Women are at a physiological disadvantage when it comes to getting lean. They lack muscle mass and key hormonal output of men, which are two vital factors involved in the fat loss and muscle gain process.

If you’re a woman looking to get lean, understanding the unique challenges you face as a woman, and learning how to work around them, will lead to better and more effective results.

Whether you’re looking to get lean for aesthetic or performance reasons, you have come to the right place to find out more about how to optimize your nutrition and training to result in burning fat and gaining lean muscle!

Read on to find out all you need to know about:

  • Nutritional strategies for getting lean
  • The benefits of weightlifting for women
  • Other considerations for women
  • And much more!

A Guide to Getting Lean

  • Calories

A buzzword in the fitness and nutrition world, but never one to fear!

Your daily calorie intake will determine whether you lose or gain weight, so if you’re looking to get lean, it may be a good idea to calculate your estimated intake to see how much you need to support your performance and body composition goals.

For many years, women have been told to restrict calories to achieve a skinny frame. But those days are over! If you’re looking to make lean gains, you must eat enough to support this growth.

So, ensure you’re not following poor advice or an unreliable nutrition program. Identify your personal calorie needs based on your personal goals and activity levels - you need the energy to perform and thrive!

  • Eat the Rainbow

A more light-hearted way of advising an increase in fruits, vegetables, and whole foods in your diet!

These kinds of foods will provide you with all the essential nutrients you need for optimal health, performance, and recovery. When you exclude these foods from your diet, you increase your risk of nutrient insufficiencies, thus hindering your progress.

Boost your intake of colourful fruit and vegetables, leafy greens, and nuts and seeds to ensure you’re covering all the bases!

  • Protein

Protein is an essential macronutrient for muscle growth and repair. This key muscle nutrient will massively contribute to your lean gains, as well as helping you preserve muscle mass while in a “cutting” fat loss phase.

Consuming adequate daily protein is not only essential for building and repairing muscles, but it also provides many other benefits such as improving performance, keeping us fuller for longer, and contributing to strength gains.

A good starting point is to centre each meal around a good quality protein source, such as:

  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Fish
  • Quorn

In addition to snacking on high-protein foods such as yogurt, jerky, and boiled eggs! 

  • Nutrient Timing

Nutrient timing, AKA pre-workout and post-workout nutrition, is an important consideration when you’re working on getting lean and really want to fine tune your diet!

Nutrient timing is essentially eating certain foods at strategic times in order to achieve optimal results in fat loss, muscle growth, and performance and recovery.

The key points to effective nutrient timing include:

  • Consuming carbohydrates around periods of activity and training
  • Consuming protein before and after a workout to ensure optimal muscle recovery
  • Reducing carbohydrate intake in the evenings, typically when we are inactive and do not require the energy
  • Ensuring you don’t consume heavy fats and fiber around periods of training, as this may result in digestive discomfort during your session
  • Consuming protein in regular intervals throughout the day (every 3-4 hours) to optimize muscle protein synthesis - the process of building and repairing muscle
  • Resistance Training

An effective resistance training program is the backbone of getting lean. To get lean, we must build lean muscle! To do this, we need to incorporate hypertrophy training into our workout programs.

Muscle building, also known as hypertrophy, is described as the increase and growth of muscle cells, which increase in size through regular resistance training.

There are 3 principles to hypertrophy training:

1. Progressive overload
This means exposing our muscle fibers to increasing levels of tension and stress through lifting heavier weights or increasing reps overtime

2. Muscle damage
This means damaging, or tearing, our muscle fibers which cause them to grow back bigger and stronger

3. Metabolic stress
Regularly working our muscles to failure, or until we can’t push any more reps out, thus further instigating muscle gains

Check out our written guide on “Female Fitness Model Workouts” to find out more about resistance training for women!

Weightlifting for Women

In recent years, there has been a huge rise in the popularity of women venturing into the weights area of gyms - something that was once taboo and intimidating for many women.

Gone are the days of women wanting to look “skinny” by doing hours of cardio every week and restricting food intake.

Now, women want to sculpt their bodies, boost their strength, and increase their muscle mass, embracing the weightlifting culture that was once largely male-dominated.

Turns out, resistance training is just as beneficial, if not MORE beneficial, for women as it is for men.

Resistance training offers many benefits that ultimately lead to being healthier, stronger, and leaner, including:

  • Improving athletic performance
  • Enhancing fat loss
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes
  • Reducing the risk of injury, back pain, and arthritis
  • Decreasing stress levels and improve mood
  • Gaining muscle and strength

Other Considerations for Women

As we have mentioned, women face many additional challenges when it comes to sport, fitness, and nutrition

There is a considerably large gap in the research on women in sport and nutrition, making it difficult to make specific recommendations around these areas.

While the key principles are similar to that of men, there are some additional considerations to be aware of when you’re a woman on a mission to achieving any sport or fitness related goal.

Physiological differences between men and women

The main consideration to note is the physiological differences between men and women. As female research lacks in the industry, the advice women often follow is based on research on men.

This puts women at a disadvantage in the fitness world, as the recommendations simply aren’t tailored to consider a woman’s body and physiology.

The main difference to point out between men and women is how we store body fat.

Women typically store significantly more body fat than men, and rightly so! Women must be primed for childbearing, and their hormones enable their bodies to prepare for this by storing more fat.

For this reason, it is a lot more difficult and dangerous for women to aim to achieve and maintain a low body fat percentage.

Additionally, women lack testosterone. Testosterone is a key hormone involved in the fat loss and muscle gain process, and as women lack this hormone, it makes it trickier, and often not possible, to achieve the same results as men.

Menstrual Cycle

All women would benefit from knowing more about their menstrual cycle. As more research emerges about the links between performance and the menstrual cycle, it appears that there are certainly differences between each menstrual phase.

As a women’s hormones fluctuate throughout their cycle, it’s no surprise that this may have an effect on training and nutrition.

It’s a good idea to look further into your personal menstrual cycle and see how you can make training and nutrition adaptations to better suit your body’s needs.

The Bottom Line

If you’re going to take anything away from this article, be it that most healthy women can achieve a lean physique if they put in the work and dial in the key principles.

While women are at a disadvantage to what they can achieve compared to men, it is still possible, particularly when you have more knowledge about how to overcome the specific boundaries and challenges!