mainly because of how progesterone and estrogen work in the female body.
There are a few simple ways to counteract the effects these hormones have on performance:
- 10 grams of protein before exercise.
- 20 to 25 grams of protein within thirty minutes after exercise.
- Increase hydration and salt intake right before and during your period.
- Never eat less than 120 g of carbohydrates per day.
- Aim for 1.9 – 2.2g of protein / kg of bodyweight per day.
- Avoid fasting, low carb diets and extremely low calorie diets.
Bonus: Fighting PMS Fatigue
Here’s a daily ritual from Dr Stacy Sims to help you combat pre-PMS fatigue, bloat and inflammation 7 days prior to your period:
1 baby aspirin or white willow bark
250mg of magnesium
1 gram of omega 3 fatty acids
2 grams of branched chain amino acids before and after your workout. The leucine and isoleucine levels help to mitigate central nervous system fatigue.
Salt on your food
Lift heavy and often! I will write more on this in my next post – Train Like a Woman!