Female Powerlifting Diet: Complete Guide

Photo Credit LVD Fitness

This one is for all the female lifters who are looking for a nutritional resource that is specific to them. It’s a struggle to find in-depth nutritional information that is specifically for women in powerlifting or any other strength sport.

Most of the time nutritional information for male lifters is used for female lifters because the foundations of nutrition are the same; however there are differences that should be considered so that female lifters can perform their best.

We as female lifters deserve to have recommendations that are specific to us that consider our body compositions and our goals. We should also learn how the menstrual cycle affects our nutrition.

So what does a female powerlifting diet look like? A female powerlifting diet will generally involve eating enough calories to maintain weight, and allocating 1.5 to 2 grams per pound of bodyweight to carbs, 0.9 to 1.1 grams per pound of bodyweight to protein, and the remainder of calories to fats. However, this will change if we’re cutting or bulking.

With this article I wanted to provide the science of nutrition in a practical way, so that you can read this article and understand the basics of female nutrition, and how to implement nutritional changes yourself.

After reading this article you will learn:

  • How to implement each layer of the nutrition pyramid
  • How to optimize your nutrition based on your goals.  This will be split into: weight maintenance, muscle gain, and fat loss.  
  • How to work with the menstrual cycle to better your performance
  • How to alter your nutrition for competition prep & competition day

Female Powerlifting Nutrition: Overview

With so much information out there regarding nutrition it can be difficult to determine what to dedicate our efforts to, that is going to give us the best bang for our buck. 

For this reason, I like to use the nutrition pyramid, which tells us what foundational skills we need to master before we start worrying about the top layers.

The hierarchical pyramid of nutrition is composed of:

Let’s discuss each of these now.

Calorie Balance

Calorie balance refers to the balance of energy between how much we’re eating and how much we’re burning. Our calorie balance determines if we will gain weight, lose weight, or maintain our weight.

If we haven’t mastered the foundational skills of calorie balance, then adjusting everything else (macros, micros, timing & supplements) will have little effect on our actual weight goal.

This is because calorie balance is the key determinator of weight loss, weight gain, and weight maintenance.

It is for this reason that we could have a healthy diet (lots of micronutrients and sufficient macronutrients), but still gain weight.

Caloric Surplus

A caloric surplus involves taking in more calories than we are burning, and gives us excess energy that we can either store as fat or use to build additional muscle mass. 

Typically female powerlifters will eat in a caloric surplus when they are actively trying to build more muscle mass to become stronger over time. This could be to potentially move up a weight class, or to become more competitive in their current weight class.

A caloric surplus is the best way to encourage our body to build additional muscle mass once we are no longer a beginner. 

This is because muscle costs our body a lot of energy and the body will not build additional muscle mass if it doesn’t have the resources available to do so, so by eating more calories we’re ensuring that our body has the resources available to build additional muscle.

However, if our goal is to add more muscle mass and limit the amount of fat mass we store, then we’ll also have to dive deeper into where the increase in calories is coming from (carbs, fats, and proteins) and how aggressive our surplus is – but more on that later!

Caloric Deficit

A caloric deficit involves taking in less calories than we are burning, and can be accomplished by increasing the amount of calories we burn throughout the day or decreasing the amount of calories we consume. 

The most efficient method to achieve a caloric deficit is to do both of these at once. We can decrease our intake, and increase our energy output so that both of these methods are working in unison.

Female powerlifters will typically be in a caloric deficit when they are trying to decrease their body fat percentage to be more competitive in their current weight class, or down a weight class.

Decreasing the amount of body fat we have will make us more competitive (to a certain extent) because fat mass does not exert force like muscle does. 

Therefore the more we can fill out our weight class with muscle mass (rather than fat mass), the more potential we have to exert force and be stronger than our competitors.

Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.

Macronutrients

Macronutrients are the nutrients that food is broken down to when it is digested. These nutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats which all play vital roles in keeping our body functioning optimally. 

It is recommended that we eat different food groups (grain products, meat & alternatives, dairy & alternatives) so that our diet emcompasses all of the macronutrients that our bodies require.

Let’s briefly look at each of the three macronutrients: 

1.  Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are especially important for powerlifters because carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy when we’re exercising, and therefore will have a large impact on how much energy we have and how well we perform in training and in competition.

Although carbs are typically the macronutrient that is feared the most because of its potential to be stored for energy as fat, it is so important to continue to consume carbohydrates to keep us fueled for exercise and for important bodily functions.

It should be mentioned that although fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates sources (natural sugars & fiber), we typically put them in their own category of fruits & vegetables, because they should be consumed in higher amounts due to their micronutrient content – which we’ll discuss in more detail soon.

