If you are a woman looking to maintain or lose weight, you may be concerned about bulking up, and thus shy away from weight training. However, weight training can assist in your weight-loss efforts and improve your body composition by helping you maintain muscle mass, which will keep your metabolism high and assist in fat burning. Consuming sufficient calories and protein, and strategically timing your pre- and post-workout meals, will allow your muscles to recover and rebuild in response to the weight training, helping you increase your overall proportion of lean mass and improve muscle strength.
To lose weight, you must consume fewer calories than you burn. However, if you drastically reduce your calorie intake, you will lose muscle mass, as your muscles will not have enough energy to repair and rebuild themselves after a workout. Since muscle is more metabolically active than fat, maintaining muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high as you lose the pounds, further aiding in fat loss. To lose 1 pound per week, a reasonable weight-loss rate according to the Mayo Clinic, you should aim to burn 500 more calories than you consume per day. Consuming an equal number of calories to what you burn per day will maintain your weight, but weight training will increase the relative proportion of muscle mass on your body.
Weight training results in the breakdown and repair of muscle fibers. This repair requires amino acids, the building blocks of dietary protein. Therefore, sufficient protein is essential to derive the maximal benefits from your weight training workouts. While an average sedentary person requires about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, 1.0 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is optimal for those who weight train regularly. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds — or 68 kilograms — aim to consume 68 to 100 grams of protein per day. If you want to maintain an overall calorie deficit with this increased protein, slightly reduce the amount of carbohydrates and fats in your diet.
A good pre-workout snack gives you energy and is easily digestible, allowing you to power through your weight training without feeling hungry or light-headed. Therefore, focus on foods high in carbohydrates and easily digestible protein, with minimal fat and fiber intake to prevent gastrointestinal discomfort. Some examples of pre-workout combinations include cereal with milk, one or two eggs and toast or chicken noodle soup.
Consuming a snack containing protein and carbohydrates within the first three hours following your weight training workout may increase post-workout muscle rebuilding. A 2000 study published in the "Journal of Applied Physiology" showed that post-workout muscle protein synthesis was greater after individuals consumed a drink containing protein and carbohydrates, compared to when they consumed a placebo drink post-workout. While protein provides the building blocks of muscle protein, your muscles also require carbohydrate to fuel muscle building. Therefore, a snack or meal that includes both will optimize your post-workout recovery. If you are trying to lose weight, account for the calories in your pre- and post-workout snacks in your overall daily calorie allowance.
Gina Battaglia has written professionally since 2006. She served as an assistant editor for the "International Journal of Sports Medicine" and coauthored a paper published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research." Battaglia completed a Doctor of Philosophy in bioenergetics and exercise science at East Carolina University and a Master of Science in biokinesiology from the University of Southern California.