January 04, 2024 7 min read
In the world of fitness and body composition, whether women have more fat than men often sparks curiosity and debate. It's clear that there are differences in the distribution and percentage of body fat between men and women, but it's important to understand the underlying factors for anyone who wants to improve their fitness journey.
In this article, we look at the physiological and hormonal factors that contribute to the unique fat dynamics of men and women. Do women really have more fat than men? Let's look at the science behind the age-old question.
Yes, they do. Although it might not always be true, women usually have more fat on their bodies than men. Women, on average, have 6 to 11 percent body fat more than men. This is a normal part of the differences between men and women in their bodies and how they reproduce.
Women usually have more essential fat than men, which is important for reproduction and controlling their hormones.
Essential fat is the minimum amount of fat needed for the body to work well.
Also, body fat distribution in men and women is different. While men often store fat in the abdominal region, women tend to store it in various areas of the body, such as the breasts, hips, and thighs. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone affect how fat is distributed in women.
It's important to note that body fat composition can change in both men and women depending on genetics, age, and lifestyle choices. Also, what is considered a healthy or normal amount of body fat can change depending on age and overall health.
Nevertheless, we'll explore the gender differences that play a role in body fat levels in more detail.
There are several types of adipose tissue, otherwise known as body fat, each serving different functions in the body. Adipocytes are a special type of connective tissue cell, called adipose tissue, for the storage of fat. Adipose tissue is the body's main reservoir for lipid storage. Adipocytes store energy in the form of triglycerides (fats).
It's important for people who want to improve their body composition to know the different types of body fat.
Here are some of the main types, their functions, and the location of body fat depots based on sex differences:
This is the minimum amount of fat necessary for a properly functioning body. It is important for many physiological functions, such as hormone regulation, cell membrane structure, and insulation. Bone marrow, organs, nerves, and other tissues in the body contain essential fat.
This type of fat is found just below the skin and helps to keep you warm and store energy. Subcutaneous fat is found all over the body, but it's more concentrated in certain parts like the thighs, buttocks, and abdomen.
Visceral fat surrounds the internal organs and provides protection and cushioning. This fat mass is mostly found in the abdominal cavity. It surrounds organs such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines.
Generally, white fat is the most common type of fat and is used to store energy for a long time. White fat is found all over the body and is often stored in subcutaneous and visceral areas.
Brown fat is involved in thermogenesis, generating heat to maintain body temperature. This type of fat is more active in the body than white fat. Small amounts of brown fat are typically found on the neck, collarbone, and spine.
While some body fat is necessary for health and normal physiological functioning, excess body fat, especially visceral fat, is linked to an increased risk of various health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders.
It is essential to maintain a healthy body fat balance through proper nutrition and regular exercise for overall well-being.
It is called “essential” because the body requires it for survival and optimal health.
The higher percentage of essential fat in women than in men is mostly due to the reproductive and hormonal functions that women go through throughout their lives and has little to do with more or fewer calories.
Here are some key reasons why women have more essential fat:
Women require a certain amount of essential fat stored to produce reproductive hormones like estrogen, which is essential for supporting reproductive processes, such as menstruation, pregnancy, and lactation.
Since women experience more significant hormonal fluctuations than men, hormones are crucial of the regulation of various physiological functions. Stored essential fat contributes to the production of hormones, supporting the overall balance needed for reproductive health.
During pregnancy, the growing fetus and increased metabolic demands can be taxing. Essential fat provides extra energy reserves during times when caloric intake may fluctuate.
Women generally have a higher percentage of essential fat in areas like the breasts and hips, which contribute to the female body shape and provide insulation, helping to regulate body temperature.
The essential fat percentage is the minimum amount of body fat required for the body to function properly, and having too much body fat beyond this essential level can lead to health issues like weight gain. Understanding the risk factors and living a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a balanced diet, is important for overall health.
Different people have different amounts of extra fat in their bodies, depending on their genes, how they live, and other things like gender differences
The primary sex hormones estrogen and testosterone play a significant role in influencing the differences in fat distribution and fat metabolism between men and women. Although not sex-specific, estrogen is more prevalent in women and testosterone in men.
— Estrogen is associated with the “pear-shaped body” fat distribution pattern. This means that this hormone tends to promote fat storage in the hips, buttocks, and femoral areas, including the thighs.
— Estrogen affects the storage of subcutaneous fat located just beneath the skin, which is typically more prevalent in women compared to men.
— Estrogen receptors have a metabolic effect that promotes the storage of fat for reproductive purposes. However, fat distribution can change along with hormonal changes as women go through different life stages, such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. During menopause, the production of estrogen will decline in women, which will diminish the protective effect of the subcutaneous fat.
— Testosterone is associated with the “apple-shaped body” distribution pattern. This means that this hormone tends to promote fat accumulation in the abdominal area and upper body.
— Testosterone is important for building lean muscle mass. Higher muscle mass contributes to increased calorie expenditure due to a higher resting metabolic rate. This typically makes it easier for men to maintain lower body fat levels.
— Testosterone contributes to the overall metabolic rate and supports the development of lean body mass. Therefore, men generally have a higher basal metabolic rate (BMR) than women.
It is important to know that both men and women have estrogen and testosterone but in different amounts. The interaction between these hormones, and factors like genetics, lifestyle, and age contributes to the differences in amount and distribution of body fat between men and women.
Studies have revealed that women have healthier fat than men, and they may also burn fat faster.
Cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, and diabetes are two of the most common diseases among Americans. In fact, heart disease is the most common cause of death worldwide. The WHO thinks that type 2 diabetes is becoming more common globally. Many people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.
Although women generally have a higher body fat percentage than men, they have a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes and other diseases associated with obesity.
This may be explained by the fact that women store fat on their breasts, hips, and thighs, while men store visceral fat around vital organs, such as those in the area of the stomach.
One study, published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, shows that the complex interaction between genes and hormones is another reason why women's fatty tissue is generally healthier than men's.
Furthermore, a study by researcher Frode Norheim of the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences together with researchers at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), found that the metabolism in our fat cells is the key. The study was recently published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
Norheim says, “Women's fatty tissue contains more mitochondria compared to men. What’s more, they have the potential to be more metabolically active, and so they burn more energy during physical activity.
Mitochondria are the small energy producers found in large numbers inside all our cells. The sex hormone estrogen appears to be part of the reason for the difference.”
In the pursuit of fitness, it's important to know and appreciate the different ways men and women store and use fat, while never losing sight of the health risks related to excessive body fat.
Although women may naturally have a higher percentage of essential fat, this does not indicate excessive body fat requiring extreme weight loss diets.
Also, men's tendency to have a different fat distribution pattern doesn't mean they don't need a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
People who like to exercise, regardless of their gender, should accept their total body individuality. They need to understand that things like genes, hormones, and how they live affect how their body looks.
To live a healthy and fit life is not about comparing numbers, body weight, and the percentage of body fat, but about creating good habits that make you feel good and energetic.