So when we refer to carbohydrates we’re typically talking about starches and sugars, which are a form of carbohydrate that makes up potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, grain products, and sweets.

As long as our daily calorie intake has been adjusted to suit our goals, we can be sure that the amount of carbohydrates we’re consuming day-to-day won’t make us gain weight. 

That being said, if we’re only eating carbs and neglecting the other macronutrients we will still be missing out on vital nutrients.

2.  Fats

Fats are so important for hormonal health, they help us to absorb important vitamins (A,D,E & K) and regulate many processes in the body. 

Fats are even more important for women than for men, because if we’re not eating enough healthy fats, then we won’t be producing the hormone necessary for our reproductive systems to function optimally. 

The function of our reproductive system plays a vital role in women’s health and wellness.

Fats are also important because they are the body’s preferred fuel source when we are at rest, while carbs are the main source of fuel while exercising. So we can see how the two work together but play opposing roles.

In addition, fats are excellent for managing our hunger and fullness because they are slower to digest, which means that they will help keep us full for longer periods of time. 

Sometimes this is a benefit, but sometimes this is a hindrance, but we’ll discuss this further when we talk about nutrient timing and eating for competition.

For the most part we should focus on eating monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that come from olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, while limiting saturated fats, and eliminating trans fats.

3.  Protein

Protein is especially important for those who strength train because it helps us to repair the muscle damage that occurs from training to build our muscles back bigger and stronger. 

If we’re not eating enough protein, then our efforts in the gym could be going to waste!

Protein intake is always important but it can be especially helpful when we’re trying to gain muscle and we want to limit the amount of fat we gain, and when we’re cutting and we want to preserve as much muscle mass as possible.

If we’re someone who eats meat and fish, then reaching our daily protein intake shouldn’t be too difficult as long as we’re eating a source of protein (chicken, fish, turkey, beef, etc) at each meal. 

However, if we’re someone who is vegetarian or vegan, then we’ll have to try a bit harder to ensure that we’re getting enough in. 

For these individuals it’s important to eat lots of beans, legumes, higher protein grains, and some soy products. I would also recommend supplementing with a protein powder.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that our body needs to function optimally and we get these from eating a variety of whole foods.

Micronutrients are often neglected because those interested in altering their weight are really only concerned with calories, because by focusing solely on calories and macronutrients, they can achieve their desired results.

However, micronutrients need to be taken seriously for health purposes – if they’re neglected then our body will not be operating like the well-oiled machine it should. 

For these reasons, we should be sure to include whole foods in our diet regularly rather than falling victim to the IIFYM (if it fits your macros) approach that tells us that we can just eat poptarts and fried chicken at every meal.

We can get the necessary micronutrients by including lots of color in our diets through fruits and vegetables. The more colorful our fruit and vegetable selection is, the more rich in micronutrients our diet will be.

No matter what our goal is (maintenance, fat loss, muscle gain) we should always be striving to keep our micronutrient intake high. For this reason, when we dive into the specifics of how to eat for each goal I won’t be discussing micronutrient intake.

Nutrient Timing

Once we’ve optimized our caloric intake for our goals, and we’re consistently hitting our macronutrient and micronutrient goals, then we can start talking about nutrient timing.

Nutrient timing can help us increase our performance in the gym significantly, but is only worth our time if the previous steps have been mastered.

Nutrient timing involves consuming different macronutrients at certain times to work with our body to optimize our performance in and out of the gym.

I’ve touched briefly on the fact that carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source while exercising and that fats are the main fuel source while at rest. 

This is useful to know because we can use this information to work with our body’s preferences and optimize our performance.

The way that we can implement this is to:

  • Prioritize a higher carb intake before and after our workouts
  • Eat most of our daily fat intake during the meals that aren’t around our workouts
  • Consume protein consistently throughout the day with each meal

These strategies are the best way to work with our body because we know that our body prefers different types of fuel at different times. We also know that fats and carbs have different uses. 

Therefore we can make an effort to consume most of our fats in the meals when carbs are consumed in lower amounts (at rest, or  when doing daily activities that aren’t exercise). Along with this we’ll consume most of our carbs around our workouts (when we’re most active) and keep fats a bit lower.

Protein should be consumed consistently throughout the day so that throughout the day we are never in a state where our body doesn’t have enough protein to undergo it’s processes. 

Nutrient timing can be implemented with any goal that we have, whether it’s maintenance, muscle gain, or fat loss. However, it should only be prioritized after our calories, macros, and micros are taken care of.

Supplementation

First of all, let’s be clear that supplementation is absolutely not necessary and we can perform optimally without any use of supplements. 

