We’re well past the days of doing something “like a girl” being an insult, but whether we like it or not, in some cases we do have to do things differently because of being a girl. That includes running. (And no, it’s not a bad thing.)
Women should and do run differently than men – partly because of our build and partly because of hormones. And I’d venture to guess there are a thousand differences as to why women choose to run, but those would be generalizations and stereotypes (like to run and chit chat about the latest neighborhood gossip, to escape a houseful of screaming kids, to get our body back after baby, to work off stress … you get the picture).
But here are some of the physical ways that make running different for women than for men, and why it even matters. And yes, most of it has to do with the menstrual cycle.
1. We Have a Better Fat Metabolism
I told you it wasn’t all bad, so let’s start with the good: Female bodies are generally built better for long-distance, endurance-type activities than males. Women tend to burn fat stores (as opposed to carbohydrates) more efficiently, meaning we can exercise for longer.
Tip: If we fuel our bodies with proper nutrition and hydration, we can maximize this natural advantage and run longer distances, thus burning more fat.
2. We Have More Estrogen Than Men
This is one of the biggest, basic differences between the sexes. But estrogen plays a role beyond causing periods and hot flashes. It can also help with glycogen storage (a means of energy storage) and lung function. (Who knew?!)
Tip: Women can potentially make bigger strides in fitness improvement by planning their hardest or most intense workouts (or races) when estrogen is highest, typically just before ovulation and at the end of the luteal phase.
3. We’re at a Greater Risk of Being Low in Iron
One of the major roles of iron has to do with hemoglobin, a molecule that transports oxygen in the blood, and myoglobin, a molecule that transports oxygen within the muscles. If you’re not getting enough oxygen in the blood, you can’t perform as well. You can suffer from fatigue, weakness, and injury – a runner’s worst nightmare. Women are at a greater risk of having low iron stores because of the amount of physical blood loss that comes with each menstrual cycle. On top of that, activities that involve impact (like running, when your feet hit the ground) can cause greater iron loss.
Tip: In order to combat low iron, called anemia, be sure you’re eating enough food high in iron. Iron can be found in meat, nuts, chicken, fish, and greens, among other foods. Better yet, pair your iron intake with a source of vitamin C to increase absorption.
4. We’re at a Greater Risk for Bone Density Loss
Women who rack up a lot of miles each week or engage in frequent, high-intensity exercise are at risk of interrupting their menstrual cycle. Women with a low body fat percentage are also at risk of disrupting their cycle. While it might seem nice at first to not have to deal with a monthly cycle, it has hidden dangers. Women with irregular menstrual cycles are at greater risk for bone density loss, meaning the potential for stress fractures and breaks is higher. A poor bone density could be the difference between twisting an ankle and breaking it.
Tip: To help combat low bone density, be sure you’re getting adequate calcium and vitamin D. Too much protein or caffeine can also contribute to low bone density. Weight-bearing exercise (like running) as well as strength-training can also help.
5. We Have a Higher Body Temperature
Blame the cycle one more time: Women tend to have a higher body temperature, or basal temperature, at different points of their cycle. This means your performance in hotter or colder weather can be affected by the time of the month.
Tip: While you may not notice it too much, it’s good to know that you might need some extra hydration on hot days or that you should skip races or training runs in extremely hot temperatures. On the flip side, you might be able to handle colder weather depending where you are in your cycle.More On