Muscle building diets aren't just for men or women who are underweight. Now more than ever, women are jumping on the bandwagon of building lean muscle to accelerate weight loss, improve body composition, and achieve the figures they desire.
Knowing more about muscle building diets for women and the best protein shakes for weight loss are the keys to getting the tight, toned body you deserve.
Benefits of a Muscle Building Diet for Women
Women benefit from muscle building diets and drinking protein shakes just like men. Regular resistance training and eating a well-balanced, protein-rich diet helps:
- Improve body composition
- Create aesthetically-pleasing body contours
- Increase metabolism
- Decrease body fat
- Reduce waist circumference
- Make you look years younger
Even if you don’t drop weight right away when following a muscle building diet for women, you’ll notice improvements in body shape and reductions in fat.
Because muscle burns more calories than fat, even when you’re resting, building muscle boosts metabolism to enhance weight loss over time.
Muscle Building Diet for Women: The Basics
There are numerous dietary components to consider when muscle building and fat loss are your goals, such as:
#1 Determine Muscle Building Calorie Needs
Weight maintenance calorie needs for moderately active and active women, based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020, include:
- Ages 19-25: 2,200-2,400 calories
- Ages 26-30: 2,000-2,400 calories
- Ages 31-50: 2,000-2,200 calories
- Ages 51-60: 1,800-2,200 calories
- Ages 61 and up: 1,800-2,000 calories
If muscle building plus weight loss is your goal, aim to consume 1,200-1,800 calories daily, depending on how active you are and your starting body weight.
#2 Fill Your Plate Properly
When dieting for muscle building and fat loss, use the following healthy eating guidelines to fill your plate:
- Half full of vegetables
- One-fourth full of protein foods
- One-fourth full of starches
Don’t forget to consume about 2-3 servings of dairy foods or calcium-rich equivalents daily, fruits, and healthy fats at each meal to round out nutritious menus.
#3 Know Muscle Building Protein Requirements
When you work out regularly, especially if you're training for muscle building, your protein needs are higher than people who are sedentary. Today’s Dietitian recommends consuming about 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight daily, which equates to 0.6-1 gram of protein per pound of your ideal weight each day.
For example, if your goal weight is 130 pounds you’d need about 78-130 grams of protein daily to build or maintain lean mass and burn fat. Examples of protein-rich foods and corresponding protein content (provided by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) is as follows:
- 3 ounces of lean ground beef: 22 grams
- 3 ounces of skinless chicken: 26 grams
- 3 ounces of grilled salmon: 21 grams
- 1 cup of plain low-fat yogurt: 12 grams
- 1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese: 28 grams
- 1 scoop of protein powder: 25 gram
- 1/2 cup of cooked lentils: 9 grams
- 3 ounces of tofu: 9 grams
- 1 cup of low-fat milk: 8 grams
- 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa: 4 grams
- 1/2 cup of cooked black beans: 7 grams
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter: 8 grams
- 2 large eggs: 12 grams
Choose a variety of proteins to meet your daily needs for muscle building and fat loss.
#4 Choose the Right Protein Powder
Protein powder isn’t just for men. Women seeking muscle building and even weight loss can benefit from drinking protein shakes. Various protein powders are available to choose from, including:
- Protein blends
You might be wondering which type of protein powder is the best for muscle building in women? Animal-based and soy proteins contain all of the essential amino acids needed to build and maintain lean mass, but combining various plant proteins together can give you similar results.
Studies found that whey protein powder is especially useful for muscle building and post-workout recovery. During weight loss, research shows that protein enhances fat loss and aids in muscle mass maintenance. One scoop of whey protein powder generally provides about 25 grams of high-quality protein.
When seeking the best protein powder for muscle building, knowing how the powders are made and what they contain helps you choose one that best matches your needs. For example:
- Protein hydrolysates are broken down amino acids that get absorbed quickly by your body
- Protein isolates contain about 90-95% protein and are a concentrated protein source
- Protein concentrates contain about 60-80% protein and 20-40% dietary fat plus carbohydrates
Be sure to check the supplement facts label for added sugar and other hidden ingredients, and note the total number of calories per serving of protein powder.
#5 Don’t Forget about Carbs and Healthy Fats
Carbohydrates and dietary fat are just as important as protein when following a muscle building diet for women.
The Institute of Medicine Recommends at least 130 grams of carbohydrates per day for adults. Aim to consume about 25% of your daily calories from fat when muscle building and fat loss are your goals.
Choose healthy fats like avocados, plant oils, nuts, seeds, olives, and nut butters to stay healthy and lower heart disease and other chronic disease risks.
Excellent sources of fiber-rich carbs for muscle building in women are quinoa, fruit, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, other legumes, brown rice, wild rice, oatmeal, and whole-grain breads and cereals.
#6 Eat Often Throughout the Day
When muscle building is your goal, it’s important to eat often throughout the day – about every few hours or so. For example, you might consume three meals plus two or three snacks.
Eating this way helps you build or maintain muscle by keeping your body properly nourished throughout the entire day. A sample muscle-building eating schedule might include:
- Breakfast: 8:00 am
- Snack: 10:00 am
- Lunch: 12:30 pm
- Snack: 3:00 pm
- Dinner: 5:30 pm
- Snack: 8:00 pm
Create a meal and snack schedule that coincides with the time you wake up in the morning, your work and workout schedules, and the time you head to bed each night.
#7 Choose Nutrient Dense, Whole Foods
Choose nutrient dense foods as part of a muscle building diet plan for women. Nutrient dense foods are those that provide your body with a variety of essential nutrients.
