Guess what women - if you are trying to gain weight or build muscle you must play by the same rules that men do. Learn how to reach your goals.

Woman SquattingEveryone wants to lose weight; for females this is even more so.  There is so much information available regarding weight loss, but what if you are at the other end of the spectrum? What if you are a woman who wants to gain some weight and build muscle? Yes, you heard that right!  Some of us actually want to gain weight and bulk up.  Where do you turn?

I have been on that end of the spectrum in search of a plan to help me gain weight and get ‘bigger.’   I found so much information on fat loss for women and muscle building for men, but not much for women who wanted to get bigger.

The information on muscle building I implemented that into my nutritional and workout program.  Ladies the same basic rules do apply.  It is my hope that sharing my experience will provide you with the necessary information you need to get started.

When I first started weight training, I assumed I was eating enough calories.  We tend to ‘overestimate’ our daily caloric intake.  I have found just as someone who wants to lose weight tends to ‘underestimate’ their daily calories, we tend to ‘overestimate’ our daily caloric intake.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is being honest with yourself about the number of calories you consume daily.  Keep a food journal for several days to see what you are eating, the times you are eating, and this will show you the gaps in your daily meals.  At the end of each day, add up your total calories.

Are you eating enough calories?  The answer is usually, no.  I bet you will be surprised at how you fall short for your daily caloric intake.  With my own experience and with clients doing this for several days, it becomes obvious that the harsh reality is that the numbers don’t lie.

You also have to be honest with yourself and realize the only way you are going to grow and put on muscle is to eat.  You need an abundance of clean calories throughout the day.  As women we tend to be scared of carbohydrates and worried about getting fat, but you have to consume an adequate amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fats to build muscle.

Yes, you may gain a little fat, but you need this to put on muscle, you will never accomplish your goals if you don’t eat.  Now that you are in reality and realize that you have been in a caloric deficit, the only way you will grow and build muscle is to be in a caloric surplus.  Start to take the steps to increase your daily caloric intake slowly.

Begin by adding an additional 200-300 daily calories for a week.  For example, if you are currently consuming 1,600 calories a day, increase it to 1,800 calories a day for a week.  At the end of one week, reassess where you are at.  Go slow increasing the calories; too quickly will result in unwanted body fat.

Shoot for a weight gain of 1-1½ pounds.  2 lbs being the maximum a week.  You will be more satisfied with these results.  I know it is a slow process, but in the long run you will be more satisfied.

As for myself once I realized I was in a caloric deficit wanting so badly to get bigger, I increased my calories too quickly and some of it was stored as fat.  Don’t be scared of carbohydrates; this is where the additional 200-300 calories should come from.

Side Laterals

Once you decide on how many calories you need on a daily basis you, must stick with it for a minimum of thirty days to see results.  Don’t get frustrated or short change yourself; you must stick with the plan to see results.

Remember I was saying some of the basic rules apply for men and women wanting to get bigger?  As you can now see, you need to eat enough clean calories to grow.  Let’s take a look at your pre workout meal.

What does it include?  I would suggest you include 20 grams of whey protein and some fast carbs such as a big bowl of cream of rice or a white bagel.

You will grow outside of the gym not in it.  If you are an exercise junkie, I know it is hard to change your mindset, but more is not better.  You will not get your dream body by being in the gym 5 days a week.  As a hardgainer when I was in the gym less, the results came quicker.   Depending on your schedule instead of training 5 days try 3 days, M,W,F.

My preference is 2 days on, 1 day off.  This gives my body an adequate amount of rest and if you are truly training with intensity, it is really hard to go 5 days a week.

You may also want to limit or give up cardio for a while.  I know this is not normally recommended, but I started to see more results when I eliminated my cardio all together.  This will enable you will keep your hard earned muscle.

Spend no more than 60 minutes in the gym.  Keep it intense, but brief!  Eat, rest and you will grow.  It may feel good to train more, but keep in mind your goals.  Overtraining just won’t get you the results.  After so many minutes, your glycogen stores diminish and you are no longer being productive.

