Ladies, You’re Not Really Eating for Muscle

It’s not so easy being a woman who wants more muscle. Cultural norms and mental conditioning cause us to sabotage our own good intentions, especially when it comes to eating for muscle.

But ladies, if you want more muscle, you’ve got to let go of your FAT PHOBIA.

Ladies, You're Not Really Eating for Muscle | Workout Nirvana

The Skinny Trap

It’s drilled into our heads all our lives that attractive means skinny.  In my experience as a personal trainer, I see many fit women in a state of perpetual calorie restriction and cardio overtraining, afraid of gaining an ounce of fat or trying to lose fat.

What’s wrong with a little fat, anyway? Do we really need six-pack abs?  (Read how women train their muscle away.)

Athletic, high-profile women can stay at very low body fat levels because they’re active for a living. Many times they’re super young or even have bodybuilding experience. But for most women (including myself), being lean enough to have six-pack abs isn’t a priority. We don’t compete on stage or train for meets – we sit at desks all day and squeeze workouts into a busy family life. I want muscle definition and to feel strong and healthy!


[Tweet “You can have a lean, sculpted physique when you lift weights AND eat enough for muscle.”]

Women who are on effective strength training programs have high energy needs, and eating enough nutritious food fuels our performance, muscle building,and strength. Eating for muscle includes all food groups, the way – carbs and healthy fats included. And are we remembering that eating for muscle means a more shapely, sculpted body?

When you’re in the skinny or cardiok-only mindset, you’re shortchanging yourself. You just can’t build muscle on a low-calorie diet – you’ll simply stay the same.

Stressing Over Fat

Eating only 1200-1500 calories per day is not enough for most women to gain muscle. Not only can you get into hormonal and metabolic imbalances by restricting calories long term, you can lose muscle mass in the process. That’s not good when you consider that muscle raises your metabolism and makes you more functionally strong, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing.

To state the obvious, you can’t build muscle on a sparse, bird-like diet – muscle need lots of lean protein and enough calories to grow (but not too many – only 100-200 calories extra above maintenance is a good place to start).

As a trainer, I’ve seen many women with a  fantastic body fat percentage worry about a tiny amount of body fat and wonder why they can’t build muscle. Instead of eating enough, they continue to restrict calories and overdo cardio. The result is no progress whatsoever.

Strength training while you’re losing fat is smart, since you’ll get a stronger, tighter body and raise your metabolism. But what many women lifters don’t understand is that to build significant muscle, you have to prioritize muscle building – that is, stop worrying about a little fat and focus on lifting heavy and proper nutrition.

[Tweet “Building muscle requires eating a hearty diet, NOT dieting.”]


Eating for Muscle: How Much?

You can and should lift weights while trying to lose weight, as there’s tremendous benefits to doing so. During this time, you can also integrate clean-eating habits, gain strength and conditioning, and learn effective training techniques.

But once you’re at a weight you can be happy with, stop restricting your calories. Determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and let your metabolism adjust for awhile. Then, when you’re following an effective, structured strength-training program, you can raise your calories by 100-200 calories per day and see how your body responds. You also to monitor your body composition in order to adjust calories, if needed.

My prediction is that if you do these things, you’ll start seeing some of the BEST results of your life.

Body Love for More Muscle

If you’re fit and want to build muscle, it’s time to accept that your body has some fat. Get on an effective strength training program and allow yourself to eat a normal amount of food for your size. You may need to do some cardio to keep your metabolism humming as you eat more. This varies based on your body type, but don’t overdo cardio or you’ll take energy away from muscle building.

Are you willing to put aside your need for a skinny body and prioritize muscle building?

This article originally appeared on

18 thoughts on “Ladies, You’re Not Really Eating for Muscle

  1. I am doing a nutrition challenge with my crossfit and they are focused on teaching us how to eat to build muscle and get lean. It is not easy and I still struggle with eating out, but I am learning! I do not want a skinny body, I want a healthy one!


  2. I love this, I try and my coworkers try to help people understand that fat is not the enemy in your food and that it’s diet and exercise that makes a difference. You know I love cardio, but I am all about building a strong body so I am incorporating weights too. Gotta be well rounded so I am not round.


  3. Great post (as always). I hate to see all the 1200-1500 calorie plans in all the “fitness” magazines. So much mis-information out there so I love seeing posts like this and hope they make it to the mainstream! I have a former client who, no matter what I said, no matter what she read, she still tries to cardio her weight away and eats in the 1200 calorie range. It’s frustrating and sad at the same time.


  4. It took me a few years to get past my phobias – more than a few – into my 30’s. I was one that avoided fat & ate too little for my workouts & work schedule. Once I got past that, all was good! No fear of fats now! 🙂 Great post & YES to being careful with the calorie restricting!

    We are all different so we have to find what works for us. I do a lot of cardio – more than some but it gets me where I want to be along with weights & eating well plus being older – makes it even harder to keep that maintenance…


    • Really fascinating to hear you talk about what you’ve done to overcome barriers Jody. It’s all such a fine balance, truly confounding unless you’re systematic about your results!


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