Whether you're lifting weights to improve muscle strength or physique, what you eat matters. While protein is certainly important for muscle growth, a weight-training diet for women should be balanced and include a healthy mix of carbs, protein and fat to improve workouts, strength and tone. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet.
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The Right Number of Calories
When weight-training to build muscle, you should get the right number of calories. Eating too few calories may lead to muscle loss, while eating more calories than your body needs may lead to fat gain. How many calories a women needs to eat on a weight-training diet depends on age and activity level and ranges from 1,800 to 2,400 calories a day. Your doctor or dietitian can help you determine your calorie needs to promote muscle growth.
Eating Enough Carbs
Carbs are your body's preferred source of energy, and making sure you get enough carbs throughout the day spares your body from using muscle for energy. You should aim for 2.3 to 3.6 grams of carbs per pound of body weight a day when weight training, or 276 grams to 432 grams for a woman weighing 120 pounds. Include nutrient-rich carb foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, to maximize the nutritional quality of your diet.
Protein for Muscle Building
As a weight-training woman, your protein needs are higher compared to a woman who doesn't exercise at all. To promote muscle growth, you need 0.9 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, or 108 to 120 grams of protein for a 120-pound woman. Protein should come from high-quality sources such as eggs, low-fat milk, fish, lean meat, poultry, beans, grains and nuts.
While you may want to limit the fat in your diet to promote a leaner look, eating too little fat may impair your workout and increase risk of nutritional deficiencies. A healthy weightlifting diet for a woman should include 20 percent to 35 percent of calories from fat. Including heart-healthy sources of fat, such as fatty fish like salmon, nuts, seeds and oils, can help limit your intake of saturated fat.
Putting it All Together
When you weight-train, it is important to eat regularly -- three meals and one to two snacks a day -- and have a source of protein and a fruit or vegetable at each meal and snack. For example, a healthy weight-training breakfast might include a boiled egg with a toasted whole-wheat English muffin and a banana. At lunch, you might enjoy mixed greens topped with grilled salmon, raisins and almonds with a whole-wheat roll. A healthy dinner meal might include broiled chicken with roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli. An apple with peanut butter or a low-fat yogurt with an orange make good snack choices.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Eat Right for Resistance Training
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Weight Training for Women
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- ExRx.net: Protein
- ExRx.net: Dietary Guidelines