Many women are now aiming to achieve a strong and healthy physique through training, but muscle gains can only happen when training is paired with optimal nutrition. However, you cannot target specific muscle groups or areas to grow through diet and it’s therefore important to consider that when bulking you will inevitably gain weight in other areas.
This being said, if you are targeting a specific muscle group with your training then this will hugely impact on your results and changes to your shape. In order to gain mass, it is vital to put more in than you put out. Calories = energy, so put simply, to gain weight you need to put in more calories than you burn and eat in a calorie surplus. The number of additional calories you will need is dependent on your maintenance calorie intake (the number of calories you need daily to maintain your current weight). This can be easily worked out using our TPW calorie calculator. This number of maintenance calories is based on your age, height, weight and activity levels. However, guidelines state that generally 2,000 calories is sufficient maintenance calories for women.
Top Bulking Tips for Women:
It is recommended that you begin your bulk with a calorie surplus of 20%. So, if you need 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight, you will need to increase your daily intake by approx. 400 calories. If you try this for two weeks and don’t see results, increase this by a further 200 calories. It’s really just a case of trial and error to see what works best for you.
This being said, bulking (sadly) doesn’t give you free reign to live on takeaways and ice cream – the cleaner the calories, the better your overall health will be, the better you will perform in the gym and the better your body will look. ‘Clean’ is a term thrown around a lot in the nutrition industry, essentially it just means as natural as possible. So, think more whole foods with little processing and foods low on additives, sugar, salt and saturated fats. The more you prepare/cook yourself, the better because you know exactly what’s in there and can track your calories and macros easily and accurately.
See our The Protein Works 4-Week Bulking Meal Plan for a perfect example of what you need to be eating to achieve your goals and gain your desired changes to your shape. Vegan? Look no further with our Ultimate Vegan 4-Week Bulking Guide. Ensure you alter the portion sizes in the meal plan to adhere to your macros and calorie requirements to avoid overeating/under-eating. If you aren’t sure of your macros, these can be gained by using a macro calculator which uses the same principle as a maintenance calorie calculator (age, weight etc). However, most macro calculators take your goal into account (whether that be to lose, gain or re-comp) and as a result will account for a surplus or reduction in calories. Typing macro calculator into a search engine should give you some solid options (the Katy Hearn Fitness calculator is very easy to use if unsure where to start).
The key to any successful bulk is consistency. However, it also needs to be sustainable and not detrimental to your physical or mental health. It can be a gruelling process for someone who isn’t used to eating a lot of food, however this is where protein shakes and gainers really come into their own. If you are struggling to hit your calorie goal, supplement your diet with a high-quality and great-tasting gainer such as our TPW Total Mass Matrix shake, which would easily boost your calorie count by 496 calories!
Whilst consistency is undoubtedly key to achieve optimum results from your bulk, it can be beneficial to include a ‘cheat meal’ or allow yourself an off-plan meal or sweet treat once a week. One ‘bad’ meal won’t undo your progress, just as one ‘good’ meal won’t add all of the weight you are working to gain. An incentive to have something you really fancy to look forward to can provide a much-needed (and well-deserved) morale boost. This will help to make the bulking process more sustainable and enjoyable.
Training Tips to Build Muscle
It is also important to mix up your training so your gains don’t plateau, this can happen when your body gets used to the same exercises, rep ranges and weights so don’t be afraid to try something new.
This doesn’t mean you have to forgo your beloved squats or hip thrusts, don’t worry, we get it! Leg-day withdrawals are real ladies. However, if your go-to exercises start to feel a breeze or are not challenging enough, then you must increase the resistance or weight safely and gradually until it starts to feel more of a challenge in order to see the changes to your body that you want.
A popular training method used to increase muscle growth is progressive overload; this is the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise. This can be done in a number of ways such as increasing the weight, increasing the number of reps, adding a resistance band, changing your stance (e.g. widen your stance from a normal squat to a sumo squat position) or make an exercise more challenging by elevating yourself or creating a deficit during a movement (for example deficit curtsy lunges, stepping backwards with one leg down from a weight plate or step, which targets the glutes more than a regular curtsy lunge).
