Biologically speaking, women got the short end of the stick when it comes to muscle-to-fat ratios. Programmed for having babies, females naturally have more body fat and less muscle mass than their male counterparts. But if a six-pack and lean arms are on your body agenda, don't lose heart. With some sweat equity, it's possible for a woman to sculpt a rockin' body -- she just might have to work a little harder than the boys. There are two elements involved in this: losing fat and gaining muscle. Diet and calorie expenditure will contribute to fat loss, and resistance training will build sexy muscles to show off. As a bonus, gaining muscle will rev up your resting metabolism, helping to keep unwanted fat off.
Eat healthy, clean foods. It may sound cliche, but one of the simplest ways to improve your muscle-to-fat ratio is to control your diet. Most experts agree that the path to your dream body is at least 80 percent diet. Avoid processed junk foods and stick to a diet of nutritious, whole foods such as lean proteins, low-fat dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains.
Control your calorie intake. Pay attention not only to what you eat, but how much you eat. To drop a pound of fat, you must create a 3,500-calorie deficit through diet and exercise. Similarly, you can easily pack on an unwanted pound by regularly overeating -- even small amounts. Determine how many calories you need based on your goals, and stick with it. If you want to burn fat, a loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week is a safe rate.
Get your heart rate up with daily cardio to burn calories and speed up fat loss. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of cardio each week. Try a variety of exercises, such as running, biking, fitness classes and machines at the gym to keep your workouts interesting and help you avoid plateaus. You should also mix it up by rotating between long, steady-state workouts and short, intense, interval sessions.
Lift weights. If you want to build muscle, put down the pink dumbbells and start training hard. Women don't have the hormones to build big, burly muscles, so lifting heavier than you're used to won't make you look like the Hulk. Three to five sets of eight to 12 repetitions is a general standard for muscle hypertrophy. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't integrate high-rep, low-weight and low-rep, high-weight sets on occasion. Regardless of how many reps you do, make sure you use enough weight so that the last couple of reps are difficult. If you finish a set and could have cranked out five more repetitions, you're not using enough weight.
- Journal your diet and workouts. It can be easy to lose track if you don't write everything down. If you aren't seeing the results you want, having a journal is a useful tool for discovering where you need to make changes. It's also helpful to track progress when you're trying to improve your muscle-to-fat ratio. Use progress pictures, body-fat percentage or circumference measurements to document changes. Try not to rely on the scale as a measurement, though. Your weight won't reflect changes in body composition and can be misleading.
- Talk with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or exercise program. If you're restricting calories, don't go below 1,200 per day, as this can cripple your metabolism. For those new to exercise, consult a fitness professional for guidance in creating a program aimed at your goals.
Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.