Strength Training and Nutrition for Women: Tips From the Experts


Women who do weight training should deal with their diet. Why saving calories is not the solution, what influence the female cycle has and how strength athletes can eat a balanced diet without remorse.

Lifting weights in the studio and then biting into a greasy pizza – or not eating anything? You can do it, but it doesn’t work! Exercising and eating healthy go hand in hand.

One works without the other, but it’s only half as effective. If you want to build muscle , tone your body or be more productive, sooner or later you have to adapt your diet in addition to your training routine.  

Dr. dr. Why it matters so much, what ends up on your plate, what role the female cycle plays and how you can relax to change your diet Frank-Holger Acker betrayed.

He is a nutrition and fitness expert and author of ” Training and Nutrition for Women ” as well as many other guides for athletes.

Table of Contents

Dr. Frank-holger acker, why is nutrition so important for the training effect?

Dr. Frank Holger Acker: The truth is: training is 100 percent of the desired success. But the truth is also that the diet is 100 percent. This means that one cannot fully succeed without the other.

Those who are not in control of their diet will either still not be able to get rid of their unwanted body fat or will slow down their own regeneration and training success.

What are typical nutritional mistakes that sabotage strength training?

Dr. Acker: In my experience, many women who start weight training initially have problems increasing their protein intake.

The other extreme is women who are too ambitious about their goals and reduce their calories too much, practically consume only protein and reduce fat and carbohydrates to a minimum.

This can also slow training success in the medium term. These errors often only become apparent after months. Just as muscles need time to grow, problems that result from poorly planned diets will only be noticed late.

Is the widespread “fear” of carbohydrates and fats justified?

Dr. Field: It is not carbohydrates or fats that are to blame for everything, the amount of calories is crucial. Any “magic diet” must ensure that the user is in a calorie deficit if it is to work.

What should not be forgotten: The human body consists of 60 percent water, the muscles even up to 70 percent. If you lose ten pounds in ten days, in the worst case you have only lost water, emptied your carbohydrate stores and even lost valuable muscle mass due to malnutrition.

So there is no reason to be afraid of carbohydrates or fats in food – on the contrary! Too little exercise and the wrong calorie balance are much more serious.

How many carbohydrates, fats and proteins should women eat every day in training?

Dr. Field: The basis of the diet should be 150 to 200 grams of carbohydrates, 50 grams of fat and 1.5 to 2 times the body weight in grams in protein. The remaining calories can then be broken down into fat and carbohydrates.

In your book “Training and Nutrition for Women” you explain that it makes sense for women to adjust their diet to the cycle – why?

Dr. Field: During the menstrual phase, the estrogen level is rather low and will rise sharply in the following days until ovulation and then fall again.

Estrogen in turn promotes the generation of energy from fatty acids. At the same time, after ovulation, the decrease in the happiness hormone serotonin causes an increased craving for sweets.

An absolute hormone chaos – it makes sense to adjust your diet accordingly.

As a strength athlete, how do I adjust my diet to the cycle?

Dr. Field: The amount of protein can remain unchanged over the entire cycle. There is no need to change anything here.

In the menstrual week, however – due to the low estrogen value – you eat more carbohydrates and then lower them in favor of fats. When the estrogen drops and cravings set in, you allow yourself a few more carbohydrates to finally eat less of them in the last week of your menstrual period.

More specifically, this could be broken down as follows if a person eats 1,800 kcal per day:

  • Day 1 to 5 (menstrual phase): 200 grams of carbohydrates (KH) and 60 grams of fat (F)
  • Day 6 to 14: 120 grams KH and 97 grams F
  • Day 15 to 21: 170 grams KH and 76 grams F
  • Day 22 to 28: 120 grams of KH and 97 grams of F

The amount of protein in our example averages 100 grams per day.

Of course, these are exemplary figures, which can and should deviate somewhat upwards or downwards.

What diet do you recommend for women?

Dr. Acker: One who does not make you unhappy and is purposeful. First of all, you should choose a diet that suits you. Paleo , vegan , vegetarian, low carb or whatever – if you can identify with anything, do not shut yourself off, but do not consider it the holy grail, which must not be modified.

If you eat after Paleo, you might still fancy a pizza at the weekend. Anyone who eats vegan and has an irregular desire for a burger should be allowed to do so. Anyone who equates nutrition with bans will never implement them permanently.

What tricks can I use to change my diet in a targeted manner?

Dr. Acker: As already explained, the calorie balance is crucial. In my experience, keeping an eye on these throughout the day is one of the most important decisions when it comes to nutrition.

Another trick, regardless of the diet, is to use what I call a “pedestal”. These are certain foods that you eat every day. The base should taste good, be high in protein and micronutrients and, in the best case, saturate well. For example, I eat skimmed curd with berries almost every day and a homemade salad with a reduced-calorie sauce.

In addition, you shouldn’t throw everything over overnight. New properties take a good four to six weeks to become habitual.

Instead of wanting to do a thousand things at once, you should grope your way step by step and also accept to return to old routines in individual cases. You can finally achieve the ultimate calorie balance in various ways.

Above all, you should never get stressed out. This applies even more to women than to men.

Why is stress prevention more important for women than for men?

Dr. Field: Stress causes cortisol to be produced in the adrenal glands. These in turn can be limited in their performance in the event of permanent stress, which has doubly bad consequences for women.

Progesterone and 50 percent of female testosterone are also produced in the adrenal glands. The latter is jointly responsible for building muscle. Progesterone, like estrogen, goes through a cycle. If there is too little progesterone, one speaks – regardless of the absolute value – of an estrogen dominance, which in turn provokes water retention, especially in the lower body.

So, the main thing is no stress. It is not so easy for many women when it comes to nutrition, is it?

Dr. Acker: Of course, you can’t generalize that, but women tend to run the risk of approaching their goals too radically.

In combination with the fact that women can often eat significantly less than men due to their height, weight and muscle mass, they deal more with the subject of eating and at the same time under pressure. Men are often more relaxed here.

And how do I manage to take it easy and feed myself purposefully about my training success?

Dr. Acker: Be aware of why you are changing your diet. Instead of extrinsic motivation, such as a partner, a social occasion or a fictional number on the scales, you should find an intrinsic motivation. Be it health or your own satisfaction.

It is crucial that women reflect on their eating habits and gain a positive relationship with them. Eating should never just be functional, it should always mean enjoyment – and that doesn’t mean draping meals for social media.

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