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A new study suggests that fit and healthy women tend to burn more fat when they exercise than men. Does that mean they have an easier time losing weight when cycling? Let’s see what the researchers concluded.


Previous research showed that being able to burn more fat while cycling can improve aerobic performance. It has also been shown to be helpful for metabolic health, insulin sensitivity and reducing the risk of developing type II diabetes. There is now new research consisting of two studies that analysed what influences someone’s capacity to burn body fat while doing sports.

Woman exercise
Fit and healthy women tend to burn more fat when they exercise than men. © Profimedia

Women burn more fat when exercising

The first of the two studies involved 41 men and 32 women (ages 19-63) who took part in a cycling fitness test. Researchers analysed their lifestyle and biological factors and measured key indicators during the fitness test to assess their fat-burning capacity. Their results found that women and those who were physically fitter burnt fat more efficiently when exercising across all age groups.

The second related paper explored what molecular factors in our muscles and fat tissue determine how fat is burnt. This experiment involved the researchers taking fat and muscle biopsies from participants to analyse how differences in the proteins in fat and muscle tissue might affect their ability to burn fat. Unfortunately, the molecular factors explored did not explain why females burned more fat than males.

“Our study found that females typically have a greater reliance upon fat as a fuel source during exercise than males. Understanding the mechanisms behind these sex differences in fuel use may help explain why being female seems to confer a metabolic advantage for insulin sensitivity, an important marker of metabolic health,” commented lead author, Ollie Chrzanowski-Smith from the University of Bath.

Woman Cycling in the Woods
Good news! Research also shows that having a coffee before exercise makes you burn more fat than you would have without that coffee. © Profimedia

Burning fat doesn’t mean losing weight

The researchers cautioned that this increased ability to burn more fat doesn’t make weight loss any easier. But they did suggest that it can be protective against future weight gain.

“Weight management is mainly about energy balance, so to lose weight we need to eat fewer calories than we expend through our resting metabolism and physical activity. However, people with a higher ability to burn fat as a fuel seem to be somewhat protected against future weight gain, which might be related to how fat burning affects food intake and energy expenditure. Ultimately, a greater capacity to burn fat as a fuel has potential benefits for endurance athletes, by delaying the timepoint when they run out of precious carbohydrate stores,” added Dr Javier Gonzalez from the University of Bath.