Newsflash: Women Work Out , Too!

by Mikki Halpin

The New York Times has a blog post up today about how exercise science has ignored women. The piece cites New Zealand researcher Dr. David Rowlands, who did a study on male cyclists in 2008 that found they exhibited a 4% performance gain if they ate protein and carbs after workouts, as opposed to just carbs. He theorized that the protein repair muscle damage and aided in processing the carbs as fuel. The study aligned with other similar studies and the word went out to athletes to adjust their training accordingly.

Two years later, Dr. Rowlands has done another study, this time with female cyclists. 

This time, though, the results were quite different. The women showed no clear benefit from protein during recovery. They couldn’t ride harder or longer. In fact, the women who received protein said that their legs felt more tired and sore during the intervals than did women who downed only carbohydrates. The results, Dr. Rowlands says, were “something of a surprise.”

Yeah. Surprise! The Times piece cites another study on carb-loading before exercise that also found women experienced very different effects. Male subjects absorbed the fuel efficiently; women did not. And yet, we’re all told that carb loading before a big event is a good idea.

The piece concludes:

In the meantime, female athletes should view with skepticism the results from exercise studies that use only male subjects. As Dr. Rowlands says — echoing a chorus of men before him — when it comes to women, there’s a great deal that sports scientists “just don’t understand.”

Ergh, this is infuriating! I mean, it’s great that some scientists are now figuring this out, but I think of all the received wisdom we all walk around with–when to stretch, what to eat, optimal heart rates–and I wonder how much of it is totally off. Not only is it bad for athletes who happen to be women, but also for those of us who just like to (or have to) exercise.

Yet another reason we need to view male-dominated research more critically–and another reason we need more women scientists!

(The image is Olympian Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio and won 3 gold medals at the 1960 games.)

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