At this point it is better to turn your attention to your post workout nutrition.  Get that shake in you.  Your post workout shake should include 20-40 grams of whey and some fast digesting carbohydrates such as a banana and some cream of rice.  And within one hour of your post workout shake, I would recommend a solid meal including some slower digesting carbohydrates and protein.  This could include some eggs and egg whites with oatmeal or chicken and a sweet potato.

Stick to the basics.  As women we are determined to do the butt blaster and isolation exercises.  Again, what’s your goal?  No girly moves here!  If you want to be BIG, you must do the basics squats, deadlifts, presses and lift heavy.

For extra calories before bed, drink a casein shake this will keep your muscles catabolic during the night.  I would make up another casein shake and put it in the fridge so when I would get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I would drink another shake!  I also saw significant growth from doing this.

Remember what I said about keeping your weight in check 1-2 lbs a week.  Once you have reached what you thought was your ‘ideal weight,’ you may want to keep going.  I know for myself and others I have worked with, we have a magic number in our heads, but once we reach that we may not be satisfied.

My suggestion is toss that scale.  You may want to keep going and the sky is the limit.  Don’t be so focused on the number on the scale as how your body looks in the mirror, and how you feel.  The mirror is one of the best indicators as to how you are doing.

Take a weekly assessment of yourself and then you can make the necessary caloric adjustments.  If you are gaining body fat too quickly, decrease your caloric intake by 200 calories a day.  If you are gaining too slowly add an additional 200 calories.

It is really a simple formula eat, rest and grow!  We tend to make it more complicated.  There is no better feeling than accomplishing your goals.  It does not happen overnight, but you will see the changes in the mirror over time and smile.

Stick with it and stay focused and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  It’s really a simple formula.  Stick to the basics!

Posted on: Tue, 10/11/2016 - 17:08

I am 5'4, 120lbs. struggle with an eating disorder for years. finally at a healthy place, want to build muscle and decrease my body fat percentage. having a very hard time with eating more (its a really big mental thing). i weight train a minimum of 3 times a week and row after my workouts but at at hiit pace. i kettlebell 1-2 times a week at home. i am average around 1000-1300 calories a day (probably on the lower side). any advice or guidance would be a huge help. my macros are at 45% protein, 30% carbs and 25% fat, i eat more carbs on my training days.

Posted on: Tue, 09/20/2016 - 10:08

Thank you for all this information I am in the beginning stages of body building and my question for you is how do you lose the fat but gain the muscle I see you say don't kill yourself with cardio is this correct I do workout right know 6 days 2 days cardio and rest heavy lifting. I am 5'10 and really i don't see a lot of body builders with my height. Also I do follow Dana Bailey for her advice on weight training also. Thanks for your time.

Posted on: Sun, 03/01/2015 - 02:04

Hi Lisa- this is so refreshing to see an article for women about gaining weight! I have on and off episodes of hyperthyroidism and am trying to gain 10 pounds of lean mass. I am 5'4 and 112 lbs. I eat about 2200 calories a day (250g carbs, 160g protein, 55g fat) and exercise 5x a week (4 days lifting in gym, 2 spinning classes). However, after 2 months of doing this- I can only lift heavier and am not seeing a change on the scale. Do you have any recommendations for me? What kind of protein supplementation would you recommend? Would you recommend mass gainers? Thank you!

Lisa H
Posted on: Mon, 03/02/2015 - 02:32

Hi Elle,

Thanks for connecting with me. It's no easy task as I can attest too from first hand experience. Lifting heavier is great and overtime that will give you more muscle mass. You might want to try lifting only 3 days and spin 1 or none! Personally for me, I gave up cardio altogether for a while which proved to be a challenge, but was beneficial. Funny you posted on this topic because last week and this week on my website, I am running a whole series on muscle building for women. Stop by and check it out. I think you'll get some great ideas. Also don't hesitate to contact me directly.

