Do male and female athletes have different calorie requirements? The answer is no. A new study compared the resting metabolic rate between sexes in college athletes using indirect calorimetry. The researchers also measured the fat mass and fat-free mass of the subjects using air displacement plethysmography. ADP is a method of measuring body composition based on the same principles as the gold standard of underwater weighing, but using air instead, making it quicker and more comfortable.
In absolute terms, men had the higher resting metabolic rate, but this was only because they were bigger. After adjusting for body mass and fat-free mass, the differences in energy expenditure disappeared. This means that a female athlete should eat just as much as a male athlete of the same size and with the same amount of muscle.
There is nothing surprising or exciting about these results per se. Muscle is muscle and fat is fat, regardless of who is carrying it around.
However, in real life, how many female athletes eat as much as a male athlete of comparable size? Not many. This can lead to low energy availability in female athletes. This is a very common phenomenon, part of the female athlete triad, which links low energy availability with poor bone health and menstrual dysfunction. Low energy availability is not uncommon in male athletes either, but it is much more prevalent among females.
The study might not offer any surprising new insights, but it illustrates the need for female athletes to keep in mind that they need just as much food as their male counterparts of the same size. Both to perform properly and to maintain long-term health.
Sex Differences in Resting Metabolic Rate Among Athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: November 2019 – Volume 33 – Issue 11 – p 3008–3014.