However, if we’re already mastering every other level of the nutrition pyramid, then supplementation can give us a slight advantage over those who are not supplementing.

The only supplements that are worth our money/time based on current research are:

  • Caffeine or Pre-Workout
  • Creatine
  • Protein Powder

Let’s briefly look at each of these three supplements types: 

1.  Caffeine/Pre-Workout

Caffeine has been shown to have a positive impact on our powerlifting performance if it’s ingested 40 to 60 minutes before a workout. It takes that long to reach its peak effects so if we’re planning to caffeinate ourselves for our workout, we should keep this in mind.

As for the dosage, that’s something that is going to be more individualized because some lifters have a higher tolerance for caffeine while others have an extremely low tolerance. 

The general recommendation is between 2 to 6 mg per kg of bodyweight; but all in all, we should be consuming an amount that makes us feel energized but not anxious or overly jittery.

Whether you choose to get your caffeine from coffee, a caffeine pill, or a pre-workout is totally up to you.

I will say that if we’re planning to compete in an IPF tested powerlifting meet, then we should verify that the ingredients in our pre-workout are approved, and not on the banned substance list.

2.  Creatine

There is so much positive research supporting the use of creatine for increasing performance because of its potential to increase our muscle cell’s energy production, encourage muscular changes in size and strength, and support healthy brain function.

I highly recommend that all female lifters consider supplementing with creatine. For the best results, we want to make sure we’re using creatine monohydrate (the purest form) and taking 1 scoop (~5 gram) daily.

3.  Protein Powder

It’s important to first state that there is nothing magical about protein powder and it will not make or break your nutrition/performance. However, it is typically used by most lifters because of the convenience factor it provides.

As lifters we do have higher protein requirements than the average person, and it can be hard to eat enough protein throughout the day. This is where protein powder can step in and help us reach our daily protein goal.

Most quality protein powders will have around 25 to 30 grams of protein per 1 scoop. So if we’re having protein powder once a day, then this is 25 to 30 grams of protein that we don’t have to worry about.

Female Powerlifting Diet For Weight Maintenance

Note: regardless if your goal is weight maintenance, muscle gain, or fat loss, you should read this section on weight maintenance because it will allow you to more accurately determine your calories and macros for muscle gain or fat loss.  

When our primary goal is weight maintenance (keeping our body weight relatively the same) we will be in a great position to increase our strength levels. 

This is because we will be eating enough calories to keep our body properly fueled for performance and for recovery, and be able to optimize our macros, micros, timing, and supplement regime. 

Determining Our Caloric Intake

To eat for weight maintenance we need to ensure that we’re eating approximately the same amount of calories as we’re burning.

To do this we must first find out how many calories it takes to maintain our weight. In an ideal scenario, we would already be eating the right amount of calories to maintain our weight.

But this isn’t always the case, and we could be currently eating too many calories (our weight is trending upwards) or too little calories (our weight is trending downwards).

In order to find out exactly how many calories we should be consuming we can either experiment by changing our food intake accordingly (which is more precise), or we can use a calorie calculator to estimate a range.

Let’s look at these two options below.  

Experimenting With Our Intake Based On Our Current Consumption

The first step for this is to track ideally 5 to 7 days of regular eating into an app like MyFitnessPal to see approximately how many calories we’re consuming day-to-day. 

In addition to this we can monitor our weight on the scale each morning to see how the amount we’re currently eating is affecting our body weight.

  • If we’ve lost weight by the end of the week, then we can bump up our calories by 100-200 calories per day.
  • If we’ve gained weight by the end of the week, then we can decrease our calories by 100-200 calories per day.

We can then take this new calorie goal and apply it to the upcoming week to see how it affected our weight over the course of the week. From here we can continue to adjust as necessary.

Using A Calorie Calculator To Estimate Maintenance Calories

This method is typically for those who are not patient enough to track their current eating habits, and want to make some changes immediately. 

This method is fine as long as we can accept that it won’t be the most accurate initially, because we as humans are dynamic systems and a calculator cannot give us the full picture of our dieting history, our metabolism, etc. so we’ll probably have to make some adjustments later on.

To calculate our approximate maintenance calories we first need to determine how active we are throughout the run of a day:

  • Lightly Active (less than 3 hours per week of activity)
  • Moderately Active (around 3 to 7 hours of activity per week)
  • Very Active (more than 7 hours of activity per week)

Once we’ve identified which level of activity we fall into, we can use the corresponding modifier and multiply our body weight in pounds by it. You’ll notice that the modifiers are provided in a range because it’s impossible to be exact in these calculations.