Best of luck,
Keep eating and lifting!

Posted on: Mon, 02/16/2015 - 11:21

Hey there!

Wow...I know this is just a mentality but my daily average (on fitness pal) is 1340-1532 calories a day. I usually workout twice a day, HIIT 5x a week, with cardio and weights almost every day. I know this ass backwards as I am looking to gain muscle not completely burn out my muscles. I am completely confused on when to eat what, and how much. I cut out sugar from diet (I have a severe gluten and corn syrup allergy--epi-pen related) Like most women, I am scared of a calorie surplus. My diet is pretty clean, although I enjoy an occasional quest bar before a workout. What should I be doing differently?

Posted on: Sun, 02/22/2015 - 02:28

Hi Lauren,
Sounds like you need to really up your caloric intake if you're serious about packing on the muscle. Keep the calories clean, but I would slowly start to increase them. Start off by increasing around your workout times. As for gluten free, I'm all about that. You can do it too! Don't hesitate to contact me directly for further help.

Posted on: Sun, 02/22/2015 - 02:29

Hi Lauren,
Sounds like you need to really up your caloric intake if you're serious about packing on the muscle. Keep the calories clean, but I would slowly start to increase them. Start off by increasing around your workout times. As for gluten free, I'm all about that. You can do it too! Don't hesitate to contact me directly for further help.

Posted on: Sat, 11/29/2014 - 03:56

Hi! I'm 14 years old and I'm too skinny. I want bigger arms, bigger butt and bigger legs. The problem is my stomach. It's the only thing I want to be more toned and tight. Even though I'm skinny, I have a belly pouch and I don't want more fat on it. Also, it's a bit hard for me to count my caloric intake. I can't get any protein powders like Whey and I also can't workout at the gym. Is it possible to achieve what I want despite these restrictions? Can I do efficient strength workouts at home? And is there no chance of my stomach getting lean and toned if I want the rest of me to get bigger?

Posted on: Wed, 05/21/2014 - 15:08

i am 22yrs old, weight is 40kg and height is 5 foot 4 inches. i know i am underweight. can you please refer some exercises and a diet plan for me? i have heard that jogging is not suitable if you want to gain weight , is that true? should i do stretching exercises or weight lifting or some other exercises to gain weight?

Lisa H
Posted on: Thu, 05/22/2014 - 09:18

Hi Ritz,

I would lay off the jogging and focus on nutrition and weight training for now and the muscle will come in time. Here is a guide I wrote for women and I think it will help you:

Best of luck to you!

Posted on: Tue, 04/29/2014 - 08:22

Hi, I really like your advices, but I just dont know how to start. Im a dancer and i practice 3 times a week and we do a lot of cardio and some strength training.I want to gain weight and increase muscles but i dont really have a diet plan and if i go the the gym 3 times a week i only have one day to rest beacuse of the dance practice...that is probably to much training if i want to gain weight and i dont want to give up dance.So I would like you to tell me what is the best way to train and if you have some advice for my diet?

Lisa H
Posted on: Tue, 04/29/2014 - 14:39

Hi Petra,
Thanks! I would start by making sure you are getting enough clean calories on a daily basis. It sounds like you are very active. Focus on fueling up before and after all of your workouts (cardio and dance practice too.) If your body tells you are hungry it probably is, so eat! You could try a full body or an A/B training split 2 days a week, focusing on compound movements.

As for your diet an easy way to get in extra calories is protein shakes. Nuts and hardboiled eggs are great too. Since you are so active make sure you are eating healthy carbs too. This will provide you with more energy for your sessions and help you build muscle.

Best of luck!

Karlie Chase
Posted on: Fri, 04/11/2014 - 15:46

Are you sure that 1-2 lbs in a week to gain is not too much? I have always heard that a smart gain cycle included 1/2 lb gains per week so as not to gain unnecessary fat. I am genuinely wanting to gain as much muscle as possible, and if you are sure stepping up the gainage will still be in my benefit, I will love to try this! Can you gain that much muscle weight in a week?