If you are concerned about adding more weight to your favourite exercises, start with a slight increase and if you find it too difficult, lower your reps! You need to be really pushing your muscles in order for them to grow. So, if you’re smashing out 12 deadlifts with ease, maintain that perfect form, increase your weight gradually until it feels challenging and reduce your reps to 8 or 10, whatever works for you. Whilst its important to push yourself, it’s vital that you do so safely to avoid injury. The last thing you want is to pick up and injury and have to put your gaining journey on hold. So, increase weight gradually, try reducing your reps if struggling with a heavier weight, be sure to maintain good form and know when to stop.
It is also crucial to reduce (or completely omit) any cardio, to hold onto those precious calories you’re putting into your body. Hitting your recommended 10,000 steps a day won’t do you any harm at all, however sprint intervals on the treadmill or that weekly spin class could be hindering your gains. This being said, if you replace the calories you burned off during that cardio workout, that should help to get you back in a calorie-surplus. This just means all the more food you need to consume in addition to your 20% surplus, so it’s your call! As mentioned previously, if you use a fitness app (such as MyFitnessPal) to track your macros, you can also use this to input your training (type, duration and intensity) in order to ascertain how many calories you burned. By doing so, you can ensure you remain in that all-important 20% surplus in your daily calorie total. Fitness watches and heart rate monitors also accurately track your calorie burn, so if you are wearing either of these during your training you can monitor your calorie output with precision.
It is also incredibly important to allow yourself sufficient time to recover in between training sessions. Whilst regular training is necessary to achieve optimal muscle growth, many people make the mistake of training too often, which has the opposite effect and can result in fatigue, soreness, muscle damage and injury. When trying to build muscle you should ensure that you are taking time to relax and allow your body time to recover and repair your muscles, this includes getting good quality sleep (aim for 7-8 hours).
Many people assume that muscle soreness equates to muscle growth, which is not the case. There is very little evidence to suggest that muscle soreness indicates any increase in muscle growth. Similarly, there isn’t evidence to suggest that a lack of soreness means that your workout wasn’t effective. The only real notable change that excessive soreness has on your progress is the negative impact it could have on your performance at your next training session as you may not be able to lift as heavy or perform certain movements correctly if you are sore, you may not even make it to the gym at all! Of course some muscle soreness is normal, but if you’re hobbling around or struggling to perform normal day-to-day movements in the days after a workout, that’s a sign you’ve overdone it. Your rest days are equally as important as your training days when growth is your goal!
So, try to keep your training between 3-5 times a week to allow your muscles the time they need to recover and grow!
Training aside, remember first and foremost, your gains are made in the kitchen and not the gym. Your diet will account for around 70-80% of the changes made to your body and its therefore hugely important to ensure you are hitting your calorie goal and adhering to your macros daily.
Trying to reduce body fat whilst increasing muscle mass simultaneously is a trap many fall into, resulting in minimal gains. So, if you’re serious about gaining muscle mass, be realistic and fully shift your focus away from fat loss until you have achieved your desired weight.
The Take Home:
Providing you remain consistent with your diet and training (not forgetting the all-important cheat meal and rest days), you will undoubtedly see results for your efforts. However, you must be patient and trust the process because visible change can take time, so don’t lose motivation or give up if you’re not seeing results during week one and two. Take progress photos and measurements every 2 weeks to monitor changes to your shape. Stick with it, trust that the results you want are well and truly on their way and just make some alterations to your diet (as discussed earlier, with a further increase of 200 cals) and monitor any changes – you’ll be amazed at what you can achiev! Keep your meals within the plan interesting and use a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, alternate the lean protein sources for a change (e.g. different spices and seasoning, chillies and garlic and low-fat/low-sugar sauces and dressings to add variety and flavour to your meals to avoid getting bored of the same food.
You got this girl!
So all in all, stay consistent with your training, adhere to the meal plan and you’ll be amazed at the results you can achieve!