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The sports supplements industry is continually evolving; with more research, product development and testing being responsible for the ever-diversifying product ranges and brands on the market. More than ever, people from all sports disciplines are interested in using supplements that might help them reach their goals. Almost as much research goes into packaging and branding as the ingredients themselves; because as consumers we can be persuaded to purchase a product simply by its aesthetic appeal and cleverly-worded scientific jargon.
To the experienced user, supplements are often seen as gender neutral irrespective of the packaging due to the fact that they are often well educated when it comes to supplemental ingredients. With that said, there is a still a huge divide where both men and women believe that there are specific supplements which cater for each gender. While this may be true in certain instances, when it comes to sport supplements this is generally not the case.
The specialisation of many brands that offer female, or male, only products has driven the trend among women to buy only female-specific supplements with the belief that anything else is inferior or will have some kind of unwanted side effect. Truth be told, the majority of supplements on the market targeted toward females are virtually indifferent to gender neutral products from the same brand.
When selecting which supplements to use, it is always best to choose according to your goals because the fundamental actions needed to achieve those goals apply to both men and women.
Whey protein is manufactured as a by-product during the cheese making process. It is considered to be a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids being present and it is typically low in lactose. While there are three types of whey protein; namely concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate, these only differ in absorption rates and have no gender-based applications.
Female-targeted whey protein powder is often marketed with different key phrases such as “Assists with weight-loss” which appeals to women, while the neutral whey protein is marketed with other key phrases such as “helps to repair, preserve and build lean muscle” which appeals to a broader market of men and possibly some women.
Whey protein is a quick and convenient source of protein which can help to increase your overall daily protein intake. The benefits of whey include improved muscle protein synthesis and faster recovery, both of which apply equally to either gender.
There is a stigma around creatine use by women because it is believed to make you big and bulky, however, creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid which is found in fish and red meat. Creatine plays a vital role in energy and performance especially when living an active lifestyle. Vegetarians and vegans can therefore also benefit from creatine supplementation as they typically do not receive it through dietary consumption.
Creatine helps to reduce muscular fatigue, improve strength and speed up recovery; all of which is highly beneficial for athletes and active individuals regardless of gender.
While creatine can cause some water retention within the muscle tissue, it is important to note that hydrated muscles, or additional intracellular water (ICW), within the muscle tissue is a good thing. Increased ICW enables improved energy use and strength as well as boosting of the immune system.
If you are worried about bloating, then rather use switch out creatine monohydrate for creatine HCL. Creatine HCL is up to 60 percent more bioavailable than creatine monohydrate and passes through the gut more easily, thereby eliminating the likelihood of bloating or cramping.
One category of supplements to be approached with caution is hormone boosters, and more specifically supplements that potentially alter the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. Both of these hormones play a role in body composition with high estrogen being associated with fat gain and high testosterone being connected to an increased ability to gain lean muscle mass and burn fat.
Women using testosterone therapy such as that prescribed by a doctor and related to menopause or similar conditions is completely different to testosterone boosters found on the shelf. Instead of women trying to increase their testosterone levels with such supplements, the emphasis should be placed rather on balancing estrogen levels in the body. This can either be done through supplementation or dietary changes.
Rather than taking a tribulus terrestris-based booster which has been shown to have little to no effect on women and which has limited research, an active female or athlete should rather consider a supplement such as ecdysterone.
While Ecdysterone is marketed as a “natural steroid”, it actually has no effect on hormones, making it safe for both men and women to use. This powerful supplement has been shown to stimulate protein synthesis at a cellular level as well as to increase nitrogen retention. Overall, this can increase one’s ability to gain lean mass in conjunction with a high-protein diet.
When it comes to testosterone boosters, women should err on the side of caution and never expect a natural male hormone booster to have the same effect on them.
One key difference between men and women is generally related to weight.
For supplements where the dosage is, or should be, determined by weight, a woman might be able to consume a smaller dose but still get the same advantages as their male counterparts. This is specifically relevant to supplements such as pre-workout supplements and fat burners as they often contain high doses of stimulants.
While both men and women can be sensitive to stimulants such as caffeine, supplements containing stimulants in high doses might be more potent for women simply because they weigh less. In cases like this, there is no reason why women shouldn’t use a gender-neutral pre-workout or fat burner, they may just be able to get away with decreasing their dose.
While not actually classified as sports supplements, calcium and iron play a particularly significant role in a woman’s lifestyle. Calcium intake is far more important for women as they are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Women who specifically eat a diet low in dairy products such as competitive athletes or those with mild to extreme lactose intolerance will definitely have an increased demand for calcium either via supplementation or from foods such as dark leafy greens like spinach and broccoli.
In order to absorb calcium your body requires sufficient Vitamin D intake, and while it seems like many pills to take if you choose to supplement, their importance should not be overlooked.
Iron is also crucial for women as it improves oxygen uptake in the blood stream and can boost your performance when living an active lifestyle. If you suffer from fatigue, especially during your monthly cycle, it is a good indication that you need additional iron.
The key to deciding what products are best for you should be determined by your goals. Certain supplement brands suggest doses according to weight or tolerance levels and so the parameters would therefore apply to both men and women. This makes more sense when choosing the correct supplements rather than forming your opinion based on the packaging alone. Irrespective of gender, if fat loss is your goal then products which will assist fat loss should be considered and the same would apply for gaining lean muscle or improving endurance.
It is always advisable to seek the advice of a well-trained professional should you be interested in a product but are unsure of the potential side effects. It is of greater benefit to read labels and compare ingredients and nutritional breakdown when selecting a product rather than being enticed by pretty packaging. Not only could it ultimately save you money but it could also help you to accelerate the process of achieving your goals.
Author: Camella Jeni Sanders
Advanced Sport and Exercise Nutritional Advisor.