Training like a man isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes to nutrition all isn’t equal between the sexes. Men and women both need adequate amounts of the three macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fat and essential vitamins and minerals, but women have higher requirements for certain other nutrients in their diet. Here’s how men and women differ in their nutritional requirements.
Optimal Nutrition and Health: Women Need Fewer Calories
One area where men and women aren’t created equal is their calorie requirements. Men are larger and have more lean body mass so they require a greater number of calories. The average calorie requirement for a sedentary man is around 2,500 calories a day, whereas the average woman who leads a sedentary lifestyle only needs about 2,000 calories a day. Of course, exercise increases those requirements, but, on average, men burn 500 more calories a day because of their greater lean body mass and size. That’s why a woman who mimics the eating habits of her spouse is likely to gain weight.
The Essential Macronutrients
Since protein needs are based on weight, sedentary men and women both need around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Men and women who do high-intensity exercise or resistance training may benefit from getting up to twice that amount, although this is controversial. Carbohydrate and fat requirements are also similar for men and women. Carbohydrates should make up 45% to 65% of the diet of both men and women, preferably in the form of unprocessed, fiber-rich carbs. Fat should make up no more than 30% with an emphasis on polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats rather than saturated ones.
Vitamins and Minerals: Calcium is an Issue for Women
When women reach the age of 51, they have greater calcium requirements than men. The RDA for calcium is 1,000 milligrams a day for both men and women, but once a woman celebrates her 51st birthday, her calcium requirements go up to 1,200 milligrams a day while a man’s stays the same. Unfortunately, most women aren’t meeting their calcium requirements through diet, especially women who don’t eat dairy foods.
Girls between the ages of 9 and 18 need 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day since the teen years are a critical period when bone density is built. Once women reach adulthood, they can’t significantly increase their bone density through calcium intake, although they can preserve the bone density they have. Not getting enough calcium early in life and during adulthood increases the risk for osteoporosis.
Do women athletes need more calcium? Athletes lose a small amount of calcium through sweat, but this isn’t enough to increase the need for calcium. The most important thing is to get the recommended amounts of calcium through diet. Women who can’t do this should talk to their doctor about taking a supplement.
Iron Can Be an Issue for Women
Younger women have greater iron requirements than men. This is because they lose iron through regular menstrual flow. Pre-menopausal women need 18 milligrams of iron a day, while men need only 8 milligrams. After menopause, women have similar iron needs to men since they’re not losing iron on a monthly basis.
It’s important for athletes, especially women, to monitor their iron intake since strenuous exercise and running increases the risk for iron-deficiency anemia. On the other hand, it’s not a good idea to take an iron supplement unless you’re deficient since increased levels of iron have been linked with a greater risk for health problems.
Optimal Nutrition for Women: The Importance of Folate
Men and women have similar requirements for vitamins, including the B-vitamin folate, but young women have a more pressing need to meet these requirements. Folate deficiency is linked with a higher risk for birth defects. That’s why experts urge women of reproductive age to take a multivitamin supplement that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.
The Bottom Line?
Men and women have different caloric requirements, and young women need more of certain minerals, especially calcium and iron. That’s why it’s important to eat a varied diet for optimal nutrition, and, if you’re a woman, consume fewer calories.
WebMD. “Women Need More Calcium, Say Experts”
Curr Sports Med Rep. 2005 Aug;4(4):203-6.