Yes, Women Can Build Lean Muscle Quickly — These Experts Explain How


Woman does strength training to build muscle with a weighted ball.

There are no shortcuts for building muscle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to build muscle fast — you’ll just need to implement a few key strategies and stay very consistent with your routine. And no, before you ask, building muscle for women doesn’t mean automatically mean you’ll get “bulky.” (Reminder: there’s also nothing wrong with that.) You can build lean muscle, add muscle tone and strength, and look more defined with strategic training and nutrition.

If you’re looking to build lean muscle fast, it helps to know exactly what kind of timeline to expect. ACSM-certified personal trainer and registered dietitian Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, said the average beginner can expect to gain two to four pounds of muscle in their first two months of training. To achieve these results and hit your muscle growth goals, follow this advice from these two experts, who are both registered dietitians and certified personal trainers.

How to Train to Gain Muscle

Although getting muscle gains is equal parts diet and exercise, how you train makes a big difference.

  • Do full-body strength workouts three times a week. White recommends three full-body strength workouts per week. Within each workout, aim to do eight- to 12-rep rounds of each exercise, “which promotes muscle hypertrophy (maximal muscle growth).”
  • Pick a weight that feels doable, but challenging. Experiment with lifting dumbbells and kettlebells. Try choosing a weight light enough that you can complete the eight- to 12-rep sets, but that still feels like a challenge. If it feels too easy, go heavier; if it feels too hard to complete only a few reps, go lighter.

Muscle-building exercises to add to your workouts include:

If you’re looking to get started, check out this beginner’s four-week strength-training program.

What to Eat to Gain Muscle

Nutrition is also key when it comes to building muscle. You want to make sure you’re fueling your body properly to support your rigorous workouts and eventually see gains.

  • Make sure you eat enough protein. For muscle growth, White recommends eating about 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day. For a 150-pound person, that’s 82 to 136 grams of protein a day.
  • Eat about 20 grams of protein every four hours. It’s a good idea to split up your protein consumption across the day. Registered dietitian and certified personal trainer Marisa Michael, MS, NCCPT, told POPSUGAR that eating about 20 grams of protein every four hours or so will stimulate muscle building and repair.
  • Eat protein with high amounts of leucine. Michael recommended prioritizing leucine, which is an essential amino acid that plays an important role in synthesizing protein. It can be found in whey, dairy, meat, and eggs, and for vegans in soy, white beans, kidney beans, lentils, and peanuts.

You also need to be eating in a calorie surplus to see those gains. Michael said that you need those extra calories to build new muscle tissue. “Women sometimes don’t eat enough overall calories,” she said. “When they are trying to build muscle, calorie intake is important!” She added that when you train hard but don’t get enough calories, it makes you less likely to hit your goals and is more likely to have a negative impact on your bone density and lead to decreased immunity and mood disturbances.

And while protein gets all the attention for building muscle, carbs are just as, if not more, important.

  • Carbs fuel your workouts. Michael explained that your body uses carbs as fuel for exercises. If you’re lacking energy during your strength workouts, you’ll be less efficient and lose stamina more quickly, which means you’ll be getting less out of the moves.
  • Using carbs for energy frees up protein for muscle building. If your body doesn’t have enough carbs to use as an energy source for your everyday activity, it’ll start using protein — which could otherwise be used for muscle repair, Michael said. By ensuring you eat adequate amounts of carbs, you’ll encourage your body to use carbs for that energy and protein for muscle-building.
  • Your body processes protein better if carbs are available. White told POPSUGAR in a previous interview that your body is better able to utilize protein if you have carbs available as well. Carbs are important for a muscle-repair process called “muscle glycogen resynthesis,” he added.

Although you should meet with a registered dietitian to find out your exact calorie target for gains, White said about 300 calories more than your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is a good place to start to see muscle growth. As for your macros, he recommends focusing on carbs, with a general macro breakdown of 50 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 20 percent fat.

Building Muscle With Sleep and Rest Days

Although working out is important, you should be mindful of taking rest days, especially as you’re just starting out. If you are strength training three days a week, spread out those days to every other day and throw in some cardio days or active recovery days in between. Rest days give your muscles time to rebuild and repair.

Also, sleep is crucial. Make sure you are logging an average of seven hours a night; this also gives your body time to repair and recover. And if you’re well-rested, you’re more likely to head to the gym with energy and crush your workouts.

— Additional reporting by Maggie Ryan

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Matthew Kelly

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