Time to Read
Points of Interest
- Nature's differences
- The complexities of muscle growth
- Women's body through the cycle phases
- Making your plan
Gaining muscle and building a strong physique takes time, effort, dedication and consistency.
This goes for both men and women.
Our focus is often mostly on essential food groups and quantities, accompanying strict training regimes.
But there is more to consider for a woman, alongside one’s chosen sport, to be the best version of your athletic and personal self.
This is the first in a 3-part series written to explain how women, in particular, can developing strength and overcome specific issues which are more likely to occur due to the genetic make-up of females.
In this article we focus on the composition of our muscles and how to plan our training schedule around our body’s changing ability.
When identifying your potential for muscle growth and strength, many would have us believe that men have the advantage over women. Stereotypes have conditioned us to believe this.
You may notice, in a gym, how women and men generally act and participate differently. Women naturally do more running and aerobic exercises, whereas men will often gravitate toward lifting weights.
There is a vast amount of research on the way men and women respond and develop to training but excitingly there is still a huge amount to discover.
Women are competing in muscle building more than ever and the rise of female body-builder-type competitions is fast evolving, demonstrating the capabilities of females.
This isn’t necessarily a new discovery. Historically women have been known to be great fighters. Perhaps rather, this idea challenges the stereo type of how man and woman has been depicted.
Research reveals that women are as capable as men, if not more, of building strong muscles.
Women often feel pressured to diet to be 'skinny' but lean is a better target. This requires eating plenty of food to give you the required amount of energy and to enable you to train your muscles to grow strong.
The quality of your muscle, the size and speed of growth can be impacted by training, as well as by hormones and muscle fibre composition.
Contrary to popular belief, research reveals that women are just as capable of gaining muscle mass as men. However, a different approach to planning training, guided by the hormone levels, could bring about better results.
The female’s ability to build muscle strength has been found to be impacted by the menstrual cycle. So, rather than trying to swim against the tide, the following information will help you plan your training sessions, in synergy with your hormonal levels.
Women generally feel stronger and more energetic during this first 14 days of their cycle. It’s the time when women can achieve higher strength adaptations to train for greater strength, supported by their higher pain threshold and greater endurance during this phase.
Furthermore, Insulin sensitivity is higher during this phase, as the body uses carbs to fuel muscle gain more effectively.
Oestrogen levels increase during the ovulation phase (normally around the 11th -14th day of the cycle). This can be when more injuries occur, so take caution when training of any kind during this phase.
However, all is not lost! A study from the National Institute Of Health explains that myosins are motor proteins best known for their role in muscle contraction and growth. The study reveals that the higher levels of oestrogen during ovulation, positively impacts the action and function of myosin. This is found to produce better quality of muscle with increased strength, compared to muscle developed when oestrogen levels are lower. Therefore, this is the phase where good quality muscle can be produced.
During the final 14 days of the cycle, the luteal phase, one might not have as much endurance capability.
But during this phase, the body increases fat metabolism. This means the body will use fat as its primary fuel source during this phase.
Testosterone, which I discuss further below, is a hormone which has the ability to grow muscle mass.
It is important to note that testosterone is present in the female body, but women produce less testosterone than men. The amount varies greatly from one female to the next.
Testosterone levels also vary during the menstrual cycle, peaking during the luteal stage. This increase in testosterone has the possibility for further muscle development during this phase.
The week running up to menstruation is when PMS can kick in. This is when one may feel more lethargic and less like training.
To ensure energy, weight and physique goals are achievable, protein consumption should be your nutritional focus during this stage.
Eating high quality protein, such as turkey, avocados and seeds, can help raise the body’s levels of tryptophan, an amino acid found in the diet which produces serotonin. However, it can’t be created within the body. It can only be absorbed from food sources, which is why nutrition is so important.
Serotonin is a chemical that produces feelings of well-being, positivity and balances mood. It can also counteract the desire for the wrong type of carb-loaded foods, which generally happens right before menstruation.
In addition, the more protein consumed, the more satiated one feels (feeling full), which means generally less is consumed and weight can be better regulated.
Understanding your body’s phases will help you plan your training holistically. It will help you attune your rest and recovery phases and nutritional requirements to your fluctuating needs, to give you optimal opportunity for prime physical strength, fitness and general well-being.