Diet Plans for Women: Everything You Need to Know
With the vast array of diet advice available, it can be quite a challenge figuring out the right approach for your specific fitness goals. The truth is there’s no ‘best diet’ and fundamentally the diet strategy you use should be tailored to your own needs, be that fat loss, building muscle or even just general health. That being said, there are some rules and basic guidelines you can follow to make sure you’re on the right track.
DIFFERENT DIETS FOR MEN AND WOMEN?
There are obviously some differences between men and women which can affect rates of progress in terms of muscle gain and weight loss. For muscle building, males have higher levels of hormones like testosterone, which allows muscle to be built quicker than in women. So if you’re worried about getting too bulky, don’t be! Chances are you won’t and it definitely won’t just creep up on you one day!
For weight loss, you have to be expending more energy than you consume from food. Fat loss is often a much slower process for women because typically they are smaller and carry less muscle, which lowers energy output. Therefore, women tend to have to diet a little bit harder in terms of food restriction, exercise output and consistency to get the same amount of weight loss as men.
Another thing women often have to deal with is monthly fluctuations in weight due to the menstrual cycle. This can cause huge fluctuations in scale weight which might actually mask weight loss efforts. The key thing here is to make the scales one part of mapping your progress. Using photos and measurements as well as scales will give you a more complete picture. If the scales do jump up it’ll likely be because of water weight, not fat gain. So don’t panic, stay consistent and look for trends in weight loss over periods of a few weeks – don’t focus entirely on a single day.
So what should a diet look like? The most important thing here – whatever your goal – is to ensure your calorie intake is appropriate. There are several good online calculators that will help you establish your approximate calorie requirements – factoring in your age, weight, height and activity levels, including day-to-day activity and exercise.
The number given out here would be an estimate of your maintenance calorie intake. To lose weight, you’re probably going to want to consume a few hundred (200-300 to start) less than this.
To build muscle you’re going to have to increase calorie intake by a small amount, nothing huge to begin with, 50-100 calories, as you want to make sure you don’t gain any unwanted body fat along the way. It is important to remember that muscle growth is often a slow process, maybe a few grams of muscle per week if you’re lucky… the best way to make sure you’re growing muscle is to use pictures and to make sure you are getting stronger in the gym. If you’re continually getting stronger chances are you’re also growing muscle!
If we imagine calories are the base of a physique transformation pyramid, then the next important step on the pyramid is our macronutrients; protein, fats and carbohydrates. If we imagine calorie intake versus expenditure determines how much weight we gain or lose, our macronutrients help decide how that weight loss takes place. Remember we want to target fat loss not just weight loss. And lean muscle gain, not unwanted fat gain.
For weight loss and muscle gain, you want to keep protein high. For weight loss, protein is really helpful as it is the most filling macronutrient, which means it will help control hunger and it also helps boost metabolism. For muscle building protein provides the building blocks for this process in the form of amino acids. In your estimated calorie intake try and aim for around 30-40% of these calories to come from protein, this should be sufficient. Use lean protein sources such as poultry, lean beef, eggs and fish.
The proportion of carbohydrates and fat you have in your diet completely comes down to personal choice, but as fat is an essential nutrient try to aim for at least 20% of your calorie intake to come from fats. Focus on mostly unsaturated sources such as oily fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado.
From a weight loss perspective, carbohydrates – despite being frequently demonised – will not stop or even slow your rate of weight loss as long as you’re expending more energy than you are eating. For building lean muscle, and even losing fat, carbohydrates are important because they will help fuel your training and performance in the gym. Choose carbohydrates from mostly whole grain sources, fruits and vegetables.
Micronutrients are at the top of the pyramid and by including a variety of food sources in your diet – from the carbohydrate and fat sources we suggest here – then your micronutrients needs will be met. It will also ensure you stay healthy and working optimally in the process.
This all may seem a bit daunting to calculate, but fortunately there are now apps like My Fitness Pal, which can do all of these things pretty much automatically and help you to track your food intake to make sure you stay on track with your daily goals. These apps can take a little getting used to, but once you do they are actually quite simple and intuitive to use.
One very important thing to note is you might need to adjust your calorie intake along the way as progress is rarely linear. For example, if you want muscle gain, you might need to add in more calories to support muscle growth if your strength or performance stalls. If you’re going for weight loss at some point you will likely hit a plateau. All you need to do at this point is either increase your calories slightly for muscle gain, or decrease them (or add in extra exercise) to kick start fat loss. The key here is not to react too suddenly to ‘stalling’ give your body some time as there might be other reasons that are making you hold weight – like we discussed earlier. Finally, be patient and be in it for the long haul!
If you follow these rules then your diet can be pretty much as flexible as you like, no more ‘30 day diets’ or following magazine diet plans to lose weight, which are highly unlikely to fit in with the foods you enjoy, your lifestyle and your activity levels. These plans tend to encourage poor food choices too, so stay clear! Unfortunately there is a lot of money to be made from selling diets and ‘weight loss secrets’ and supplements, but ultimately all fat loss diets work through eating less energy than you expend – ALL OF THEM. By following this diet framework, you can hopefully do that on your own terms and adjust your intake to whatever goal you decide to tackle next.