Supplements For Women's Lifting Performance: The Ultimate Guide
Mar 15th, 2021 - 9 min read
Let’s get one thing clear from the beginning, ladies. Supplements are intended to be just that: supplementary to support your normal diet. They aren’t necessary, not even for lifting performance. It’s entirely possible that you may never need to spend a single penny on any supplements for your lifting at all, and you can cover all your nutritional requirements through whole foods. That said, there are a handful of supplements that are convenient for women. They support the whole food staples of your diet, and they make life a little easier. For the sake of clarity, these supplements will be grouped by the family they belong to, rather than dealt with on a brand level.
Fat Burners For Women
Sadly, despite the name, fat burners are not a magic pill. And unless you’re in a consistent calorie deficit, you won’t lose body fat even with the best fat burner on the market. The main active ingredient in fat burners is usually caffeine, sometimes included as a green tea extract.
They work by producing a “thermogenic effect” - elevating your temperature ever so slightly for a short period of time. They also temporarily increase your metabolism which helps your body to use stored body fat as fuel. Also, the caffeine in the fat burner can help to break down the fatty acids in adipose tissue, creating energy.
Fat burners typically rely on the far more readily available supplement, caffeine, as the active ingredient. That’s not to say there are no effective fat burners available. Yohimbine is a herbal supplement obtained from the bark of an African evergreen tree. Anecdotally, it’s considered to be one of the most well-recognised fat burning supplements, but it can be hard to get hold of in some countries. It’s more widely available for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, but as a fat burner, the research is inconclusive and not especially promising.
Fat burners are intended to be cycled, so you, (as a female lifter) should spend no more than 4 to 6 weeks on them at any one time without taking a break. If you feel anxious, or notice side effects relating to resting heart rate, you may want to consider discontinuing their use. Alternatively, caffeine pills could do a similar job without the expensive price tag.
Mass Gainers For Women
Mass gainers are best used when it becomes difficult to get adequate calories from food alone. Being in a calorie surplus is essential for the female lifter in a bulking phase. Mass gainers can be a useful tool if the goal is to add muscle tissue, but you have a small appetite. Mass gainers are a “clean” source of calories made from protein and carbs, usually consumed as a shake that runs from 400-600 calories, although much higher calorie shakes are available around 1000 calories per shake.
It is advisable to start with a smaller calorie shake and build up to higher numbers if that’s necessary. If you’re not sure how much you should eat to bulk, you can use our macro calculator. Note that mass gainers can cause digestive problems and bloating for some people so avoid using too much too soon
Incorrectly using mass gainers can result in gaining too much body fat at once. When you’re calculating the number of calories you need from your mass gainer, these should be considered alongside calories from your food. Getting the vast majority of your calories from food is still advisable, even if you're in a bulking phase, as consuming extra calories from all food sources will have the additional micronutrients that a mass gainer shake does not.
Protein Powders For Women
Technically, protein powder could be considered a food in its own right. It’s usually derived from milk, as whey isolate or whey concentrate. If you have an intolerance to lactose, you can opt for casein instead which will be easier for you to digest. Protein powder is one of the most convenient and arguably, the most useful supplement on this list.
Many female lifters struggle to hit their protein target on a daily basis. You’re almost certainly not going to hit it by accident without some advanced planning. Consuming protein pre and post-workout can aid protein muscle synthesis, helping you to train hard during the session and recover effectively.
While protein powder is a highly bioavailable form of protein, consumed in liquid form so it’s easy to digest, it’s not intended to replace whole protein sources like meat, or fish. That’s because these whole foods are richer in minerals and nutrients than supplements and they will be essential to your overall health, including the regulation of hormones and the health of your skin, hair and nails.
Creatine For Women
Creatine is one of the most well-documented supplements on the market and can help you to improve your lifting performance in terms of raw strength, increasing lean muscle mass and helps speed up recovery inside the session. The boost the creatine gives the muscles can translate in real terms to more energy and bursts of speed in explosive, powerful movements such as the Olympic lifts.
Creatine does not need to be cycled, and a 5g scoop each day (whether you’re training or not) will give you the performance boost you’re looking for. Creatine can cause some fluid retention as its biological function is to draw water into the muscle cells. This could result in looking more pumped than usual, giving your muscles a fuller look, even if you’re at the start of your workout.
Pre-workouts For Women
The power of pre-workout for women’s lifting performance may lie more in the ritual of mixing the pre-workout drink than the actual ingredients. Pre-workout powders vary considerably in terms of the quality of ingredients, and heavily dosed marketing hype. Watch out for “proprietary blends” in which the exact ingredients and the dosages aren’t clearly labelled on the tub.
The ingredients that you’re actually looking out for on your pre-workout will be a pretty short list. Caffeine - unless you’re looking for a “non-stim” pre-workout. You may want this non-stimulant version if you workout in the evenings and you don’t want a heavy dose of caffeine to mess with your beauty sleep.
There are usually a couple of vasodilators included to improve blood flow such as L-Arginine & L-Citrulline. Commonly, Beta-Alanine is included, which gives that distinctive “covered in bees” tingle. Some people love this feeling, and for them, it’s the definitive pre-workout feeling. Others find it intensely uncomfortable and given that it only has “some evidence” that it improves athletic performance, you may want to look for a pre-workout supplement without it. Beyond that, you may come across some pre-workouts that include creatine, BCAAs, or even taurine.
BCAA's For Women
Branched chain amino acids are broken down in the muscle tissue, rather than the liver like most other amino acids obtained from protein. For this reason, they’re thought to provide energy during a workout and your body can use them as a building block for protein and muscle.
There are three essential amino acids (EAAs) that can’t be obtained from food sources; leucine, isoleucine and valine. Leucine is thought to be the most important for building muscle while isoleucine and valine are thought to be the most important for reducing fatigue.
Subjective reports have suggested that BCAAs can reduce muscle soreness between workouts. This could be a useful recovery tool if you are having to train hard for an upcoming competition and you need to give yourself every competitive advantage in your recovery. However, adequate protein and getting enough sleep is likely to do just as well as the majority of BCAAs on the market.
When purchasing BCAAs, know that only these three essential amino acids are actually required (EAAs). Most BCAAs don’t have enough actual amino acids in them to make that much of a difference and are generally an expensive way to flavour your daily water.
Using Supplements For Women’s Lifting Performance
While supplements are often a convenient way for you to make sure you’re meeting your nutritional requirements, and adequately recovering between sessions, they are not essential. It must be stressed that low quality, underdosed supplements are nothing more than expensive marketing. Any decision to include a supplement in your nutritional protocol should be considered in light of your existing diet through whole foods. Where possible, any deficiencies should be addressed with food first because of the additional nutrients and minerals available in “real” food.
However, where this is not possible, or not realistic, some of the supplements outlined here could provide a good back up. Every decision to supplement should be properly researched - in part based on the quality of the ingredients, but also in terms of Informed Sport testing.
If you are competing in tested sports, you have an obligation to make sure all supplements you take are sanctioned by Informed Sport. It’s your responsibility to undertake batch testing and do your due diligence when it comes to verifying the supplements you take, make sure they are certified as safe. If you’re unsure that your supplements are permitted, speaking to your coach for guidance will be key to competing in clean and fair sports.