Whether it’s for sport, the competition stage or a personal goal, many women want to add muscle to their frames but have a hard time doing so. Why? Putting on muscle starts with one’s level of testosterone, and women just don’t have that much of it! Testosterone is released in small quantities into the blood stream by the ovaries and the adrenal gland. While most men produce about 6 to 8 mg per day, an average woman only produces 0.5 mg. Other reasons women can struggle with adding muscle are ineffective training, a fast metabolism and insufficient nutrition.

Today, I am going to cover the common nutritional mistakes that individuals make when trying to gain muscle. I also share ways that you can maximize your natural testosterone levels and fuel muscle growth with smart nutrition so you can build the tight, sculpted body you desire!

#1 – You’re Not Eating Enough
Not eating enough calories is probably the number one mistake you can make when trying to gain muscle. The bottom line is many women are overtraining and under eating. So, keep track of the amount of exercise you are performing and the number of calories you are taking in over a week. Are you in a calorie deficit? If so, you are not providing your body with sufficient calories or nutrients to stimulate muscle gains. Try adding an additional 15 – 20 percent more calories as a starting point. You don’t want to pack on too much weight too quickly, as this won’t be quality lean muscle gain. So aim for 0.5 – 1.0 lb of weight gain per week.

#2 – You’re Cutting Your Protein Needs Short
Upping your calories is only the first step to putting on muscle. You also need to ensure that you are eating the right portions of each macronutrient—most importantly, protein. If you do not provide the body with sufficient protein, it cannot maintain protein balance. This makes it difficult to build or even maintain your current muscle mass.

A good starting point is to make sure you are getting at least 1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight. However, elevating this to 1.5 g/lb can ensure an adequate supply of amino acids or building blocks to maintain and stimulate muscle growth. Make sure to choose high quality sources of protein that deliver all of the essential amino acids need for muscle production including: lean red meat, eggs, whey protein, poultry and fish.

#3 – You Think Carbohydrates Are The Enemy
Complex carbohydrates are an essential part of a muscle building diet. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source. The body stores carbohydrates as glycogen in your liver and in your muscle tissues. Post-workout, when the body needs energy, the stored supply is utilized via conversion of carbohydrates and sugar into ATP or energy through the process of glycolysis.

If you have a high metabolism and have problems putting on weight, chances are your body is burning through its supply of carbohydrates quickly and efficiently. When carbohydrate levels are low, the body will switch from glycolysis to the process known as gluconeogenisis, which is the conversion of protein into carbohydrates as an energy source. This means it may begin utilizing your hard-earned muscle for fuel. However, if you are providing your body a sufficient amount of complex carbohydrates—at least 30 – 40 percent of your caloric intake depending on the speed of your metabolism—you will be able to maintain muscle and fuel recovery, repair and muscle building.

Choose complex carbohydrates, which are digested slowly and provide sustained energy between meals. Good selections include whole grains, oatmeal, brown rice, bulgur and sweet potato.

#4 – You Don’t Eat Enough Fats
Being deficient of fat in the diet, particularly essential fatty acids or EFAs, can impede muscle building. EFAs help to preserve muscle tissue and even decrease body fat. They can also assist in amino acid uptake, increase insulin sensitivity, provide building blocks for growth factors, boost testosterone production and assist with transport of important nutrients in and out of the cells.

In addition, since fats boast the highest caloric value of 9 calories per gram, they make a great candidate for getting in your extra calories. Try adding a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter to your oatmeal or protein shake. Also, consider adding a tablespoon of oil such as flax, olive oil or safflower oil over your veggies or salad.

And, don’t forget the saturated fat. Studies have shown that those who train while consuming some saturated fats have the tendency to gain more muscle mass and strength than those who eat less cholesterol. Why? Because cholesterol is converted to testosterone! So, make sure to include some red meat, whole eggs, coconut oil, cashews and full fat dairy products from time to time.

Aim for a total fat intake of 20 to 30 percent of your daily calories.

#5 – You Miss Out On Post Workout Recovery
If you have been slipping on your post workout recovery nutrition, you aren’t doing yourself any favors! You have probably heard the term anabolic window. This short, one-hour timeframe immediately after your workout is essential for recovery and muscle growth. In fact, it has been shown that consuming a post workout shake during the anabolic window can kick-start muscle protein synthesis and increase testosterone production.

Research suggests consuming a 2 to 1 ratio of simple carbs and protein after a workout is ideal for muscle growth. All you need is a 30 g serving of whey protein powder combined with 60 g of a simple carbohydrate powder to kick-start recovery and muscle building pathways!