  • Lightly Active: BW x 12 to 14 = maintenance calories
  • Moderately Active: BW x 14 to 16 = maintenance calories
  • Very Active: BW x 16 to 18 = maintenance calories

For example: If I currently weigh 160lbs and I am active for around 3 to 7 hours a week, then I will be classified as moderately active. I’m going to go with 15 as my modifier because it’s the middle of the range. So my estimated maintenance calories would be (160×15) = 2400 calories.

I suggest tracking our intake for 1 to 2 weeks with this new calorie goal in mind to see how our body weight changes. If we’re losing weight, then we’ll increase our calories by 100 to 300 per day. If we’re losing weight, then we’ll decrease our calories by 100 to 300 per day.

Determining Our Macronutrient Split For Weight Maintenance

Now that we have our calories all sorted, we know how much we should be consuming each day. 

But to really optimize our performance and make sure our body is functioning optimally for powerlifting, we need to consider what macronutrients these calories are coming from.

Carbohydrate Intake For Maintenance

To give us an idea of how many carbohydrates we should be consuming (assuming we’re training for weight maintenance and prioritizing performance), we as powerlifters should be eating 1.5 to 2 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.

This means that if I weigh 160lbs, I should be eating between 240 to 320 grams of carbohydrates each day. Typically I pick somewhere in the mid-range initially (~280 grams of carbs per day) and make adjustments later if I need to.

Protein Intake For Maintenance 

When we’re eating for weight maintenance I recommend keeping protein consumption between 0.9 to 1.1 grams per pound of bodyweight. 

Returning to our previous example, if I weigh 160lbs, then I should be eating between 144 to 176 grams of protein. As I do with carbs, I typically pick somewhere in the mid-range initially. So we’re looking at around 160 grams of carbs per day.

Fat Intake For Maintenance

Last but not least, we have to determine our daily fat intake, which will be calculated using our maintenance level of calories, and the calories we’ve already allocated to carbs and protein.

We’ve already calculated our maintenance calories, which is 2400 calories in my example. But we still need to calculate the amount of calories we’ve allocated to our daily carb and protein intake.

Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, so all we have to do to figure out the calories is to multiply the grams of carbs we’ll be eating per day by 4. 

For my example this would look like: 280 grams of carbs X 4 calories = 1120 calories allocated to carbs.

Next up we calculate our protein calories. Protein also has 4 calories per gram, so we can take our grams of protein per day and multiply it by 4.

This would be 160 grams of protein X 4 calories = 640 calories allocated to protein. 

Now that we have all our calories sorted, we can finally calculate the amount of fats we should be eating based on what’s leftover after subtracting the calories from carbs and protein from our maintenance calories.

2400 (maintenance calories) – 1120 (carb cals) – 640 (protein cals) = 640 fat calories

To turn our fat calories into grams per day, we can divide our fat calories by 9 because fat has 9 calories per gram.

640 total fat calories / 9 calories per gram = around 71 grams of fat per day.

These will give us a macronutrient split to try for a couple weeks to see how we feel, and how it aligns with our food preferences. If we feel that we would actually prefer less carbs and more fats, then we can adjust our carb intake and re-calculate our fats as we did here.

Female Powerlifting Diet For Muscle Gain

If we’re eating to gain muscle, then we will be in a caloric surplus. This means that we will be eating more calories than we burn throughout the day.

Oftentimes female powerlifters are nervous about eating in a caloric surplus because they are worried about gaining fat, but there is no need to be nervous! 

We can absolutely tailor our nutrition to help us gain muscle while reducing the amount of fat gain that occurs based on how aggressive we are with our calories and the amount of macronutrients that make up these increased calories.

If our goal is to build muscle but minimize fat gain, then it really is true that slow and steady wins the race.

If we’re wanting to put on muscle mass at a faster rate and we’re okay with some fat gain, then a moderate approach would be the best option.

And finally, if we just need to put on weight as quickly as possible to move up a weight class and adding fat mass isn’t an issue for us, then a more aggressive approach is best.

To gauge how well our muscle gain phase is going we will mostly refer to the scale, but our measurements and pictures we take along the way will also be super valuable in noticing progress.

Before we dive into calories and macronutrients let’s talk about how much muscle we can expect to gain per month in a muscle building phase based on our training experience:

  • Beginner: ~0.65 to 1 lb of muscle
  • Intermediate: ~0.33 to 0.5 lb of muscle
  • Advanced: ~0.16 to 0.25 lb of muscle

I think this is important information in order to manage expectations because it is difficult to put on muscle and the changes will not happen overnight, especially for those who are more advanced. 

So it’s important to be patient with the process and know that changes are happening.

