Sex-based differences in endurance exercise muscle metabolism: impact on exercise and nutritional strategies to optimize health and performance in women

Exp Physiol. 2016 Feb;101(2):243-9. doi: 10.1113/EP085369. Epub 2015 Nov 14.


What is the topic of this review? The topic is how sex influences carbohydrate and fat metabolism during exercise and whether this influences adaptation to nutritional and exercise regimens aiming to improve health and performance. What advances does it highlight? Women respond differently to certain nutritional and training regimens aimed at improving health and performance. Few studies have included women in trials and thus we are unsure how women respond to nutritional and training strategies aimed at improving health and performance. Sex-based differences in substrate metabolism during moderate-intensity endurance exercise (END) have been well established. Specifically, during END of the same relative intensity women have a lower respiratory exchange ratio than men, indicative of a lesser reliance on carbohydrate oxidation to support fuel requirements for exercise. In fact, compared with men, women show a lesser reliance on both liver and muscle glycogen during END. Sex-based differences in intramyocellular lipid (IMCL) utilization during END are controversial. However, women have a larger depot of IMCL available to support END fuel needs and a greater percentage of IMCL in contact with mitochondria after a bout of END compared with men, suggestive of a greater capacity to use IMCL. These sex-based differences in metabolism during END are known to be mediated by oestrogen. Despite the well-recognized sexual dimorphisms in substrate metabolism during END, there is a paucity of research examining the effects of exercise and nutritional regimens aimed to enhance performance and/or health in women. Furthermore, the evidence that does exist is suggestive of discordance in the effectiveness of nutritional and exercise regimens between the sexes. The focus of this review is to provide an overview of the well-established sex-based differences in metabolism during END and how they relate to the physiological responses to nutritional and exercise strategies intended to improve exercise performance and/or health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics