While there is an abundance of fitness information available online, much of it is not highly specific for, nor tailored to females.
To help you reach your goals, we’ll cover some key tips which are important for females to consider. From understanding your caloric needs and macronutrient breakdowns, to vitamin supplementation, you have slightly different needs to keep in mind as you work towards building your physique.
While men must also tailor these factors, females need to pinpoint their diet and daily intake more specifically than men need to.
Why is that? Well, in general females tend to have less energy and metabolic flexibility than their male counterparts. Ever wondered why the many males can still enjoy fast food and ice cream on a daily or weekly basis, even during a cutting phase?
Generally speaking, this is due to the fact that they have greater energy and metabolic needs, therefore more freedom and flexibility with their diet. While this may seem unfair, it just means that females need to pay closer attention to their nutrition requirements to reach their goals.
This requirement is accelerated for women when dieting, especially as most females will diet on less than 2000 calories, likely somewhere around 1500 calories per day. On the other hand, men can often diet on upwards of 3000 calories, meaning there is a bigger window to lose fat and less of a need to be perfectly accurate. However, women must be specific and figure out their ideal caloric intake for weight loss, where they are dropping fat without impacting their performance, health, hormones, and potentially damaging their metabolism.
To do this, females should start by establishing their current caloric intake and monitor their progress. Knowing whether the current intake is causing them to gain, maintain, or lose weight will tell you how to manipulate nutrition for the goal. From here, small alterations can be made to keep progressing further towards the goal. These small changes will enable the athlete find the perfect intake where they are losing fat while still maximizing nutrient intake and energy levels.
Most females will need to diet on 1200 - 1800 calories. As you can see, there is a large variance in these numbers, and can change by up to 30-35% depending on the athlete.
Quickly jumping to a low caloric intake could lead to undereating, and could potentially slow or stop progress. Instead, pinpoint the exact nutrient and calorie intake for the individual by working from a baseline, adjusting calories by 100-150 every 10-14 days while monitoring progress and making changes as needed.
While the basis of training is the same between genders, in some cases a more “female-specific” plan may be advantageous. In general, females tend to have different goals from their male counterparts, therefore, a different training split should be used to target their goals.
For example, a common goal for a male may be to grow his arms, chest, and shoulders whereas a female may want to improve her legs and back. Due to the difference in physique goals commonly found between the sexes, following a generic male plan would not provide the desired outcome for her goals.
In addition to tailoring the overall regimen, such as the split and exercises you select, there are many other training variables to consider. Specifically, females may want to test and manipulate the following aspects of a training program:
1. Rest periods – females need slightly shorter rest between sets
2. Volume – females respond well to less total training volume (fewer sets and reps)
3. Rep ranges – females benefit from higher rep ranges
4. Exercise selection and technique – females should tailor these factors to their specific goals to target the muscle groups they want to improve
5. Training frequency – females can use slightly higher training frequency than males
Research conducted on females has shown that these variables can be manipulated and tailored to work with a female's hormones, muscle fiber size and type, recovery capacity, as well as their fat and carb oxidation rate. By working with the athlete’s physiology, results may be attained faster.
Along with overall their energy intake, women also need to pay attention to, and specifically tailor, their carb to fat ratios.
While both carbs and fats play a key role in performance and have health benefits (if coming from healthy sources in the right amounts, of course), every individual will need varying amounts and ratios.
Specifically, research suggests that women can do better than men on lower-carb diets. This can be explained by a variety of reasons; firstly, women tend to have a different Respiratory Exchange Ratio, which refers to the amount of carbs and fat they burn for fuel. Compared to their male counterparts, females tend to burn slightly more fat, both at rest and during exercise.
In addition to this, females may also need a lower carb diet due to the fact that they require less total carbohydrates per day for bodily functions, muscle contractions, glycogen replenishment, and energy for performance. While this doesn’t mean all females should go low carb or ketogenic, it may be worth trying a lower carb approach, or replacing some carbs for more healthy fats especially when trying to lose weight.