Calculating Caloric Intake For Muscle Gain

To eat enough calories for our goal of gaining muscle, we will have to eat more than our maintenance level of calories. If we know what our maintenance calories are, then we can be a bit more precise in our initial calorie goals.

But if we don’t know our maintenance calories then that’s okay too, we will just have to use a calorie calculator instead to give us an estimation of how many calories we need to eat for muscle gain.

Using Maintenance Calories To Determine Muscle Gain Calories

If we already know our maintenance calories (the amount of calories that allows us to maintain our weight), then all we have to do is increase our intake by 10 to 20%. With 10% being a slower approach and 20% being a more aggressive approach

I would maintain this new calorie goal for 2 weeks to see how our bodyweight is changing, and then adjust accordingly.

If we’re losing weight, then we should increase calories further; if we’re maintaining, then we can stay the course or increase (based on how aggressive we want to be); and if we’re gaining too quickly for our liking, then we can decrease by 100-300 calories.

Looking to lose weight with powerlifting? Check out my ultimate guide on Powerlifting For Fat Loss.

Estimating Caloric Needs For Muscle Gain With A Calorie Calculator

If we don’t know how many calories we need to maintain our weight, then it’s best to use a calorie calculator to give us an estimation. However, we should be aware that it may not be as accurate as we’re hoping and we’ll likely have to adjust our intake later on.

The first step to estimate our calorie needs is to determine how active we are:

  • Lightly active (active less than 3 hours per week)
  • Moderately active (active for 3 to 7 hours per week)
  • Very active (active more than 7 hours per week)

Based on our activity level we will get an activity modifier that we can multiply by our current bodyweight (in pounds), to give us an estimation of our muscle gain calories.

  • Lightly active: BW x 16 to 18 = calories per day
  • Moderately active: BW x 18 to 20 = calories per day
  • Very active: BW x 20 to 22 = calories per day

Because the modifiers are given in a range, we can use this to determine how aggressive we want to be. 

  • If we’re going the slow and steady route we’re going to want the lower number for our modifier (if lightly active, this would be 16).
  • If we’re doing a moderate approach, then we’re going to want to take the median of the two numbers (if lightly active, this would be 17).
  • And finally if we’re doing an aggressive approach, then we want the highest modifier (if lightly active, this would be 18).

The product of this equation will give us an estimation for the number of calories we should consume per day for muscle gain.

For example, if I currently weigh 160lbs and I am going the slow and steady route then I would do 160×16 = 2560 calories per day for muscle gain.

I recommend sticking to these calories for 1 to 2 weeks and seeing how it affects our body weight. Based on this, we can adjust our intake up or down accordingly.

Determining Macronutrient Split For Muscle Gain

Optimizing our macronutrient split when we’re eating for muscle gain is an important step to ensure that the macronutrients contributing to these calories are coming from the right places to encourage muscle growth and not simply adding fat mass.

Carbohydrate Intake For Muscle Gain

As we discussed previously, carbohydrates are so important for fueling our performance and so we need to make sure we’re allocating enough of our calories to our daily carb intake.

For female powerlifters looking for muscle gain it is recommended to eat 2 to 2.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight. 

For example, if I weigh 160lbs, then I should be eating around 320 to 400 grams of carbohydrates.

The number we choose within this range is really our choice. If we’re someone who thrives off more carbs, then we can choose a higher number within this range.

But if we’re someone who struggles to get enough carbs in throughout the day, then we are probably better off picking a lower number in the range.

Typically, I would choose something right in the middle of the suggested range, so for my example this would be around 360 grams of carbs per day.

Protein Intake For Muscle Gain

Protein is super important when we’re trying to gain muscle because it provides the building blocks we need to build more muscle. For this reason, it’s important that we’re eating enough of it, and that we’re consuming it regularly throughout the day.

The recommended amount of protein intake guidelines for muscle gain to support athletic performance is based on our current activity levels.

The categories may look familiar if we used the calorie calculator to determine our maintenance calories.

  • Lightly Active (active less than 3 hours per week): 0.8 to 1.0 (grams/lb)
  • Moderately Active (active 3 to 7 hours per week): 0.9 to 1.1 (grams/lb)
  • Highly Active (active more than 7 hours per week): 1.0 to 1.2 (grams/lb)

Once we decide which activity level best reflects how active we are, we can take the range provided and multiply it by our bodyweight in pounds.

For example, if I am 160lbs and I am moderately active then my protein range will be between 144 grams to 176 grams.

If we’re trying to reduce fat gain as much as possible while we’re eating in a surplus, then we should go with the higher end of the range.

If we’re not too concerned about fat gain while we’re in a surplus, then we can go towards the lower to middle range.

