Most women strive to have a balanced physique that’s both lean and somewhat muscular. Although it’s important for women to have muscle for aesthetic purposes it’s even more important for maximizing athletic potential and strength. In order to gain muscle women need to focus on three major areas of their health: nutrition, supplementation, and training. In this article we will discuss how women can optimize each of these areas in order to develop muscle.
One of the most critical components to building muscle is establishing a diet that supports muscle repair and growth. Women who are looking to build muscle should consume at least 20 % of their total daily calories from protein and at least 50% from carbohydrates. Protein aids the body in muscle repair and growth whereas carbohydrates aid muscle glycogen resynthesis. In order to meet these macronutrient recommendations women should supplement their diet with a high quality protein powder as well as a carbohydrate-dense powder, such as cyclic dextrin.
Women should also remain in a slight caloric surplus to promote muscle building and repair. By consuming a few hundred calories more each day women can use the excess calories towards repairing and building muscle as well as towards training intensely.
To put this into perspective, let’s say a 150 pound woman who trains 3 to 4 times a week is looking to gain muscle. We will assume her basal metabolic rate (BMR) is 1400 calories a day and that she burns 300 calories a day from training. To increase her chances of building muscle she should aim to eat a few hundred calories more than what’s burned by her BMR and training combined. Thus if she burns 1,700 calories a day she should eat around 2,000 calories a day. Within the 2,000 calories she consumes from her diet she should make sure that 20% is protein (100 grams/400 calories), 50% is carbohydrates (250 grams/1,000 calories), and 30% is fat (~67 grams/600 calories).
Along with nutrition, supplementation is another important factor which affects muscle growth in women. Four of the best supplements that women can take for building muscle include creatine, beta alanine, betaine anhydrous, and BCAAs. All of these supplements work together to create an anabolic state as well as promote better training.
Creatine is one of the most popular muscle-building supplements on the market and is found naturally within muscle cells. It helps create more energy within the body and increases both lean muscle mass and strength. Creatine is most commonly taken in the form of creatine monohydrate which is dosed at 2 – 5 grams per serving once per day.
Beta alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is converted by the body into carnosine which buffers acid within the body. It is used for athletic performance and has multiple benefits such as enhancing the effect of creatine, improving endurance, increasing strength and muscle, and delaying fatigue. Beta alanine should be taken once per day in a dose of 4 – 6 grams.
Betaine anhydrous, or TMG, is derived from the amino acid choline and helps to improve endurance and strength. It also enhances protein synthesis and muscle oxygen consumption. Betaine anhydrous is generally taken in a single serving of 2.5 grams and can be taken anytime during the day.
BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) consist of the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. All three of these amino acids are critical for muscle protein synthesis and help to reduce muscle soreness as well as promote endurance. BCAAs can be taken at any point throughout the day but are generally recommended to be taken intra-workout in a serving size of 3 -6 grams.
In addition to utilizing proper nutrition and supplementation, women should ensure that their training style is optimal for building muscle. In order to build muscle effectively women should alter their training regimen by including heavy compound movements, training with high volume and frequency, and reducing overall time spent doing cardio.
Women should make sure that they incorporate heavy compound lifts which provide enough stress for inducing hypertrophy. Training with heavier weight and performing movements that target several major muscle groups at once will enhance muscle development throughout the entire physique and help to reduce muscle imbalances. Some of the best lifts that women can include within their program are squats, deadlifts, lunges, bench press, dips, pull-ups, bent over row, and military press.
Along with performing heavy compound lifts, women should also train with higher volume and frequency. By completing a high number of repetitions with moderately heavy weight more stress will be placed on the muscle which leads to greater growth. It is generally recommended to lift 3 – 4 sets of 8 – 12 reps per exercise in order for hypertrophy to be maximized. It is also important for women to increase their training frequency by training multiple times throughout the week in order to train specific muscles more often and to target additional muscle groups.
The Bottom Line
Finally, women should reduce their cardio down as much as possible when trying to build muscle. In contrast to lifting weights, extensive cardio leads to a higher rate of protein degradation which leads to less muscle in the body. Thus, women should rely mostly on weight training in order to promote protein synthesis and to maintain the muscle they already have.