Lisa H
Posted on: Tue, 04/29/2014 - 14:29

Hi Karlie,
It really depends on where you are at. I know for myself personally, I had to gain a little more weight to build muscle. You might want to increase your calories slowly and use the mirror as a guide. You can always pull back if you need to.

Posted on: Mon, 04/07/2014 - 00:18

What types of carbs are you talking about and what types for meals should I have? Should I mix carbs and proteins with vegetables? I want to burn fat and get rid of it on my legs, lower and upper abs, etc. how do I do that if I'm just weight training and eating carbs and proteins? Would it be better to do weight training and do after burn effect excercises together? Also, if you know any good after burn excercises for the abs (obliques, upper and lower), arm or back ones, would you mind sharing them with me? I also plan to buy some weights soon to start weight traing. How much weight should I start with? I've never done weight training before.

Lisa H
Posted on: Mon, 04/07/2014 - 13:11

Hi Miranda,

Here is an excellent guide that will answer a lot of those questions for you:

Posted on: Wed, 04/02/2014 - 02:07

Hi. Great article!

I was wondering if you could help me. I'm a 17 year old female teen and I have a fast metabolism. I eat so much because I don't know what kinds of foods and how much to eat in order to keep me satisfied for at least 2 or 3 hours. Since I have a fast metabolism, I'm skinny and I look like I don't eat a lot. I want to build more muscle. I want to get a six pack abs and toned arms. I can feel the muscle beneath my small amount of flab. How do I get rid of the little bit of flab? I know summer is just around the corner, so it'd be awesome to get toned fast. Thank you!

Lisa H
Posted on: Fri, 04/04/2014 - 06:15

Hi Miranda,

Thanks for contacting me; I'm glad you found the article helpful. I would encourage you to eat more, if you are hungry in that 2-3 hour window. Make sure to include some healthy carbs. As women we tend to shy away from carbs, and if you want to build muscle you will need them for growth. Your body will start to change as you begin to weight train and you will achieve the desired look you are going for.

You will do it, it just takes time! Let me know how it goes.

Posted on: Tue, 01/28/2014 - 18:08

Great article! I'm getting involved in multiple martial arts disciplines, and as someone who is naturally lean at 5'5 and 120lbs. or less, I want to build muscle to do well. This will be a good additive of advice for getting there.

For those with smart phones, there are some great apps. to help you keep track. I have an Android and my favorite app (it's free, which is even better) is MyFitnessPal. I input measurements, whether I want to gain or lose weight, and how active I am. It recommends a caloric intake and lets me know by my eating habits where I will likely be if I keep them up. You can manually input foods and calories, or scan the UPC code. It also tracks calorie burn of cardio and incorporates that, plus lets you track weight set progress for strength training.

Lisa H
Posted on: Thu, 01/30/2014 - 08:54

Thanks, Brittany. Keep up the great work. Best of luck to you!

Petrice Drake
Posted on: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 00:18

Thank you so much for this article. I have been looking for articles about bulking for women and they are scarce. This article was so insightful!

Lisa H
Posted on: Mon, 12/09/2013 - 06:15

Hi Petrice,

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and let me know. I am glad you found it useful.
Best of luck to you!

Posted on: Mon, 11/11/2013 - 07:07

Great information. I am very petite 5 ft and 85 lb. I want to get to 95. Started strength training and basically eat about 1800 kcal a day. How much protein should I intake? Are meats the best source and should I include in most meals? Are beans okay as a substitute? Any links for snack ideas or meal plans? How many days in the gym? Right now I do 3-4. Plus I take yoga twice a week. Should I avoid all cardio? I do walk daily outside as well.
I know these are a lot of questions. Any advice will help. Thank you!

Lisa H
Posted on: Mon, 11/11/2013 - 17:13


Thanks! I would include a variety of protein sources eggs, fish, turkey, chicken, and meat. Aim for 1.5 grams of protein a day. Don't forget to include healthy fats and carbs too. Consider trying quinoa, it's an additional source of protein and a healthy carb. Carbs will help you build muscle, so make sure you are eating them.

I would suggest 3 days a week training on non-consecutive days. Focus on compound movements and progression. Also consider limiting your cardio as you sound very active.

I hope this helps you some. Please feel free to email me

Best of luck to you,

Lisa H
Posted on: Tue, 10/29/2013 - 14:19

Hi Lea,

That's great to hear, thank you. Keep at it!

Posted on: Fri, 09/13/2013 - 12:14

So happy to see an article like this finally! Most of the articles are about weights being our friends and how to loose body fat - but i'm trying to gain muscle mass and strength! Its awesome to know that I am on the right track with my diet and supplementing and not just wasting my time!

Posted on: Thu, 08/22/2013 - 08:59

Many thanks for this article :)
I'm 5' 7" tall for 110 lbs and... a cardio junkie... I know that doesn't help...

But now I read all these good advises, I'm ready to slow down and go for "only" 1 session of Muay Thai and 2 sessions of weight lifting!

I will check if I do eat as properly as I think and will add some whey and casein to my nutrition.

>>> What do you think about Mass Gainer?

My goal is for December and your article just gave me so much courage to accept the little fat in-between and to embrace the cocktail "Stick to the basics" + "Eat-Rest-Grow"


Lisa H
Posted on: Tue, 10/29/2013 - 05:42

Hi A_DP,

I hope you're still at it and close to your goal! Weight gainers have a lot of extra fillers in them and are expensive. You might want to make up your own shake. Add whole milk, fresh fruit and peanut butter or almond butter for extra calories. Also you might want to increase your carbohydrate portions slightly at each meal.

Best of luck to you!

Posted on: Tue, 09/20/2016 - 13:37

Hey :)

Just a quick update to let know that precisely 3 years later i am still in the program and reached a stable 120lbs.

At 36 yo i found my perfect lifestyle balance and it's not even constraining or complicated. Just an enjoyable healthy routine: 5 to 6 trainings per week, mainly weight lifting (45min to 1 hour max) and clean food (I don't count my calories or macros anymore)

I am very happy with my body, I gained a bit of fat but it's even more sexy.

Girls whatever are your motivations, just stick to to your goal and always think why you started!

Wish all, all the best xxx

Posted on: Mon, 12/09/2013 - 13:26

Hi lisa,
Thanks for your support. After a 2 months program I didn't reach my ultimate goal of +12lbs but i'm very happy with my +5,5lbs! And i stick to the program.
I adapted my diet to bigger portion with an average of 2140 cal / 110g prot / 36g lipid / 345g carbs per day.
Only 1 cardio training and 4 sessions of heavy weight lifting per week.
And i must admit that results are maybe not impressive but honestly seriously visible, nice looking (i love my new body) and gave me lots of confidence and motivation to keep going!!
Once again thank you very much, it all started thanks to this post :)

Posted on: Tue, 06/18/2013 - 07:35

Do you have any advice for those of us who are just naturally really skinny? I'm 102 at 5'5-5'6. I have very little body fat. Small chest. I want to gain weight but i also don't want to gain and make myself look less feminine. Are there good fats to eat along the way to help mantain some curves while also putting on weight and becoming lean? I would appreciate any help via email or otherwise!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 06/18/2013 - 17:22

The short answer would be to eat more. This alone will go a long way in helping you put on the weight you're looking for. There are certainly healthy fats to consider, including olive oil, avocado, and fish (in the form of whole fish such as salmon, or in the form of a fish oil supplement).

Posted on: Wed, 05/29/2013 - 22:50

Thank you for posting this! I've been so self conscious about my body lately, I'm trying to gain any weight I can! I've started doing squats but im not too sure im doing them the right way. Also, what does your daily diet consist of? I started drinking ensure shakes, I hope they help!