For my example, I’m going to say that I do want to minimize fat gain as much as possible so I’m going to go with the top end of the range with 176 grams of protein per day.

Calculating Our Fat Intake For Muscle Gain

Now that we know how many grams of carbs and protein to eat each day, we need to calculate how much fat we should be eating per day to stay within our calorie range for muscle gain.

To do this, we first need to calculate how many calories we’ve allocated to carbs and protein so that we can subtract these numbers from our total calorie goal for the day.

For carbs, I decided to choose the middle of the range in my example which determined I should be eating around 360 grams of carbs per day. Now because carbs have 4 calories per gram, I can do 360 grams X 4 calories/gram = 1440 calories for carbs per day.

Next up we have protein, and in my example I chose to take the higher end of the range at 176 grams of protein per day. Now because protein also has 4 calories per gram, I can do 176 grams X 4 calories/gram = 704 calories for protein per day.

Now that we have those calorie counts calculated, we want to take our daily calorie goal for muscle gain and subtract the calories from carbs and from protein to see how many calories we have leftover for our daily fat intake.

2560 (muscle gain calories) – 1440 (carb cals) – 704 (protein cals) = 416 calories for fats

Now to turn these fat calories into grams per day, we can divide this number by 9, because fat has 9 calories/gram.

416 (fat cals) / 9 calories per gram = around 46 grams of fat per day.

Female Powerlifting Diet For Fat Loss

A female powerlifting diet for fat loss will require us to be in a calorie deficit. This means that we will be eating less calories than we are burning, in an effort to reduce the amount of fat we have.

As I mentioned earlier in the article, female powerlifters will typically go through a fat loss phase to become more competitive in their current weight class, or to compete in a lower weight class.

There is an art to reducing the amount of calories we’re consuming, because if we decrease our calories by too much too quickly then there is a higher risk that we will actually lose muscle, which is not what we want.

On the other hand, if we don’t reduce our calories enough then we may not get the results we’re hoping for in time for our next competition.

The scale will serve as one measure of progress to see if our weight is trending downwards, but we should also take measurements of our waist, hips, and thighs so that we can identify any body composition changes.

Before we get into calculating how many calories we should be eating, let’s first discuss how much weight we should expect to lose week-to-week when we’re in a deficit. 

The rate of loss will also depend on how aggressive we are, but remember the more aggressive our approach the more muscle mass we could lose.

  • Aggressive: 1 to 1.5% of bodyweight per week
  • Reasonable: 0.5 to 1% of bodyweight per week
  • Conservative: less than 0.5% of bodyweight per week

It should be noted that if we’re already quite lean, then it will be harder for us to lose additional fat.

However, if we do carry more fat mass, then we can expect to see larger changes in body mass when in a fat loss phase.

Calculating Caloric Intake For Fat Loss

We can calculate how many calories we should be eating for fat loss in two ways. 

The first way is to use our maintenance calories and decrease them appropriately to determine our fat loss calorie goal; however, this would require us to know how many calories we need to maintain our weight.

If we don’t know our maintenance calories, then we can use a calorie calculator to give us a rough estimate. This method will require a bit more refinement, but we can definitely make it work!

Using Maintenance Calories To Determine Fat Loss Calories

If we already know our maintenance calories (the amount of calories that allows us to maintain our weight), then all we have to do is decrease our intake by 10 to 20%. With 10% being a slower approach and 20% being a more aggressive approach

I suggest maintaining this new calorie goal for 2 weeks to see how our bodyweight is changing, and adjusting if necessary after the 2 weeks.

  • If we’re losing weight within the desired range (which we talked about above), then we can keep our calories here.
  • If we’re losing weight too quickly, then we can add 200 to 300 calories back in.
  • If we’re maintaining or gaining, then we can decrease our calories by 200 to 500 calories (based on how aggressive we want to be).

We should evaluate every 2 weeks to see what changes are happening, and if additional adjustments are required to stay within our desired rate of fat loss. 

Estimating Caloric Needs For Muscle Gain With A Calorie Calculator

If we don’t know how many calories we need to maintain our weight, then it’s best to use a calorie calculator to give us an estimation.

The first step to estimating our calorie needs for fat loss is to determine how active we are:

  • Lightly active (active less than 3 hours per week)
  • Moderately active (active for 3 to 7 hours per week)
  • Very active (active more than 7 hours per week)

Based on our activity level we will get an activity modifier that we can multiply by our current bodyweight (in pounds), to give us an estimation of how many calories we should be eating for fat loss.

  • Lightly active: BW X 10 to 12 = calories per day
  • Moderately active: BW X 12 to 14 = calories per day
  • Highly Active: BW X 14 to 16 = calories per day

The exercise modifiers are given in a range so that we can decide how aggressive we want to be with our fat loss phase. If we want to be more aggressive we should go with the lower number, or if we want to be conservative then we should go with the higher number.

For example, if I weigh 160lbs and I am highly active but I want a more conservative approach to retain as much muscle as possible, then I will do 160lbs X 16 = 2560 calories per day for fat loss.

Now because the calorie calculator is an estimation, we will have to see if our calculations are actually working for us, so to do this we should monitor changes in our bodyweight for the next 2 weeks while adhering to this daily calorie intake.

  • If we’re losing weight within the desired range (which we talked about above), then we can keep our calories here. 
  • If we’re losing weight faster than we want to, then we can add 200 to 300 calories back in.
  • If we’re maintaining or gaining, then we can decrease our calories by 200 to 500 calories.

Protein Intake For Fat Loss

Protein is an important macronutrient when we’re in a fat loss phase because if we’re not eating enough of it, then we could risk losing muscle mass in the process. To encourage as much muscle retention as possible we need to make sure that we’re getting enough protein throughout the day.

To calculate our protein intake we need to consider our activity level:

  • Lightly Active (active less than 3 hours per week): 1.0 (grams/lb)
  • Moderately Active (active 3 to 7 hours per week): 1.1 (grams/lb)
  • Highly Active (active more than 7 hours per week): 1.2 (grams/lb)

Based on the activity level best reflects how active we are, we can use the corresponding amount of grams/lb provided and multiply it by our bodyweight in pounds.

For example if I weigh 160 pounds and I am moderately active, then my ideal protein intake will be 176 grams per day.

Fat Intake For Fat Loss

When we’re in a fat loss phase we need to ensure that we’re eating enough healthy fats to keep our hormones regulated and maintain a healthy reproductive system. If we don’t eat enough fats then we increase the risk of losing our period, which is a key determinant of female health.

To ensure we’re getting enough healthy fats throughout the day, we can set our fat calories to be 25% to 30% of our daily intake.

So if my daily caloric intake for fat loss is 2560 calories per day, then 25 to 30% of this would give me between 640 calories to 768 calories to allocate towards my daily fat intake.

To change the calories allocated to fats into the amount of grams of fat we should be eating per day, we can take the calories and divide it by 9 because fat has 9 calories per gram.

In my example this would leave me with between 71 and 85 grams of fat. I tend to like eating more fats than carbs so I will choose 85 grams of fat for my daily intake. 

If we’re someone who wants to keep carbs as high as possible based on our eating preferences, then we should stay closer to the lower end of the range.

Carb Intake For Fat Loss

Carbs will be the main macronutrient that we manipulate when we’re in a fat loss phase because although they do provide us with energy while exercising, they are the least necessary for our health. 

Protein is important for muscle retention, and fat can only be decreased so much because of its affect on our hormonal health, so that leaves carbs to manipulate.

To calculate how many carbs we should eat per day while adhering to our calorie goal for fat loss, we can figure out how many calories we’ve already allocated to protein and fats and use the remaining calories to determine our daily fat intake.

We already know our fat calories because we calculated them earlier, so let’s calculate how many calories we’ve allocated to protein. To do this, we take the grams of protein we’re going to eat per day and multiply it by 4 because protein has 4 calories per gram.

In my example I said I was aiming for 176 grams of protein per day, so multiplied by 4 the product would be 704 calories allocated towards my protein intake.

Now we can take our daily caloric intake and subtract our fat calories and protein calories to see how many calories are left for carbs.

2560 (fat loss calories) – 768 (fat cals) – 704 (protein cals) = 1088 calories left for carbs

To turn our carb calories into grams per day, we can take our carb calories and divide it by 4 because carbs have 4 calories per gram.

1088 (carb calories) / 4 (calories/gram) = 272 grams of carbs per day.

Now that we have our macronutrients split calculated, we can test it out for 2 weeks to see how our body is responding and how well we’re adhering to our carb and fat targets. 

If we want to adjust our intake then we would make changes to our carb and fat intake, but we should avoid changing our protein intake.

Nutritional Considerations For The Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle is a key determinant of health for females and it should not be ignored. In fact the phases of the cycle can significantly impact our nutrition, so it’s useful to know how we can work with our menstrual cycle to optimize our nutrition and performance in the gym.

Each phase of the menstrual cycle is unique in how it affects our strength and how our body responds to certain macronutrients. 

Follicular Phase

This phase of the cycle begins once our period is over and lasts until we begin ovulating. This phase generally lasts for 14 days. 

During this phase of our menstrual cycle we will generally feel our strongest, recover faster, and are ready to perform. 

