Best foods to build muscle for women

Gaining muscle always seems to take the back seat to losing weight for women, but muscle can actually help in the quest for weight loss.  In fact, adding some pounds of muscle will improve your body composition- an important factor in determining your overall health.  While you are lifting weights your body is strengthening its bones, lowering your heart rate, and maximizing your lung capacity.  The popular belief is that protein powder is all that’s needed to get ripped, but this is inaccurate (and unpleasant).

Energy (Calories, Iron, and B-vitamins)

The first thing to understand is that strict weight lifting does not require you to fuel up the way you would for a run.  There are some weight lifters who make it into an intense feat- moving from machine to machine and working so hard that their heart is racing and sweat is pouring by the end of just a few minutes, but this represents only a few of the many people who lift weights.

Casual (and I mean not deathly exhausting) weight lifting only requires a modest increase in daily calories because the majority of the hurt you are feeling is you pushing past the load-bearing capacity of your muscles.  So don’t use weight lifting as an excuse to have an extra helping at dinner. Weight lifting can help with weight loss, but not in quite the way people have always said.

Adding muscle does not increase your caloric requirements drastically, but it does do some great things to reduce fatigue during the day- making your goals that much more achievable.

So what do you need as a woman to power your workout?

Iron and B-vitamins are big-time nutrients for athletes.  Iron helps your blood deliver oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.  Women have a higher requirement than men for iron (18mg vs. 8mg a day respectively) and are therefore more likely to be anemic.  Iron-deficiency anemia can cut your workout short by reducing the oxygen carried from your lungs to your muscles.

This means more pain, more fatigue, and a slower recovery.  B-vitamins also do their part by helping your body break down nutrients for energy.  Eating foods high in both of these nutrients can give your body the oxygen and energy it needs to push through your workout, even when things seem their worst. Iron comes in two types: animal and plant source.

Animal source iron is far more compatible with our intestines than plant source iron is, meaning that you need far less of it. For example: spinach is a plant high in iron, but the body can use only about 5% of the iron listed on the label.

Meats are the best iron source, but if you can’t or choose not to eat meat, you may consider supplementing your iron. B-vitamins can be found in many meat, seafood, egg, and diary products as well as in whole-grains.

The absorption of many B-vitamins is negatively affected by alcohol however, so be sure not to drink for at least 48 hours prior to a workout.

Bone Health (Calcium, Phosphorous, and Vitamin D)

You may not think it, but weight lifting isn’t just a workout for your muscles, it’s a workout for you bones too!  For women, bone density and bone growth is mostly decided by the age of 25, long before anybody starts to worry about osteoporosis.

Fortunately, weight-bearing exercises like those that build muscle are a great way to trick the system and store more minerals in the bones while you can.  When you lift weights you will be putting strain on your bones as well as your muscles, and it is important to eat foods that will help to repair both.  For bone health calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D are the three to look for.

Calcium and phosphorus are two minerals that aid in bone strength and vitamin D is the partner in crime that helps them get into the body.  Dairy products aside, high calcium foods include oranges, broccoli, almonds, beans, and dark leafy greens.

Phosphorus, like calcium, can be found in dairy products but is also common in beans and fish. Vitamin D, as a fat-soluble vitamin, is found mainly in fish oil from fatty fish varieties.  An easier way to get your daily vitamin D is from the sun.  Fifteen minutes a day of exposure (without sunscreen) is just enough each day to get the Vitamin D you need.

Recovery (Protein, Vitamin C, and Zinc)

To understand muscle building it is important to understand how muscle is built.  During intense exercise we tear some of our muscle tissue.  During the repair, the body adds more muscle over top, making you larger and stronger than you were before.

When you plan for your muscle-building workout you should be planning for wound healing.  There are three big nutrients that are needed for this: protein, vitamin C, and zinc. You usually need somewhere between 80 and 120 grams protein per day just to maintain your body in a resting state.  Building muscle requires even more.

Eggs have protein and many other nutrients; and don’t forget to eat the yolks.  The stigma surrounding eggs, that they raise bad cholesterol, has been mostly dis-approved.  Besides, about half of the protein in an egg is in the yolk!

Meat is also great, but choose carefully.  Go for cold cuts, lean meat, or fish.  If you enjoy beef you should start including lean cuts such as round, loin, shoulder, and chuck. Beef is high in iron and zinc as well as protein.

Just remember that a serving is 3 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards.   Nuts, beans, and alternative grains like quinoa are also high in protein. Vitamin C and zinc are nutrients that aid in wound healing.

Vitamin C helps to re-build connective tissues while zinc is important for growth and cell replication.  Eating foods high in vitamin C and zinc can help speed up the recovery time between workouts.  Vitamin C can be found mostly in fruits (oranges, grapefruits, and strawberries) and vegetables (bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussel’s sprouts). Zinc can be found in meat, seafood, and nuts- conveniently all high-protein foods!

10 awesome foods for women who want to build muscle!

So here is the run down- 10 awesome foods for women who want to build muscle!

  1. Oysters
  2. Tuna
  3. Lean Beef
  4. Beans
  5. Raisins
  6. Leafy Greens
  7. Oranges
  8. Almonds
  9. Broccoli
  10. Eggs

About the author

Hara Hagikalfa

Hara Hagikalfa completed her BSc(Hons) in Health and Exercise Science, Sports Science and Medicine. She is a certified Personal Trainer and Pilates instructor. You can learn more about Hara and connect with her on Facebook