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Protein supplements work for women but not men

Consuming a protein supplement — specifically protein hydrolysate taken during carbohydrate-restricted training — was helpful for improving training intensity in women, but not in men, according to research presented at The Physiological Society’s Annual Conference, Physiology 2021, in July.

Most nutrition guidelines for athletes are based on research in men only. This study, by Tanja Oosthuyse and her colleagues, emphasised that findings in men do not automatically also apply to women.

While the protein supplement was shown to help training intensity in women, it did not improve training intensity in men, but rather resulted in a modest negative effect. It made exercise feel harder for them because their bodies were working harder to break down the supplement, as compared to when they were drinking just plain water.

The conclusion from this research is that women should ingest protein supplements during fasted carbohydrate-restricted exercise, while men should be aware that it will increase their perception of effort.

Future studies need to determine whether ingesting protein hydrolysate supplements during carbohydrate-restricted training over a longer time frame — of weeks or months — will be beneficial.

Commenting on the study, Tanja Oosthuyse said: “The application of the findings from our study are purely for the specialised training tactic of overnight fasted carbohydrate-restricted exercise that aims to enhance training. Racing nutrition, however, is very different and at the moment guidelines are standard for both men and women. We need to specify potential differences so that both men and women can train and race at the highest possible calibre.”

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