Lisa H
Posted on: Sat, 06/01/2013 - 05:26

Hi Liz,
I am excited for you. This link will help you with proper form. Keep squatting! (: I would switch from ensures to a good protein powder. In the long run it will be much more cost effective. If you are trying to gain weight and muscle, eat! One thing that really helped me is having an extra protein before bed and I would have another if I woke up in the middle of the night. Extra calories here and there help add up. You might also want to keep a journal of what you are eating on a daily basis. This way you can monitor everything and increase your calories as needed.

Stick with it. You will get there!

Kyra S
Posted on: Sun, 03/17/2013 - 19:22

This is just what I needed to hear! I am trying to hard to put on weight and muscle right now! I was just wondering what a good leg workout would look like? Would an upper/lower split work good for gaining?

Lisa H
Posted on: Wed, 03/20/2013 - 05:53

Hi Kyra S,
You could do an upper/lower split or you may want to try one of these
Give it time and keep @ it!
Best of luck to you!(:
LIsa H

Posted on: Mon, 02/04/2013 - 14:34

Thank you! :) Can you please outline some of the specific exercises for women who wish to gain weight?

Lisa H
Posted on: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 04:58

Hi Terese,
This is a great article that will help you!
Stay consistent!

Lisa H
Posted on: Thu, 05/09/2013 - 06:48

Hi Jessi,
I would focus on full body,compound movements and progression will help your body add quality muscle as a whole. Make sure you are eating enough calories.

Stick with it!

Posted on: Wed, 05/08/2013 - 00:28

Lisa, I went to this link since Terese's comment applies to me too. I'm wondering if it's important to do ALL these body regions in the workout or if we are supposed to pick certain parts we want to focus on and only do those. I obviously know very little about exercise. I've always been bony, but I want to gain and add muscle!

Posted on: Tue, 10/29/2013 - 10:25

Thank you :)

Posted on: Thu, 01/24/2013 - 11:15

Thanks for sharing this article! I appreciate the help. I will email you for further specifics.

Posted on: Mon, 01/14/2013 - 01:39

I have trouble gaining weight.
Im 21, and I am 5'3 95lbs =(
I really want to gain weight and muscle..I want to be atleast 110-115lbs..but I dont know what else to do, I eat a lot. I am always hungry! Help! where is there like a meal plan to gain weight?
I do squats and sit-ups, I also dance..

Lisa H
Posted on: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 13:10

Hi Stephany,
It looks like you are pretty active and if you are always hungry that is your bodies way of telling you, you need to eat more! You need to be in a caloric surplus to gain weight. There is a lot of great info on this site to help you with your menu building. Feel free to email me @

Posted on: Wed, 11/28/2012 - 22:21

Hi Lisa! Does this article still apply if you're trying to gain weight and muscle but also get a six pack abs? How do I do both? Thanks!

Posted on: Thu, 11/29/2012 - 13:36

Hi Laura,
You can't have both! You will need extra calories to gain weight and build muscle. That in turn will give you some bellyfat, but Keep those calories CLEAN and you will be less likely to store bellyfat. If your goal is for your abs to 'pop' you will need less calories and a lower bodyfat. Eitherway the cleaner the calories the better!

Posted on: Fri, 09/28/2012 - 21:18

I often go back and forth between gaianing weight and maintaining what I am now. What would be the ideal weight for someone who's 5feet tall and always been small?

Posted on: Thu, 10/04/2012 - 11:20

Hi Tracy,
It really depends on your goals. Muscle does weigh more than fat so keep that in mind when you step on the scale. Everybody's body is different so an 'ideal weight' for you at 5 feet may not be 'ideal' for someone else. I find the mirror is an honest way to evaluate where you are at. Then you can see what you need to work on. Use the scale as a guide though so you can keep track of where you are at!

Posted on: Thu, 09/13/2012 - 18:56

I need help on a meal plan can someone help. I would like to lose 15lbs.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 09/21/2012 - 10:28

Hey Maria,

Take a look at this Expert Fat Loss Guide: