Diet Mistakes Women Make Trying to Gain Muscle

One of the fitness goals many women have is gaining muscle. They want lean legs, lifted backsides, and arm definition but are falling short in their ability to reach these goals. The problem is many gals aren’t applying the right nutrition strategy for lean mass gains. Eating for muscle is completely different than trying to lose a few pounds of fat. Muscle is highly active metabolic tissue and requires substantial amounts of essential nutrients for repair and growth. 

Women already have less testosterone than their male counterpart to add food foibles as the primary reason muscle definition isn't happening. Unfortunately, women can become so obsessed with fat loss and lose sight of their goal to build muscle. This is the difference between women and men and how they think about eating for goals. Men eat for muscle hypertrophy (growth) and women typically eat to decrease body fat. For many women, this means going on some sort of restrictive diet and not eating enough calories or nutrients to support muscle growth. 

Unfortunately, extreme dieting is common among women wanting to gain muscle. Many women continue to believe diet mistakes and struggle with gaining lean mass. The following is a list of diet mistakes getting in the way of women achieving muscle definition.


Common Diet Mistakes

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Follow Fad Diets
Fad diets encompass a billion dollar industry and are gimmicks filled with empty promises and “fake” health foods. Sadly, many women continue to fall for these expensive diets and still unable to reach and maintain fitness goals. Additionally, women are overtraining and undereating stumped with why muscle gains are not happening.   

Restrict Carbs and Fats
Both carbohydrates and fats have been blamed as a reason for weight gain. Countless women believe eating them will make them fat. These untruths have caused many women to remove them from their diets depriving their lean tissue of essential nutrients for muscle growth.

Without adequate carbs and fats, our body is unable to function at optimal levels. This diet blunder leaves many women tired and frustrated with not seeing results. 

Worry Too Much About Fat Loss
Worrying about losing fat without consideration of what it takes to build muscle can be a mental game buster for women. Not seeing results from diet efforts brings on stress and frustration. The problem remains that many women still refuse to believe eating more healthy calories achieves muscle gain and fat loss

Food Guilt Issues
Many women suffer from food guilt issues, get down on themselves, and allow slip-ups to define them to the point of unhealthy exercise practices or giving up. Men seem to be able to enjoy a cheeseburger and move on while women struggle for days thinking all their muscle building efforts are ruined. 

Fixing the Problem

Toss the Fad Diets
Although tempting, fad diets just don’t work. In order to build muscle, it will be necessary to implement a proper nutrition plan that will provide lifetime results. 

Quick fix approaches offer restrictive diets with temporary solutions. They typically include pre-made junk meals, pseudo health bars, and expensive shakes and supplements to get you through the day. Fad diets are also not geared ​for women with the goal to gain muscle. They target more the mainstream woman looking for a quick way to be thin. Sadly, studies show these women gain all their weight back once the programs are over.

Fad diets don’t teach nutrition for lean mass gain and leave women running around unable to fend for themselves in the kitchen. The solution to this mess is for women to be accountable for their food plans, learn how to shop, cook, and eat for muscle. 

Eat Carbs and Fats
Not eating healthy carbs and fat is setting your body up for no energy and no muscle. Many women believe it a great diet accomplishment avoiding carbs and fats. However, there’s a big difference between the carbs and fats that should stay in your diet and those that should be removed. 

If you have been stuffing your face with donuts, pie and white bread eliminating those would be a great decision. However, avoiding foods like vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, avocados, and healthy oils would remove essential macronutrients your muscles need for glycogen (energy) and anabolism (growth). 

Healthy carbs play an important role in a muscle building diet. They are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue and provide energy during your weight training session and post-workout

Our bodies will not tolerate carb restriction and will convert amino acids (protein) stored in muscle to fuel the workout instead. This process is called gluconeogenesis and is not what we want to happen to our hard earned muscle. 

Fats, especially essential fatty acids (EFAs) play an equally important part in muscle development. EFAs are linked to muscle preservation, fat burning, and hormone function. Fats are involved in transporting nutrients in and out of our cells and helping with amino acid delivery to the muscle tissue. Leaving out essential carbohydrates and fat is not an option for anyone and especially those who are trying to gain muscular curves. 

Focus on Muscle Growth Instead of Fat Loss
Instead of doing what it takes to build muscle and eating right to make it happen, women continue to jump from diet to diet and getting nowhere. Fat loss obsession has become the driving force for many women and causing adverse effects for those trying to gain lean mass.

Metabolisms are in the toilet and muscles are flat for many women. In order to fix the problem, a mental shift from fat loss focus to eating for muscle gain needs to happen. Women would be able to relax and enjoy healthy nutrition by understanding how the body and our muscle would benefit. This simply includes consuming nutrient-dense foods in the form of lean proteins, healthy carbs and fats in the right amounts to support muscle growth. 

It also means putting your food to work in the gym with regular weight resistance training without fear of looking bulky. Women simply don’t have enough natural testosterone for this to happen. If your goal is to achieve muscle definition, it will require more than treadmill workouts. Try various and challenging weight lifting classes or solo lifting using proper form to build that muscle. Approach your workout with a determination to be challenged and acceptance of the normal discomfort of lifting heavier weights. Your new outlook and efforts nutritionally and physically will create sculpted muscle and the ability to lose fat at the same time. 

Stop Being Hard on Yourself
Women go through guilt cycles more than men when it comes to food. They will even apply unhealthy exercise or starvation habits over several days to work through the issue. Our body including muscle tissue doesn’t respond well to exercise as punishment. Hours of cardio making up for indulgence coupled with starvation hinders muscle development and causes physiological stress. Remember “one unhealthy meal won’t make you fat and one healthy meal won’t make you thin.” It’s what we do on a consistent basis that determines if we are living a fit and healthy lifestyle. 

Both women and men need to have the ability to enjoy a cheat meal and move on. This is a healthy perspective because growing lean muscle is not about restriction.

If your mind is on muscle growth and not fat loss then an occasional burger is not going to make or break your fitness bank. It will be the change in your way of thinking that will free you from being hard on yourself and the cycles of guilt.

A Word From Verywell

Gaining muscle remains a popular fitness goal for women. The problem most often occurring are diet mistakes not supporting lean mass gains. Once proper nutrition is implemented, building muscle can be effectively achieved along with losing fat. A simple review of your current food intake will enable you to make the necessary changes to get you on track for successful muscle development. 

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Article Sources
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  • Eric R Helms et al., Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2014
  • Metabolism is Modifiable with the Right Lifestyle Changes, American College of Sports Medicine, In the News, 2011