This week’s blog is inspired by a question from Tayla Lamerton, thanks for your great question Tayla!
“Would love to know more about male/female differences! Have read a few different articles about particular patterns of eating (e.g., low carb high protein, high carb low fat, intermittent fasting) and the different male/female outcomes (e.g., hormone levels -> performance) but I would love to hear more!!”
Although an in-depth answer to this question could probably take up a textbook or two, I’ll cover a few diet and lifestyle factors that can affect our hormone levels and give you some food for thought (pun absolutely intended).
A Quick Word on Hormonal Imbalances
Hormones seem to have recently become the new focus for all of us interested in body composition and performance. There’s no denying that healthy hormone levels are an important piece of this puzzle, but there has been a trend recently to blame everything on hormonal imbalances, often whilst failing to focus on the real culprits.
The good news is, hormone levels are actually pretty easy to test. It’s as simple as chatting to your GP and getting a blood test. This will help remove any confusion around what’s going on in your situation and can make sure our plan of attack is appropriate.
The major difference between females and males is the sensitivity of hormone levels to diet and lifestyle factors. Diet and lifestyle tend to have a bigger impact on female hormonal systems, so although the following information will be true for both genders, it’s especially important for the fairer sex.
They’re not evil. In fact, carbohydrates (in appropriate amounts)
1. Decrease cortisol, a stress hormone. Elevated cortisol is fantastic when we’re exercising or running away from a sabre tooth tiger, but not great for the rest of the day
2. Increase conversion of T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) to T3 (active thyroid hormone), which can increase your metabolic rate and therefore overall calorie burn throughout the day
3. Increase leptin (a hormone that plays a big role in controlling hunger and energy balance.) Healthy levels of leptin are important for body composition and reproductive health
4. Decreased testosterone. Healthy levels of testosterone are important for BOTH genders, not just males
Restricting carbohydrate too harshly in the diet can, unfortunately, lead to the opposite of these things! Not ideal…
Relative Energy Deficiency
Put simply, this occurs when we’re not eating enough calories to support our training and day to day metabolic function. Unfortunately, this area is multi-faceted and complex but the basic take-home point is, if you’re restricting caloric intake in an attempt to lose body fat,
don’t go too hard. Your diet needs to include an adequate amount of calories and carbohydrate, or you’re asking your body to perform at its peak in less than peak conditions.
Stress is a huge hormonal killer. Chronic stress can lead to chronically elevated cortisol, which can lead to decreased levels of sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone, progesterone etc.), decreased thyroid function, chronic inflammation, and a bunch of other not great things. As well as the dietary factors I covered above, there are obviously lots of other things that can impact on stress. Work, family, finances, overtraining, lack of sleep and Game of Thrones can all increase our levels of stress. Although some of these are outside of our control, it’s important to make sure we’re prioritising the ones we CAN control...
(cough* lack of sleep *cough).
Hopefully, that’s answered some of your questions! It is a huge area with lots of moving parts, so if we’ve missed anything, feel free to shoot our resident dietician a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or over on Instagram @jonosteed