- Lean meats or poultry
- Fish and seafood
- Soy protein
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
- Plant oils
- Dairy foods or calcium-rich alternatives
Any food combination that provides you with a good balance or protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates, and healthy fats is an excellent choice for muscle building and fat loss in women.
#8 Eat Carbohydrates with Protein
Research shows that consuming protein with carbohydrates aids in muscle recovery after workouts.
To optimize post-workout nourishment, you might choose a protein powder shake blended with fruit, yogurt topped with fruit or nuts, a banana with almond butter and plant milk, or grilled chicken with brown rice and veggies.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends ingesting about 20-30 grams of protein after exercise to enhance muscle building.
#9 Try Protein Shake Recipes
Combine your favorite ingredients with protein powder to create refreshing, delicious protein shakes for muscle building. Blend the following ingredients together to create a custom-made protein smoothie:
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups of milk or plant milk
- 1 scoop of protein powder
- 1/4 cup of fruit OR 1 teaspoon of nut butter OR coffee OR matcha green tea powder
- A handful of ice
Use this basic protein shake recipe but plug in ingredients of your choice based on your taste preferences. When using protein shakes for weight loss, drink them as meal replacements (replace 1 or 2 meals with a shake) or consume smaller shakes between meals.
Sample Muscle Building Diet for Women
When choosing a muscle building diet plan for women, it’s helpful to have a sample menu in place to guide you through the process. An example includes:
- Whole-grain Ezekiel toast topped with nut butter and bananas
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Coffee or tea
- Veggie sticks
- Whole grain pasta topped with olive oil pesto sauce
- Grilled chicken
- A whey protein shake made with protein powder, plant milk, and fruit or nut butter
- A taco salad made with lean ground turkey, taco seasonings, lettuce, tomatoes, black beans, avocados, and salsa
- Greek yogurt topped with raspberries and walnuts
Which Muscle Building Exercises Should I Choose?
A muscle building diet alone doesn’t lead to muscle mass gains. For best results, complete at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular plus strength training exercises daily. Some of the best full-body muscle-building, fat-burning exercises you can do from the comfort of home include:
#1 Squat to Press
Grab dumbbells or kettlebells to complete squat to presses for a workout that complements muscle building diets for women.
Stand with your feet about (or slightly wider than) shoulder width apart. Squat down until your thighs are about parallel with the floor and when you stand up, complete a shoulder press.
You can also use a medicine ball during squat to presses by throwing the ball up in the air as high as you can at the height of your squat. Repeat 10-25 times for a total of 3-4 sets.
#2 Lunge to Biceps Curl
Complete a lunge to biceps curl by lunging forward with your right leg until your left knee almost touches the floor. Complete a biceps curl with dumbbells before you stand back up. Do the same thing with your left leg and repeat continuously 10-15 times for each leg (3-4 sets).
#3 Deadlift to Lateral Raise
To complete a deadlift to lateral raise, begin in a standing position and hold dumbbells with your arms at your sides. Slowly bend at your waist, keeping your back straight, until the weights almost touch the floor.
Use your back, hamstrings, and glutes to lift your body back up to a standing position. Complete a lateral raise and immediately move on to the next deadlift. Alternate deadlifts with lateral raises 10-25 times for a total of 3-4 sets.
#4 Chest Press to Leg Raise
Complete a chest press to leg raise on a weight bench or while lying down on the floor. Complete a chest press using dumbbell weights and immediately do a leg raise.
Alternate dumbbell chest presses with leg raises 10-25 times and complete 3-4 sets of the exercise.
#5 Box Jump to Rear Leg Lift
You’ll need a plyometrics box to complete box jumps to rear leg lifts. Jump up onto your box, landing with both feet. When you’re at the top complete a rear leg lift with your right leg (keep it as straight as you can), and softly jump down to the ground.
Jump back up onto the box and do a rear leg lift using your left leg. Repeat this series of motions 10-15 times for each leg (3-4 sets).
#6 Push-Up to Plank Jack
When you’re ready to really work your shoulders, chest, arms, and abs, try push-ups to plank jacks. After doing a push-up, stay in the plank position and quickly spread your feet apart and back together (keep your legs straight) before doing another push-up. Aim to complete 3-4 sets of 10-25 reps of the exercise.
#7 Wall Squats
Find a wall and get into a squat position with your back against the wall and your thighs about parallel with the floor. Hold the position for 30-60 seconds to work your entire lower body.
#8 Aerobic Muscle Building Exercises
Aerobic body weight exercises help you build muscle, burn fat, and tighten and tone up just in time for summer. Examples of exercises that really get your blood pumping include:
- Rope jumping
- Mountain climbers
- Jump squats
- Alternating jumping lunges
- Front to back hops
- Side to side hops
- High knees
- Jumping jacks
Change up your muscle building and cardiovascular workout routines often for best results, and make sure to work all major muscle groups at least 2-3 times each week!
How to Get Shredded for Summer
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- Motivational support from Dr. Anthony Balduzzi and other health experts
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To achieve a fitter, leaner, more aesthetically pleasing physique, sign up for the Fit Mother Project 30X (FM30X) program today or a FREE fit mom weight loss jump start kit! Looking and feeling young and beautiful has never been easier!
Erin Coleman, R.D.
Writer, The Fit Mother Project
Erin is registered dietitian who earned a nutritional science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she worked as a health educator for the department of internal medicine.
Her published work appears on hundreds of health, fitness, nutrition, and medical websites – including doctors’ offices, rehab centers, urgent care clinics, and hospitals.