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Debunking Gender Myths #4: Women Need To Do More Cardio To Achieve Optimal Body Composition

blog muscle science for women Apr 07, 2021

Alright, let's dive into the final myth in this Debunking Gender Myths series.

If you missed the first three myths we debunked, check them out below:

Myth #4: Women need to do more cardio to achieve optimal body composition

It is true that generally, women carry a higher percentage of body fat than men.

This is due largely to the fact that we carry babies and require more energy and fat stores to do this safely. Additionally, due to our hormonal makeup, women's bodies tend to "hold onto" more body fat naturally.

Men can lower their body fat to a relatively extreme level (say, single digits) without (generally) having as many hormonal or metabolic side effects.

For most women, in order to achieve a lean physique with defined, visible muscles without causing major metabolic harm, it must be done intelligently.

Does this mean women need to do more cardio than men?

No...

If you're looking to achieve a lean, defined physique, doing hours and hours of cardio is not going to get you there.

For both men and women, losing body fat comes down primarily to diet... BUT, what is often overlooked is the fact that building more muscle actually equates to MORE fat loss.

The MORE muscle you have on your body, the LEANER you will be.

The less muscle you have, the less efficient your body is at using the calories you consume on a daily basis and the greater decline you will have in your overall health.

In order to change your body composition (for good), you MUST focus on building muscle mass and also consume sufficient amounts of protein to support this.

So, do you need to incorporate cardio to reach your goals? Not really.

However, cardio isn't all bad, and implementing appropriate and strategic cardio for both women AND men can be beneficial for a few reasons:

  1. Implementing cardio training can help you build muscle faster by increasing your ability to recover during and after resistance training sets. If you’re gasping for air during your squats and feel like your heart is about to bust out of your chest, you’ve probably forgotten about your form and lost the mind-muscle connection that’s actually contributing to proper muscle growth.
  2. If fat loss is your main goal, incorporating appropriate cardio can help you create a larger caloric deficit and therefore lead to faster fat loss...BUT, you must do this in a strategic way or else you will burn out, reduce the actual 'caloric burn' you’re getting each time, and your resistance training sessions will turn to shit.
  3. Training your cardiovascular system helps strengthen your heart and lungs which leads to more graceful aging, reduces stress, reduces risks of heart disease and cancer, improves metabolic rate, the list goes on…

So yes, cardio can help and you should probably incorporate some form of cardio into your overall training and lifestyle, but it doesn't need to include spending hours on the treadmill.

It's actually been shown that increasing NEAT (non-exercise-related movement throughout the day, including daily walks, regular breaks during periods of sitting, fidgeting, etc.) as well as calorie management has a much better effect on fat loss than hours of boring cardio. 

Many people don’t think about NEAT as being a super important component when it comes to fat loss, body recomposition, and overall health; however, you may change your mind after reading this…

Studies have shown that low levels of NEAT are predictive of fat gain over time and variations in NEAT can actually have a large (if not the most significant) impact on the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) that occurs from person to person. 

If you’re not familiar with TDEE, it’s made up of these four components:

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). The number of calories (energy) burned at rest.
  2. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). The calories burned during activities which are not formal exercise.
  3. Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA). The calories burned during formal exercise.
  4. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). The calories burned in digesting and utilizing food.

TDEE is everything involved in the ‘energy out’ part of the energy balance equation.

And did you know NEAT can actually vary by up to 2,000 calories per day for two people of the same weight and body composition? 

Most people think that exercise (TEA from above) makes up the biggest difference in energy expenditure from person to person, but in reality, that only occurs if very large amounts of exercise are being done and this usually only pertains to collegiate or professional athletes.

Here's a quick example just to drive this point home:

Let’s take an average person working a 9-5 and sitting at their desk most of the day. Say they burn about 1 calorie per minute just sitting there.

Let’s take that same person and upgrade them to a standing desk. Now, let's say they’re burning about 2 calories per minute standing.

While that jump from 1 calorie to 2 calories seems relatively small, it actually equates to burning an extra 60 calories per hour. This means for that 8-hour work shift, an extra 480 calories would be burned (roughly the same as a 45-60 minute exercise session!).

This is of course just an example, but as you can see, small variations in daily movement can definitely add up and make a huge difference over time.

Lastly, there are two more factors to consider when discussing NEAT. 

  1. The first is that a large part of NEAT seems to be genetically determined with some people automatically doing more than others.
  2. The second is that when you are in a calorie deficit and trying to lose weight, your body tends to want to ‘slow down’ and restrict the amount of energy you burn through NEAT (without even knowing it, you are subconsciously moving less because your body wants to preserve as much energy as possible).

So, does this mean that if my genetics suck and I’m trying to lose weight, I’m screwed?

Nope, not at all!

It just means that you have to be MORE conscious and aware of how much you’re moving throughout the day.

But how do you do that? It’s simple, set a daily NEAT goal.

The easiest way to estimate and increase NEAT is by setting a daily step goal and gradually working up to a number that is doable for your lifestyle while still encouraging ample movement throughout the day to help you reach your health and fitness goals.

If you're ready to jump off the cardio train and learn what it takes to truly build your ideal physique, join us in the Muscle Science For Women program: A 12-week program on the theory & application of strength & muscle-building.

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