Female Muscle Growth: Debunking the Bulking Myth
"I want to be strong...I just don't want to be bulky."
It's a sentence said by many women throughout the gym. And no matter how many science-backed articles are written on the topic, some women still refuse to believe this two-word response: You won't.
There are many factors in female muscle growth, including but not limited to training, programming, nutrition, and even rest days. If you want to build muscle, but fear adding excess body mass, know that you would need to be in an extreme caloric surplus in order to do so.
Building muscle has physical, mental, and aesthetic benefits. Whether you want to increase your one-rep max in the squat rack, improve your 5K PR, or strut your stuff across the stage as a female bodybuilder, muscle building can help reach your goals.
Below, we teach you everything you need to know about female muscle growth.
Please note: This post is meant for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If you are beginning a new strength training or bodybuilding program, please consult your personal trainer or physician.
The Difference Between Male and Female Muscle Growth
Want to know the difference between muscle building for men and women?
Men respond to strength training differently than women because they have up to 15 times the amount of testosterone as women, as described by the Endocrine Society. This allows them to build muscle faster than women, which is why women should not fear bulking as a result of strength training.
Or, if you’re a female bodybuilder looking to increase muscle mass, know that you will likely need to increase your calorie and protein intake to get there. During these periods, the ProteinSeries Mass Gainer may help you reach your goals.
It is a widespread myth that men and women should train differently. In reality, if women want to see a visible and physical change in their bodies, they need to lift weights.
Strength training and muscle development come with a number of health benefits. As described in Current Sports Medicine Reports, weightlifting can increase your resting metabolic rate (metabolism), reduce body fat, support cognitive function, improve athletic performance, and boost self-esteem. If that isn't enough motivation to switch up your workout routine, it also improves your insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular health, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
How to Promote Female Muscle Growth
Building muscle can help you shatter your PRs at the gym, achieve your dream body composition, and enhance your overall health and wellbeing. With that being said, you may need to tweak your training — and your mindset — to promote female muscle growth.
To build muscle mass, try the following approaches:
1. Ditch the Calorie-Restricted Diet
Unfortunately, the diet mentality and mainstream media have promoted calorie restriction, carb-counting, and low-protein diets for multiple decades. However, none of the above will help you add lean muscle mass to your physique.
In order to build muscle, you need to eat.
Does this mean gorging on sweets and fried foods? Absolutely not. It just means that you need to consume an adequate amount of protein (we repeat: especially protein), fat, and carbs within your meal plan.
And if weight loss is a goal, you should still be eating adequate amounts of protein to sustain muscle growth while participating in cardio and resistance exercises, as described in Advances in Nutrition.
2. Lift and Lift Heavy
For the longest time — arguably, too long — many women feared weightlifting for exercise, thinking it would lead to a bulky figure. Instead, bodyweight workouts (think lunges and leg lifts) became mainstream with promises to "tone" — rather than bulk — female muscles.
Listen, we have nothing against bodyweight workouts. (In fact, we know that a killer HIIT workout could leave us rolling on the ground for 30 minutes post-workout.) We're just saying women can thrive in the weight room and see tremendous results because of it.
Your weight-training program should challenge your body in different ways. This means combining compound movements, continually trying to increase your one-rep max, and tweaking your sets and reps.
Tip: Strong women aren't afraid to challenge their bodies in different ways. Once in a while, that means grabbing a heavy pair of dumbbells and seeing just how much you can lift.
3. Increase Your Protein Intake
It's a well-known fact that protein aids in both male and female muscle growth. And, if you want to build muscle, you will likely need to increase your protein intake. Here’s why:
Every time you work out, particularly with weights, skeletal muscle fibers in your body tear apart on a microscopic level. In order for them to repair and rebuild — growing larger and stronger — they need protein. This is known as muscle protein synthesis, the scientific term for muscle growth.
Many registered dietitians recommend consuming a mere 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (or 0.36 per pound). However, these calculations are based on the needs of a sedentary adult — not one who is pumping iron at the gym.
Research in the Strength and Conditioning Journal shows that 1.5–1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight will help build muscle. To help increase muscle mass, you may need to increase your protein intake.
4. Know Which Supplements to Take
If you struggle to get enough protein in your diet or find yourself feeling tired or lethargic after workouts, you may need to turn to supplements. Unfortunately, many muscle building supplements sold on Amazon have little to no scientific data to back up their claims.
Therefore, it's important that — as an athlete — you Google your potential supplements and do your own research.
As you look to build muscle, here are three supplements to consider adding to your routine:
- Creatine: Creatine is an amino acid-like molecule found in skeletal muscle groups, the heart, and your brain. Creatine has been shown to increase lean muscle mass, reduce fatigue, prevent dehydration, and improve cognition.
- Whey protein powder: Whey protein is recognized as the most efficient protein source. In various studies, whey protein has been used as a growth factor to increase muscle building, release anabolic hormones, and promote fat loss.
- Beta-alanine: Beta-alanine is an amino acid used as a common ingredient in pre-workout shakes and supplements. Beta-alanine has been shown to improve your exercise performance, endurance levels, sprint performance, and overall muscle growth.
Fine-Tune Your Training and Nutrition to Promote Female Muscle Growth
At one point, many women avoided strength training because they didn't want a bulky body frame. However, science has shown strength training comes with a number of health benefits, from improved self-esteem and body composition to lowered blood pressure and better cardiovascular function.
Female lifters will need to fine-tune their training schedule and nutrition plan in order to build muscle. Inside the gym, women should strike a balance between compound movements and heavy strength training. Outside the gym, they should increase their protein intake and ditch the diet mentality to promote muscle growth.
Supplements can help you increase muscle mass and reach your goals. Creatine, 100% grass-fed whey protein powder, and beta-alanine are three supplements that can help female muscle growth.
Take beta-alanine before your workout, as a pre-workout. Whey protein should be taken as a post-workout recovery shake within 30 minutes following your workout. You can take creatine anytime throughout the day, but ideally after your workout.