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Muscle gain is a common fitness goal for many women. We want toned legs, a round bottom and defined arms, but somehow fall short of achieving these results. This inability to build lean mass is not from a lack training, it is from our lack of calories! The greatest barrier is our mindset, it is accepting we can do less cardio, eat more food and still get toned. We see STRONG men at the gym all the time – they lift weights, do fewer sessions and spend next to no time on the treadmill. What is their secret? The truth is in the pudding…and all other foods!

Eating for muscle is very different to how you would eat to lose a few kilos. Muscle is a highly metabolic tissue and needs constant nutrients and fuel to facilitate growth. This requires an adequate number of calories, made up of good quality carbohydrates, fats and protein. Why are women so afraid of calories? Although more of us strength training, there is still a disconnect between our training and nutrition. We have changed the way we exercise, so should we not also change the way we eat? Unfortunately, many of us believe that to be fit and healthy we
must suffer the pain of dieting. Below are a few diet mistakes women make when trying to build muscle.

The “Diet Mindset”

Lose the diet mindset. It is billion-dollar industry that traps many women and prevents us from achieving muscle growth. Fad diets place an unrealistic focus on restrictive eating. The limited calories are insufficient in facilitating the growth and repair of muscles. In order to build lean mass, you need to eat in a calorie surplus! This is the opposite of how you would eat if you wanted to lose weight. Do not be afraid of eating more, the excess calories are needed to grow your muscles. Remember, muscle is denser than fat tissue and an increased weight on the scales is a good thing!

Restricting Carbs or Fats

You cannot cut out major macronutrients (such as carbs and fats) and expect to see progress. Each macro groups contains essential nutrients for muscle growth.

Carbohydrates – They are your body’s primary source of energy and serve to fuel workouts and return depleted energy to muscle tissue post-workout.

Fats – Help maintain bodily functions such as metabolism of vitamins and the production of testosterone for muscle growth.

Protein – Provides the necessary amino acids required to build new muscle tissue post-workout.

Eat a variety of healthy carbohydrate and fat sources. Opt for simple and complex carbs such as, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes. Choose healthy fat options including avocados, nuts, seeds and eggs.

Focused on Fat Loss

Our constant obsession with weight loss is the ultimate muscle deal breaker. The battle is psychological – moving past the idea you can eat more healthy calories and simultaneously build muscle and shed fat. Instead of worrying about how you look, focus on what your body can achieve.
Separating the concept of exercise and physical appearance can help shift the attention away from our body image. Focus on consistently strength training and be proud of your progress. What do you have to lose? Nothing, there’s only muscle to gain here!

Food Guilt

Many women struggle with severe food guilt and we beat ourselves up when we over-indulge. We spend hours and days trying to rectify this slip up, engaging in unhealthy diet and exercise habits. It is a vicious cycle that leads to over-training and under-eating. Not only is this mentally exhausting, but it is also counteracting of our efforts to build muscle. Instead, we need to focus on loving and appreciating our body. Be kinder to yourselves and do not let one meal ruin your hard work. Return to your normal training patterns and start afresh the next day. If anything, the extra calories consumed will only better fuel your workout. Remember, one unhealthy meal isn’t going to make you fat. Ultimately, what is an extra kilo or two if it means you’re happy and healthy.

Take Home Message

Gaining muscle is not an easy feat. In fact, it is probably easier to lose fat than build muscle. Coupled with our misaligned diets, our attempts to get stronger are often unsuccessful. Once adequate nutrition is supplemented however, developing muscle can be effectively maximised. A quick review of your current eating habits is a good place to start. Make sure you eat enough food to fuel your training and promote recovery. Do not shy away from healthy carbohydrates and fats, as these are essential macronutrients. Finally, do not let the diet mindset prevent you from achieving your fitness goals. Food is meant to be fuel and nourishment for the body. Listen to these bodily cues and eat when you’re hungry and rest when you’re tired. Get ready to unleash your inner strong girl!

By: Julie John