An increased ability to burn fat potentially offers a significant advantage in endurance activities. Your muscles have a finite amount of stored glycogen, which, when depleted, results in a precipitous drop in endurance performance. To spare muscle glycogen during extended endurance activity your muscles increase the utilization of fat as fuel. The ability of an athlete to tap into their fat reserves is essential for overall performance. Two recent studies provide insight into fat utilization during exercise and conclude there is a gender difference favoring females.
The first study involved 73 healthy adults, of which 32 were women. The researchers found that females, especially those females who were fit, burn fat more efficiently when exercising than males. The second study explored further the mechanism why these gender differences existed. Fat burning involves a two-step process. The first step involves breakdown of stored fat and the second the transport of fat into the mitochondria of muscle cells where it can be converted into energy. The scientists found that females relied more on stored fat for fuel than males. There are a number of takeaways from these studies. Fit females:
May have a metabolic advantage with regard to insulin sensitivity and development of Type 2 diabetes.
May have a built-in protection against weight gain.
May have a physiological advantage when competing in ultra-endurance events.