These days, there are a lot of women interested in being strong, muscular and fit—long gone are the days of being just skinny! Every woman should want shapely muscle on her frame, and why not? Muscle increases our metabolism, protects our bones and even increases our self-confidence. While many women wish to look and feel strong, there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to women building muscle. In this post, I’ll share some of the popular beliefs and provide strategies to help you get results.
#1 – It’s Difficult For Women To Put On Muscle
This myth is partly true. Women have much less of the one hormone we need to build plenty of muscle—testosterone. This anabolic hormone is the major reason why we are limited in our ability to build muscle. Specifically, women have about 1/3 the amount of total testosterone that men have and much less free testosterone too. Free testosterone is not bound and is therefore available to elicit its anabolic effects in the body. Healthy men have up to 1100 ng/dl of free testosterone floating around, while women have a mere upper limit of 86 ng/dl!
While our testosterone levels may be naturally low, there are nutritional adjustments you can make to optimize your levels. For instance, increasing fat in the diet can have a positive effect on the amount of free testosterone we have in the body, but it can also have an impact on other hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. When estrogen levels are too high, enzymes are sent out that can break down testosterone and put a halt on our fat burning! To control excess estrogen, it is important to eat a diet high in good-for-you fats, lean proteins and fiber and lower in refined carbs. This will help to control aromatization of testosterone creating a more optimal hormonal state for muscle building.
#2 – Estrogen Prevents Us From Being Lean & Muscular
The point above may lead you to believe that estrogen is the bad guy and that it prevents you from being lean and muscular, but this is not exactly true. When estrogen is balanced with progesterone, our metabolism functions optimally. We can burn off fat, build muscle and have energy for our workouts. But when estrogen levels are in excess, this can negatively impact our energy levels, mood and ability to build muscle and burn fat.
Just like men, we build muscle by stimulating hypertrophy by overloading the muscle. However, for growth to occur, our body must be able to turn on the pathways that can elicit recovery. For this to happen, our hormones need to be optimally balanced. Besides diet, one can decrease the excess estrogen in the body by reducing chemical estrogen exposure from xenoestrogens hidden in things like your soap, shampoo or even your food.
To do so, use natural personal care products, eat organic when possible and eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables that can help reduce toxic estrogen metabolites. Eating plenty of fiber is also important, as fiber can bind to excess estrogen and remove it from the system instead of having it re-absorbed by the body.
#3 – You Have To Use A Bulking Diet To Gain Muscle
To build muscle, we do need to eat sufficient calories. However, it’s not necessary to go on a full-out bulking diet to gain muscle! While overeating is an anabolic process, there are better methods to gain muscle. Traditional bulking diets that make you overeat 24/7 always result in unnecessary fat gain. Consider using a cyclic bulking diet approach where you increase your calories (with good, natural whole foods) for a period of 2-weeks and follow that with a 2-week cutting phase. This approach has been shown to result in fewer fat pounds gained and more lean mass gained.
One study demonstrated that test subjects who overfeed on 1200, 1400 and 1600 extra calories per day had increases in important growth factors including IGF-1, testosterone and insulin, as well as increases in lean body mass. Hormone levels peaked at day 14 of the high calorie diet, and subsequently started to decrease thereafter. This approach can help stimulate growth and fill the muscles with the nutrients needed for muscle building. For the bulking phase, use a diet that provides 40% protein, 30-40% carbs and 20-30% fats. For the cutting phase, switch the caloric ratios to 50% protein, 10-20% carbs and 30-40% fats.
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