Female Athlete's Guide to Building Muscle And Losing Fat

February 6, 2013 | Taylor Ryan

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For women, strength training doesn't add bulk and weight, it builds muscle—and that's not synonymous with adding size. Strength is going to help you succeed as an athlete. In this article, I cover how female athletes can simultaneously build muscle and lose fat to improve their performance and overall confidence—because if you're confident in the way you look, you'll perform better when it counts. (See also How to Build Muscle for Women.)

It's possible to build muscle and lose weight. Just like anything else in life, it takes persistence and dedication. Don't be afraid of weights! Embrace what they can do for you, your body and your sport. (Check out Is Cardio Really the Best Way to Burn Fat?)

Eat for muscle growth

It takes a lot of energy and fuel (food) to build muscle. Ask any body builder. They typically consume over 3,000 calories per day.  For most women, it takes an average of 300 extra calories per day to provide their bodies with the building blocks to create more muscle mass.

Perform interval speed workouts

Jogging for 60 minutes may be the norm for most active people, but athletes are not most people. Interval workouts are short but extremely intense. In your next workout, perform an all-out sprint for 30 seconds, rest for one minute and repeat that pattern for a total of 20 minutes. Short bursts of hard exercise not only increase your speed performance, they also spike your metabolism. In fact, two hours (within two weeks) of interval training burns the same amount of fat as 10 hours of steady-state cardio.

Lift heavy and lift hard

It's easy to lift a weight for a few reps, place it back on the rack and call it a workout. But to build muscle and strength, you have to challenge yourself. Focus on heavy weights, where you can only achieve six to eight perfect form reps. If you can perform three to five sets and hit the eighth rep each time, that's a clear indication to up the weight. Weight progression is the only way you will strengthen your muscles.

Focus on full-body exercises

Most machines that line the floor are called "isolated," meaning they work one muscle group at a time and run on a set range of motion. These can actually hinder your results. To build muscle and burn the number of calories needed to lose fat, perform large, complex exercises like Squats, Lunges, Push-Ups and Pull-Ups. Focus your primary attention on these moves, then finish off your workout with the smaller, isolated exercises to target weaker areas such as biceps and abs.

Eat Clean

Losing weight is not going to happen if you don't follow a clean diet. It doesn't matter how amazing your workouts are. How you eat directly reflects the body you imagine. With a bad diet, not only will you not lose weight, your performance will suffer. Enjoy a diet that is low in processed foods, simple sugars, and high in unsaturated fat. A meal plan based around all natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean protein is the best and fastest way to see results. (See "Everything in Moderation" Diet Is Best for Athletes.)

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