While there are some core staples such as Re-Kaged or Kasein that are beneficial for both males and females to help with protein intake, there may be some additional, female-specific, supplements to consider.
Namely, iron is a vital mineral for athletes. It is found in hemoglobin, part of red blood cells, which transports oxygen around the body, specifically to your muscles during training. Certain populations can face iron deficiencies, such as females who exercise on a regular basis or participate in endurance sports, to the point that statistics show around a third of female athletes may be deficient. Iron levels are also impacted by a woman’s menstrual cycle, putting them more at risk for iron deficiencies. Additionally, up to half of pregnant women may suffer from iron deficiency, and possibly also those who are vegetarian and vegan due to the lack of iron in their diet.
A simple blood test can be done to find out where an athlete’s iron levels are sitting. A 20-30 point health check can be done for about $100 which will test iron along with many other key aspects of your health.
Along with iron supplementation, where required, the following supplements can certainly have a big impact on your performance and physique, regardless of gender.
Pre-Kaged: An optimal blend of scientifically proven nutrients shown to quickly enhance performance, recovery, metabolism, strength, muscle growth, and energy to reduce fatigue during training.
Re-Kaged: The ideal blend of fast-digesting protein and other key nutrients such as creatine and glutamine for your post-workout meal.
Initial progress can be steady when the basics of diet and exercise are in place. However, if females want to make specific changes to their physique, or breakthrough progress plateaus, some simple steps can help. By making a few alterations to the macronutrient breakdown and reformatting the training plan to work with female physiology, metabolism, and hormonal profiles could be the answer.
Bolhuis, D. P., Costanzo, A., Newman, L. P., & Keast, R. S. (2016). Salt Promotes Passive Overconsumption of Dietary Fat in Humans. The Journal of nutrition, 146(4), 838-845.
Cnop, M., Havel, P. J., Utzschneider, K. M., Carr, D. B., Sinha, M. K., Boyko, E. J., & Kahn, S. E. (2003). Relationship of adiponectin to body fat distribution, insulin sensitivity and plasma lipoproteins: evidence for independent roles of age and sex. Diabetologia, 46(4), 459-469.
Hansen, M., & Kjaer, M. (2014). Influence of sex and estrogen on musculotendinous protein turnover at rest and after exercise. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 42(4), 183-192.
Høeg, L. D., Sjøberg, K. A., Jeppesen, J., Jensen, T. E., Frøsig, C., Birk, J. B., & Richter, E. A. (2011). Lipid-induced insulin resistance affects women less than men and is not accompanied by inflammation or impaired proximal insulin signaling. Diabetes, 60(1), 64-73.
McClain, A. D., Otten, J. J., Hekler, E. B., & Gardner, C. D. (2013). Adherence to a low‐fat vs. low‐carbohydrate diet differs by insulin resistance status. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 15(1), 87-90.
Melanson, E. L., Gavin, K. M., Shea, K. L., Wolfe, P., Wierman, M. E., Schwartz, R. S., & Kohrt, W. M. (2015). Regulation of energy expenditure by estradiol in premenopausal women. Journal of Applied Physiology, jap-00473.
Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2008). Sex differences in exercise metabolism and the role of 17-beta estradiol. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 40(4), 648-654.
Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Wingfield, H. L., Melvin, M. N., & Roelofs, E. J. (2014). Effects of dietary macronutrient distribution on resting and post-exercise metabolism. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,11(1), 1-2.
Schmidt, S. L., Bessesen, D. H., Stotz, S., Peelor, F. F., Miller, B. F., & Horton, T. J. (2014). Adrenergic control of lipolysis in women compared with men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 117(9), 1008-1019.
Velders, M., & Diel, P. (2013). How sex hormones promote skeletal muscle regeneration. Sports medicine, 43(11), 1089-1100.