A Comprehensive Guide to Muscle Building for Women

Many women go to the gym and do hours and hours of cardio training with the aim of ‘toning up’ and end up simply smaller versions of themselves, with similar percentages of lean body mass and fat. This is not toning. Toning involves building muscle and fat loss, to create a firmer, leaner physique with a higher proportion of lean body mass compared to fat.

For those who fear that they will develop huge muscles if they so much as look at a set of dumbbells, worry not! It is very difficult to develop large amounts of muscle mass due to the influence of the circulating female hormones and only very low levels of natural testosterone.

In this article, we discuss muscle building for women and examine the ideal diet plan for female bodybuilders. We will also explain the best methods for bulking and cutting, along with optimal training regimens for women bodybuilders.

Women’s body building diet

There is no reason for female bodybuilders to eat a different diet from their male counterparts. The types of foods that should be consumed to achieve the best results are the same as those that make up a bodybuilding diet for a man. However, portion sizes will be smaller than for men, due to the lower body weight and proportion of lean body mass naturally present in women. This results in lower energy requirements.

The exact portion size will depend on the body weight, the proportion of lean body mass, activity levels, and lifestyle of the individual, plus natural genetic variation in metabolism. It will also be goal dependent, with more being consumed during a bulking phase, compared to cutting. It is important to listen to your body, gauge how it reacts to different eating and training regimes and adjusts your intake and training accordingly. Personal experience is the key to finding the right diet to meet your goals.

What foods should I eat?

A cutting or bulking plan should be based upon a core of healthy foods supplying all the macro and micronutrients. The relative amounts consumed will vary depending upon the goal – a cutting plan will be lower in carbs than one aimed at bulking.

The key is to get a wide variety of foods. Not only will this reduce menu boredom, but it will also ensure that the full spectrum of micronutrients, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and so on are provided.

Here at Performance Meals, our 7-day meal plan for muscle gain is perfect for females starting ours for the first time. These protein-packed pouches help to build muscle whilst providing a variety of different flavours to prevent boredom, meaning you will be more likely to stick to the plan.

Food for muscle gain

The most effective muscle building foods include:

  • Low GI carbohydrates such as brown or basmati rice, granary bread, wholemeal pasta, quinoa, sweet potato, and other starchy vegetables.
  • Good quality, lean protein sources such as skinless chicken or turkey, lean fillets of beef, lamb, or pork, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards), white fish, eggs, pulses, and soya, tofu, and Quorn. It is best to oven bake, grill, roast, or stir fry, rather than shallow or deep fry.
  • Healthy fats from nuts, seeds, flax, oily fish, avocado, and olives, plus poly or monounsaturated oils. These will ensure a good supply of poly and monounsaturated oils. Restrict foods containing a lot of saturated fat.
  • Lots of fruit and vegetables. These are typically low in calories but packed full of vitamins and minerals plus other phytonutrients essential for the maintenance of a healthy metabolism, immune system, skin, and nervous system.
  • Low-fat dairy products such as yoghurt, skimmed milk, lower-fat cheeses such as Edam or Brie, cottage cheese, and quark.

Bodybuilding diet plan

While serious bodybuilders who regularly compete tend to follow bulking and cutting cycles, maintaining a very low level of body fat for only a few days around competition, the average recreation female bodybuilding will follow a less stringent programme.

The sample diet below is for gaining lean body mass with minimal fat gain. This will result in a harder physique that will result in a leaner look overall. It incorporates a weight training session in the afternoon.

Bulking

Essentially, bulking is the gain of body mass (a mixture of lean body mass and fat) achieved by the consumption of a calorie surplus, combined with weight training, resulting in a greater muscle mass. The aim is to bulk as cleanly as possible, gaining only minimal amounts of fat. This will result in a more painless process of cutting, to strip away the fat and reveal the hard-earned muscle.

Bulking does not mean putting away as much food as possible, regardless of the quality or quantity. Few women will want to gain large amounts of fat as well as muscle. This is simply a waste of energy and will not achieve the desired aesthetic.

Aim to consume a small meal or snack every three hours, comprised of low GI carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats. In addition, a wide variety of fruit and vegetables will keep you feeling full and will ensure adequate micronutrient and fibre intake.

Pay attention to the pre-and post-workout meals, in particular. The pre-workout meal, consumed at least an hour if not two before training, should be focused on low GI carbs and lean protein, with some fruit. Post-workout nutrition should be an immediate whey protein shake, or another fast-acting protein source, followed by a meal of low-medium GI carbs, lean protein, healthy fats, and vegetables.

Cutting

Body fat cutting is the reduction of body fat and preservation of lean body mass to achieve a leaner yet still muscular physique. It is done by creating a calorie deficit through diet and cardiovascular activity.

Diets to cut body fat are lower in both calories and carbohydrates than bulking diets. Fats are lowered slightly but protein intake is maintained, so the proportion of the diet that is protein is actually higher than in the bulking diet.

While carbs are not completely removed from the diet, or indeed any particular meal, they are reduced and limited to slow-acting, low GI carbs. The majority of carbs will be focussed before and after weight training and the portion sizes should be reduced (but not eliminated) at every other meal.

Bodybuilders choosing diet cutting cannot focus on the consumption of food alone. The right exercise routine is just as important to enhance the effects of the diet. Early morning cardio exercise, at a moderate level, will increase the calorie deficit without having to reduce the intake of food dramatically and will help to burn fat while the body is unfuelled.

Bodybuilding workout plan

A female’s bodybuilding exercise plan and weight training regime at the gym should be no different from that of male bodybuilders.

Low to moderate rep ranges with heavy weights will promote the development of muscle, unlike high rep ranges with low weights, which is more likely to burn a mixture of muscle and fat.

Incorporate cardiovascular exercise into your bodybuilding workout routine. Cardiovascular exercise should be performed at least 4-5 times a week, early morning, on an empty stomach, at a moderate intensity, while cutting.

However, during bulking, cardio should not be totally neglected, just completed on a different day or at a different time from weight training. Not only will it promote overall health, but it will also ensure that excessive levels of fat are not gained and the subsequent process of cutting is more efficient.

Supplements for bodybuilding

Supplements should be just that: supplemental to a healthy eating plan. Bodybuilding supplements should be tailored to the individual, alongside a well-designed training regime.

While whey protein is a great addition to any bodybuilding diet, ensuring a fast-acting supply of protein post-workout, other supplements may also be of benefit. Alongside bodybuilding protein, be sure to include glutamine and creatine ethyl ester into your supplement routine.

Final thoughts

Women’s bodybuilding does not need to be intimidating. Toning your body and building muscle can be accomplished through the right diet and training regime.

Take a look at our wide variety of protein-packed meals, designed to enhance your diet whether you want to cut or bulk. With monthly meal plans available, you can ensure long-term success and get the trimmed physique you desire.

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