by Kelli Richardson, RD
You’ve probably heard the generic advice before: Eat your fruits and veggies. Limit how many sugary beverages you drink. Your neighbor has probably heard this too — regardless of how you both identify with gender. However, should men and women be prioritizing different nutrients? Here’s a look at how biological differences can impact nutrition needs.
Calories and Macronutrients
Let’s start with the basics: How much energy you need to fuel your body’s activity. Age, physical activity, height, weight, and whether or not you are pregnant or breastfeeding all play a role in how many calories you need. But on average, men need more calories than women. For example, on average, a 35-year-old sedentary male needs 2,400 calories, while a female only needs 1,800 calories. Why? Men typically have more muscle mass, which requires more energy to sustain.
Despite the differences in how much you need — what you need is the same. Macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein) are the nutrients your body needs in large amounts. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend both men and women consume 45–65% of their calories from carbohydrates, 20–35% from fats, and 10–35% from protein.
Vitamins and Minerals
In addition to macronutrients, our bodies also need micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in smaller amounts. Despite their name, micronutrients play a key role in our health. Each vitamin and mineral has a specific job, such as helping with our vision, immune system, metabolism and more!
Men and women have the same recommendations for many of these nutrients, including sodium, vitamin D and vitamin E. But when it comes to vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium and zinc, their needs differ. Here’s why:
Women who are pregnant require even more of certain nutrients, including:
Nutrition Guidelines for Transgender People
While research in this area is still needed, gender-affirming therapies can have an impact on energy needs, as well as needs for certain nutrients like calcium and iron.
These changes, and the speed at which they occur, can affect the amount of nutrients you need. Additionally, hormone therapies can have a negative effect on heart health, which means getting adequate nutrition is even more important. Consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist to determine your personal nutrition goals based on your transition progress. Those who are taking hormone therapy and are not fully transitioned may be given a range in which their nutrition needs fall.
How Biological Sex Impacts Weight
Although men typically use more calories than women, they still experience higher rates of overweight and obesity. Today, 34.1% of men in the U.S. are overweight, compared to only 27.5% of women. Where this weight is stored is also different between men and women. Men are typically “apple-shaped,” meaning they store fat around the waist, while women are typically “pear-shaped,” meaning they store fat around the hips. The “apple-shaped” body type also contributes to the higher rates of heart disease at a younger age seen in men compared to women. Limiting the amount of saturated fat and sodium you consume is recommended to help prevent heart disease.
The Bottom Line
While there are some differences in nutrition needs between men and women, if you’re trying to lose weight or just eat healthier, the advice is the same: Focus on a well-balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and one that limits saturated fat, added sugar and sodium. If you have concerns about your nutrition, consult with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian.
About the Author:
Kelli Richardson, RDN, is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness at the University of Arizona. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutrition and was acknowledged by the Arizona Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as the Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year in 2022. She currently serves on the board of the Southern Arizona Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and was the Global Science Nutrition Intern at WeightWatchers®.