Men and women’s bodies have innately different requirements. This means that in order to support optimal health and performance, we need different approaches. One simple step is for men and women to choose a multivitamin that addresses their unique needs. At the core level for women, they have an increased need of 3 key nutrients compared to men – calcium, iron, and folate.
The Big 3: Calcium, Iron, Folate
Women are at a much greater risk for osteoporosis than men. As a result, bone health needs to be a specific focus for women throughout their life. Earlier in life, calcium is used to build and fortify bones in what scientists call your ‘bone bank’ as you are making calcium deposits into your bones. This peaks between your 20-30s. After that, your body will start to make more withdrawals - removing calcium from and weakening your bones.
By taking in optimal amounts of calcium, women are able to maximize their “bone bank” early in life and then provide their body with the calcium that it needs in their 30s and beyond to help reduce the amount of calcium that their body will remove from their bones.
Research shows that this is less of an issue for men. In fact, too much calcium can cause negative health effects in men. This is why a woman’s multivitamin should always provide more calcium than a man’s multivitamin.
Women, specifically pre-menopausal women, also need more iron than men – 125 percent more! Women are more likely to be iron deficient than men. A 2019 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology reported that up to 35% of female athletes suffer from iron deficiency anemia. This is more than 3x the number of men that suffer from this performance-crushing deficiency.
Optimal levels of iron are so important for athletes because it is essential for the binding of oxygen to red blood cells so that oxygen can be taken from the lungs to power hard workout muscles throughout the body. Inadequate intakes of iron can lead to fatigue, lethargy, muscle weakness, abnormally increased heart rate and shortness of breath during exercise.
Finally, men and women, of child-bearing age, have different needs for folate. Folate is a B-vitamin that plays an important role in many of your cell’s key processes, including the building of DNA and the maintenance of healthy DNA. Low intakes of folate put women at risk for having babies that suffer from neural tube defects (a condition that prevents a baby’s brain and/or spine from being fully developed at birth).
Optimizing folate intake via supplementation has shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects by 70-100 percent! This is why in 1992 and then again in 1998, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Institute of Medicine, respectively, recommended that all women who could have children consume an additional 400mcg of folic acid each day from fortified foods, supplements, or a combination of the two.
Other Vitamins and Minerals Needs
Outside of calcium, iron, and folate, essential vitamin and mineral differences between men and women vary due to general differences in body size. Men, having a larger body mass, will require slightly more of any given nutrient, compared to women.
For optimal performance and health, you should give your body the nutrients that it needs in the right amounts – choosing the appropriate multivitamin is a simple step in the right direction.