Strength training and nutrition for women: tips from the experts
Lift weights in the gym and then bite into a greasy pizza – or eat nothing at all? You can do it, but it doesn’t help! Exercising and eating healthy go hand in hand.
One works without the other, but is only half as effective. If you want to build muscle, tone your body or be more efficient, sooner or later you will have to adjust your diet as well as your training routine.
We found out why it is so important what ends up on your plate, what role the female cycle plays and how you can approach a change in diet in a relaxed manner.
Why is nutrition so important for the training effect?
The truth is, training is 100 percent of the success you want. But the truth is that diet is also 100 percent. This means that one cannot fully succeed without the other.
If you don’t have your nutrition under control, you will either still not be able to get rid of your unwanted body fat or slow down your own regeneration and training success.
What are typical nutritional mistakes that sabotage strength training?
In my experience, many women who start weight training initially have trouble increasing their protein intake.
At the other extreme are women who are overly ambitious in their goals and cut calories too much, eating almost exclusively protein and cutting fat and carbs to a minimum.
This can also slow down the training success in the medium term. These errors often only become apparent after months. Just as muscles take time to grow, problems caused by a poorly planned diet will only be noticed later.
Is the widespread “fear” of carbohydrates and fats justified?
It’s not carbohydrates or fats that are to blame for all the troubles, it’s the amount of calories that counts. Any “magic diet” must ensure that the user is in a calorie deficit if it is to work.
What you shouldn’t forget: The human body consists of 60 percent water, the muscles even up to 70 percent. If you lose ten pounds in ten days, in the worst case you have only lost water, empty your carbohydrate stores and even lost valuable muscle mass due to malnutrition.
So there is no reason to be afraid of carbohydrates or fats in food – on the contrary! Too little exercise and the wrong calorie balance are much more serious.
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How many carbs, fats, and proteins should women exercise each day?
The basis of the diet should be 150 to 200 grams of carbohydrates, 50 grams of fat and 1.5 to 2 times your body weight in grams of protein. The remaining calories can then be broken down into fat and carbohydrates.
Book “Training and Nutrition for Women” you explain that it makes sense for women to adapt their diet to the menstrual cycle – why?
Estrogen levels tend to be low during the menstrual phase and will rise sharply in the days that follow until ovulation and then fall again.
Estrogen, in turn, promotes the production of energy from fatty acids. At the same time, after ovulation, the drop in the happiness hormone serotonin leads to an increased craving for sweets.
An absolute chaos of hormones – so it makes perfect sense to adjust your diet accordingly.
As a strength athlete, how do I adjust my diet to the cycle?
The amount of protein can remain the same throughout the cycle. There is no reason to change anything here.
In the menstrual week, however, one eats more carbohydrates – due to the low estrogen value – and then lowers them in favor of fats. When estrogen drops and cravings set in, you allow yourself a few more carbs, only to eventually cut back on the last week of your menstrual cycle.
More specifically, if a person eats 1,800 kcal per day, that could break down as follows:
- Day 1 to 5 (menstrual phase): 200 grams of carbohydrates (KH) and 60 grams of fat (F)
- Day 6 to 14: 120 grams KH and 97 grams F
- Day 15 to 21: 170 grams of carbs and 76 grams of fat
- Day 22 to 28: 120 grams of carbohydrates and 97 grams of carbohydrates
- The amount of protein in our example is an average of 100 grams per day.
Of course, these are exemplary numbers, which can and should deviate somewhat up or down.
What diet do you recommend for women?
One that doesn’t make you unhappy and is goal-oriented.
First of all, you should choose a diet that suits you. Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, low carb or whatever – if you identify with something, don’t shut yourself off from it, but don’t think of it as the holy grail, which mustn’t be modified either.
If you eat Paleo, you might still feel like a pizza at the weekend. Anyone who eats a vegan diet and occasionally has the craving for a burger should be allowed to pursue it. Anyone who equates nutrition with prohibitions will never implement them permanently.
What tricks can I use to change my diet in a goal-oriented manner?
As already explained, the calorie balance is crucial. In my experience, keeping an eye on this throughout the day is one of the most important decisions when it comes to nutrition.
Another trick, regardless of diet, is to use what I call a “pedestal.” These are certain foods that you eat every day. The base should taste good, be rich in protein and micronutrients and ideally fill you up. For example, I eat low-fat quark with berries almost every day and a homemade salad with a reduced-calorie sauce.
In addition, one should not throw everything overboard overnight. New traits take a good four to six weeks to become habitual.
Instead of wanting a thousand things at once, one should feel one’s way forward step by step and also accept to return to old routines in individual cases. After all, you can achieve the ultimately decisive calorie balance in various ways.
Above all, you should never stress yourself. This is even more true for women than for men.
Why is stress avoidance more important for women than for men?
Stress causes the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. These, in turn, can be limited in their performance under constant stress, which has doubly bad consequences for women.
The adrenal glands also produce progesterone and 50 percent of female testosterone. The latter is responsible for building muscle. Progesterone, in turn, goes through a cycle, just like estrogen. If there is too little progesterone, one speaks – regardless of the absolute value – of estrogen dominance, which in turn provokes water retention, especially in the lower body.
So, the main thing is no stress. That’s not so easy for many women when it comes to nutrition, is it?
Of course, you can’t generalize, but women tend to run the risk of approaching their goals too radically.
In combination with the fact that women can often eat significantly less than men due to size, weight and muscle mass, they deal more with the topic of food and at the same time are under pressure. Men are often more relaxed here.
And how do I manage to approach things in a relaxed manner and to eat in a goal-oriented manner with regard to my training success?
Make yourself aware of why you are changing your diet. Instead of extrinsic motivation, such as a partner, a social event, or a fictitious number on the scale, you should find intrinsic motivation. Be it health or your own satisfaction.
It is crucial that women reflect on their eating habits and develop a positive relationship with them. Food should never be just functional, it should always mean enjoyment – and that doesn’t mean draping meals for social media.