While women have a harder time building muscle than men, women bodybuilders still carry impressive amounts of mass and have low levels of body fat. Should you decide to throw yourself into female bodybuilding, make sure your diet is up to scratch to help you get your best physique ever.
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Bodybuilding diets are a numbers game. Typically women need fewer calories than men, due to their lower body weight, but this isn't the case as much with bodybuilding. You need extra calories to grow and build muscle, but not so many that you gain fat. To give you an idea of what the top female bodybuilders eat, U.K.-based competitor Lisa Cross notes in an interview with the Mail Online that she needs 5,000 calories per day to bulk up and maintain her muscle mass. It is unlikely you'll need this many at first, though, so start by adding 500 calories to your current daily intake and see how you go. If you're not getting bigger and stronger, keep bumping them up.
Details for Dieting
When dieting for a show, your approach to nutrition needs to change. During the off-season, a high-calorie intake helps muscle building, but you'll have to drop calories to shed fat for a contest. Women tend to have lower resting metabolic rates than men, meaning you burn fewer calories over the course of a day, according to Chantal Vella and Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico. This means your calorie intake must be low enough that you lose fat, but not so low you lose muscle. Take 500 to 750 calories away from your bulking diet when transitioning to a contest prep diet. If you're not dropping fat, you'll need to go lower still, or if you're losing weight but also losing muscle and strength, you can increase your calories a little.
The Figure Factor
Traditional women's bodybuilding is similar to male bodybuilding, where the contestants are judged on a mix of muscle size and leanness. Figure bodybuilding, on the other hand, focuses more on shape and symmetry, with less of an emphasis on muscle size. Female figure competitors should eat in a similar way to male bodybuilders, advises personal Nick Mitchell of UP Fitness, with one small exception of protein intake being slightly lower at around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. Mitchell also recommends cutting down on starchy carbs and eating more eggs and red meat, saving the majority of your carbs for post workout.
A Plan for Success
Calories are the most important factor in your diet and after that comes your macronutrients -- protein, carbs and fat. Stick with the 1 gram per pound of protein recommendation and divide the rest of your daily calories between carbs and fat. NABBA female bodybuilding champion Dana Linn Bailey advises sticking to whole foods, such as steak, chicken, fish, egg whites, oats and sweet potatoes. If you do succumb to a few unhealthy treat, keep them to a minimum -- just enough to satisfy your cravings.
Sample Cutting Diet
When dieting for a contest, your calories, carbs and fats will be lower. Start your day with an omelet made with mixed vegetables and low-fat cheese. Make a big mixed green salad for lunch, topped with grilled chicken breast, a handful or two of kidney or pinto beans and a tablespoon of olive oil. Dine on a lean steak, served with carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in the evening and snack on nuts, protein shakes and cottage cheese if you get hungry during the day. Adjust serving sizes to fit your body weight and calorie and macronutrient needs.
Sample Bulking Diet
If you're looking to add muscle between shows, eating more calories, particularly carbohydrates. Go for oats with a protein shake or a couple of boiled eggs for breakfast. Have a turkey or tuna salad sandwich, using mashed avocado for the spread and one or two servings of fruit at lunch. For dinner, go for a fattier protein source like salmon, mackerel or turkey thigh with plenty of veggies and a portion of carbs from rice, pasta, sweet potato or quinoa. For snacks, you can stick to nuts, shakes and cottage cheese, but fruit, peanut butter, rice cakes and hard cheeses like cheddar can be useful for bumping up your calories.