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It feels like there’s a change in the air when it comes to women and weight training. All it takes is a quick scroll through Instagram to see that more and more women are being galvanised in the pursuit of strength-based exercise. Being strong is the new body goal and thank goodness for that. Whether you’re doing push-ups in your living room or loading up a barbell, there are a few key nutrition principles to adopt to get the most out of your weight training. We explain what and how in this guide for weight training for women.
What is weight training?
Let’s start from the top, what counts as weight training? Weight-training doesn’t necessarily mean that you must jump into a squat rack in the gym, it can be anything that helps to develop the strength and size of skeletal muscles. It can be body-weight exercises, circuit training, cross-fit or doing squats with a backpack filled with your recent Mango & Papaya order...anything that stresses and loads your muscles.
Benefits of weight training for your health
Although you’ve probably heard the stereotypical “weight training makes women bulky” argument before, not only is this unfounded, but it also pulls focus from the fact that increasing lean mass (aka building more muscle) does wonders for our overall metabolism. Don’t get us wrong, it is possible for women to bulk up, but it takes a serious amount of work, dedication, and a meticulous nutrition plan. In other words, you’re not going to bulk up by accident. This is because genetically, women don’t produce enough testosterone, the main hormone which helps the body build muscle, unlike our male counterparts. Trust us, you won’t accidentally turn into the female Hulk Hogan by incorporating weight training into your life. In fact, muscles are metabolically active tissues, meaning that the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will churn through on a daily basis. It has been claimed that each kilogram of muscle uses at least 10 Calories per day. This is primarily why guys are suggested to consume a higher number of calories per day compared to women.
Weight training is also super important to protect bones and joints. By building stronger connective tissue that surrounds the joints, they will be further stabilised and more likely to withstand extra load and force, thereby reducing the risk of injury. Strength-based work can also help to maintain good form and could correct bad posture.
As we age, our bodies’ metabolism starts to slow, we lose muscle mass and we’re not as efficient at making muscle. And if that doesn’t sound bad enough, the risk of developing osteoporosis (a chronic bone disease that reduces bone mineral density) increases, particularly post-menopause (sorry ladies) due to a decline in oestrogen. To explain what osteoporosis is, think of your bones like a Crunchie bar, it has a few holes in it but, generally it’s a strong bar and if you drop it, it shouldn’t do too much damage. BUT if more holes form or the size of the holes increase the bar becomes more brittle and is more likely to break, in other words this osteoporotic bone is more liable to fracture. Weight training, along with a diet rich in protein and calcium has been shown to be highly beneficial for the preservation of bone and muscle mass.
As you can see, the physiological benefits of weight training really can’t be overstated. What’s more, from a psychological point of view lifting weights can offer a sense of stress relief, empowerment, and instant gratification especially when we compare against endurance activities like jogging, because let’s face it, jogging can sometimes feel like a slog. A study involving over 340 women aged between 23 to 87 years old, concluded that strength training is associated with significant improvements in several aspects of female body image and personal satisfaction. A more positive body image is linked with improved self-esteem, emotional well-being, social competence, quality of life and decreased incidences of depression & anxiety.
Whether you're lifting weights to build a stronger body, to support other sports as part of a training regimen or to fill out your jeans a little more (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), eating right will help you to get the most out of your training.
If you’re incorporating weight-training into your regime to build muscle or/and to gain overall body weight, you may have to bump up your daily calorie intake. This is because building muscle is energy expensive, and we must offset the calories burnt by exercise plus a bit extra to bulk up, compared to if the goal was to maintain current muscle mass and weight.
This won’t be a big surprise to most, but if you’re participating in weight training, you’ll need to consider the amount of protein you’re including in your diet. This is because lifting weights will cause microscopic tears in the muscle and connective tissue which need to be repaired and rebuilt by the building blocks of protein, amino acids.
Cool, but how much protein should I eat? If your aim is to maintain and build muscle mass a higher protein intake is required versus the recommended daily amount of a sedentary individual, which is about 50g/day (or more specifically 0.8g protein per kilogram of body weight per day (/kg BW/d)).
It’s suggested that between 1.4-1.6 g/kgBW/d is recommended if you want to maintain or build muscle. This equates to about 91-104g protein per day if you’re a 65kg individual.
When should I have protein?
We’re constantly in a state of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and muscle protein breakdown (MPB) i.e., building up and breaking down proteins in our body, mainly from muscle sources. To build muscle mass, we want to tip the scales in favour of MPS, so we build more muscle than we break it down. To do this, we want to drip feed protein into our system continually throughout the day. So rather than making dinner the hero meal for providing protein, opt to have a source of protein in each snack/meal. If we use the example above of aiming to consume 100g protein per day, this can be broken down into 5 portions of 20g protein i.e., breakfast, lunch, snack, post-training snack and dinner. Below is a list of foods that provide 20g protein.
80g (dry weight)
1 & ⅓ can
Sources of protein
The focus should be on high-quality protein sources that include the essential amino acids (‘essential’ meaning the aminos that we can’t make in our body and thereby must get from our food). The most important of these essential amino acids is leucine, which acts as the trigger to the process of building muscle.
Our top three takeaway messages:
1) Weight training has many health benefits and positive effects on the body.
2) Women should not be scared that weight training creates ‘bulkiness’ - this would take a serious amount of training and wouldn't happen accidentally.
3) Diet plays a big part in building muscle, and this is important to consider if you begin a weight training programme.