This is also the phase at which our body is more sensitive to insulin and therefore, our body responds better to carbohydrates during this phase of our cycle.

Practical Application

We can use this knowledge to cater to our body’s preferences during this phase by increasing our carbohydrate intake during this phase of the menstrual cycle. 

In addition, we know that we will probably be feeling really great in training so we can take advantage of this by planning to do some higher volume or heavier workouts at this time, since we’ll be taking in more carbs and our body will be primed to recover well. 

To maintain calorie balance according to our goals (maintenance, muscle gain, fat loss) during this time, we can decrease our fat intake by the same amount of calories that we are increasing our carbohydrate intake.

If I’m increasing my carb intake by 30 grams, then this would be a 120 calorie difference (30grams x 4 cals/gram = 120 calories). 

So to make sure I’m balancing my calories I can decrease my fat intake by 120 calories, which would be a decrease in fats by around 13 grams (120cals / 9 calories per gram = 13.33 grams).

Because we know that this phase of our menstrual cycle typically lasts 14 days, I would plan to maintain this higher carb intake, and lower fat intake for 14 days.

Ovulation

Once the ovulation phase starts we are in the best condition to hit some new personal records because we will have an increase in testosterone.

However, during this phase we do need to be careful because we are also more prone to injury. This is because we will have an increase in estrogen during this phase, which can cause our ligaments to become more loose and give us more flexibility in our joints.

Practical Applications

During this phase of our cycle we can return our macronutrients back to our normal amounts because our body is no longer utilizing carbohydrates as well as it was during the follicular phase.

It is however the best time to be hitting some personal records because of the increase in testosterone. So if we planned ahead without training we could try and hit a new rep maximum during this phase of our cycle. 

This phase would also be ideal if it lined up with a competition, but unfortunately  that’s not really something we can plan for.

During this phase it’s important that we have our technique dialed in so that we can remain as stable as possible while lifting. This is to avoid any risk of injury while our joints are more relaxed from the increase in estrogen.

Luteal Phase

The luteal phase starts following ovulation until our period comes, and is typically the phase where we feel the weakest, the hungriest, and the most tired. During this phase our body relies more on fats for fuel rather than carbs, and our recovery from training is usually diminished.

But on the brighter side, we are at a lower risk of injury because our ligaments are no longer relaxed like they are in the ovulation phase.

Practical Applications

During this phase of the menstrual cycle, we should focus on increasing our fat intake and decreasing our carb intake to maintain a caloric balance. This will help us to work with our body’s preferred fuel source during this phase.

If we increase our fats by 20 grams, then we have an increase in calories of 180 (20 x 9 cals per gram = 180). To keep our calories balanced we could then decrease our carb intake by 180 calories, which would be a decrease of 45 grams of carbs (180 / 4 cals per gram = 45).

It could also be beneficial to start supplementing with magnesium if symptoms during our cycle are more serious, because magnesium has been found to help alleviate premenstrual symptoms if supplemented daily.

Female Nutrition For Competition

Bodyweight Changes For Competition

Despite the fact that many female powerlifters decide to diet up to competition day, I don’t recommend this. In fact I actually recommend that lifters make all their desired bodyweight changes before starting competition prep. 

This is because if we’re dieting leading up to a competition, then we will limit what we’re actually capable of on the day of competition. 

To ensure that we’re able to perform our best in competition we should really plan ahead and start our bodyweight adjustments prior to competition prep.

If you want to learn more about how I recommend prepping for competition, then check out my Powerlifting Cutting Program.

How To Properly Fuel The Body On Competition Day

When it’s competition day and it’s our time to lift all the heavy weights, our principles of healthy eating kind of go out the window and that’s completely fine!

During competition our only goal is to consume enough calories to keep our body primed to perform without upsetting our stomachs.

To do this we’re going to be consuming as many fast-digesting carbs as possible because they are the body’s preferred fuel source while lifting. We will also consume as little fat as possible because fats take longer to digest and keep us full, which is not what we want on competition day.

We’re also not going to be prioritizing our protein intake, and this is because on competition day carbs are our main priority. It’s okay to neglect our protein intake at this point because we’re not concerned about repairing our muscles, we’re more concerned about our energy levels.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth guide for how to keep yourself fueled on competition day, then check out my complete guide on What To Eat During A Powerlifting Meet.

Final Thoughts

The female powerlifting diet has many layers that can be implemented over time to encourage positive changes in performance and body composition, but it’s important to master one element of the nutrition pyramid at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed. 

At the end of the day consistency is what produces the best results, so if we cannot be consistent, then all of the nutritional strategies we’re trying to implement will be a waste.


About The Author

Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology Degree, CSCS, and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram.