One of the most popular questions I get asked is whether or not women can build muscle with diet and exercise alone. While it’s certainly possible to do so, the answer is that building muscle through diet and exercise alone isn’t realistic for many women who aren’t training intensely or lifting heavy weights.
The good news, however, is that building more muscle doesn’t require you to become a bodybuilder—instead, by making some subtle changes to your diet and your workout routine, you can eat your way to more muscle! Here are four ways that women can build muscle with diet and exercise.
1) Eat Enough Calories
In order to build muscle, you need calories. It’s that simple. The old eat big to get big mentality might have worked for bodybuilders of yore, but it doesn’t translate as well to women today, many of whom don’t want to look like a male bodybuilder. Instead, with a slight tweak in your approach, you can build more muscle by optimizing calorie intake for both fat loss and muscle gain.
To begin building muscle with diet alone (and not necessarily in conjunction with exercise), you should be eating approximately 20-25% more calories than you burn each day. This will give your body what it needs to build lean tissue while also helping minimize fat storage.
Protein is important when trying to add muscle. Make sure you’re eating 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight, or 0.36 grams per kilogram. A female who weighs 140 pounds (63 kilograms) would thus aim for at least 112 grams of protein every day; that’s 16 ounces or 420 grams of chicken breast!
2) Get Enough Protein
Protein is an essential macronutrient when it comes to building muscle. If you’re not careful, you could end up consuming too much protein. In that case, instead of supporting your workout efforts, your body will turn protein into sugar to be burned off as energy. Aim for 10–15 percent of your daily calories from protein, or about a palm-sized serving per meal if you’re following a 1,500-calorie diet.
It’s also crucial to keep in mind that there are other sources of protein beyond just meat. While fish isn’t always thought of as lean protein, many varieties (like salmon) contain less than 100 calories per four ounces—which is on par with some cuts of chicken breast.
To get your 10–15 percent of daily calories from protein, aim for 3 servings of animal protein per day, like 2–3 ounces of fish, poultry or meat. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll need to work a little harder to get enough protein in your diet. Eggs are an excellent option for plant-based eaters; one large egg has about 6 grams of protein (that’s pretty close to an ounce). Protein powders can also be a convenient way to meet your goals—just be sure to choose one that’s whey based with no more than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
3) Eat Enough Carbs
You may already know that carbs are a major source of fuel for working muscles, but what you may not know is that certain carbs are better than others. High-glycemic index (GI) foods spike blood sugar levels, which causes insulin to be released in large amounts; low-GI foods have a more gentle effect on blood glucose.
Low-GI foods also tend to make you feel fuller than high-GI foods. For women trying to build muscle, it’s important to consider your overall diet when constructing your diet plan. It is helpful to work out any unhealthy eating habits so that they don’t affect your progress toward building muscle mass!
Make sure you have a variety of whole grains in your diet. Your meal plan should include bread, pastas, oats, cereals, rice, buckwheat and quinoa. These foods are high in fibre which will help keep you fuller for longer periods of time so that you can stick to your weight loss diet. They are also rich in carbohydrates which will help with muscle growth.
4) Do Resistance Training
To build muscle, you need to break down your muscles with exercise—but then give them time to rebuild stronger than before. By lifting heavy weights or resistance bands, or with bodyweight exercises like squats, you can work all of your major muscle groups in each workout session.
Along with performing a full-body strength workout two or three times a week, try to include at least one day focused on resistance training if you’re trying to build muscle. Keep an eye on how much weight you’re using; many women will be able to successfully lift a 30-pound dumbbell while doing bicep curls during a full-body strength workout.
If you’re new to strength training, talk to a trainer at your gym or hire a personal trainer. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends working with a professional if you haven’t been regularly lifting weights, as it can help you develop good form—which will improve your results and reduce your risk of injury. Your trainer can also help create a customized routine that meets your specific needs.
Since muscle building takes time, focus on performing each exercise correctly so that you give yourself plenty of time to see progress. You may even need to adjust how often you exercise based on how quickly your body adapts; some women start feeling sore after two weeks, while others take longer than six months. Follow all instructions from your doctor before beginning any weight-lifting program.
If you are a woman wanting to build muscle, your diet is key. If your goal is to build muscle, consuming adequate calories every day is a must. In addition to that, you need to ensure you consume enough protein at each meal. And finally, if you want to build muscle while protecting your bones, make sure to include bone-building foods in your diet as well! By staying consistent with these tips, women can be well on their way towards building lean muscle mass with diet and exercise!