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Women's Nutrition and Supplement Guide

I rarely make recommendations based on gender, but if you're a woman there are a few studies you'll want to hear about.

woman training for goals not gender

I'm a firm believer that a woman should train the same, eat the same, and supplement the same as a man.

Of course, there are caveats to every rule—for example, I don't recommend Alpha JYM for females—but generally speaking, you should be training, dieting, and supplementing for the goal at hand, NOT your sex. Women who train using my programs like Super Shredded 8, Super-Man, or HIIT 100—including their diet and supplement plans—get stronger, leaner, more muscular, and sexier than ever because they're focused on their goal, NOT their gender.

So it may surprise you that I'd write a female-focused article on nutrition and supplements.

I do believe that women who want to build more lean muscle and strength should be using ingredients like whey and casein protein, BCAAs, creatine, beta-alanine, betaine, and carnitine. And yes, women can get all of these in Pro JYM, Pre JYM and Post JYM. But the fact is, there are certain supplements for women that provide an advantage that they don't for men. And some supplements you may think are just for men also boast similar benefits for women.

The following recommendations can help women build more lean muscle and strength, boost brain function and mood, increase energy levels, ease PMS symptoms, and even enhance sexual satisfaction. Did I get your attention yet, ladies?

Girl's Guide to Protein

Adequate protein intake is essential for a number of reasons.

For the uninitiated, proteins are fairly large compounds made up of a chain of molecules called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that the body makes proteins with. With just these 20 amino acids, the body is able to produce more than 50,000 different proteins. The majority of these proteins are classified as either structural or globular. Globular proteins perform important functions in the body and include enzymes, hemoglobin, antibodies and hormones. Structural proteins make up the structure of cells such as skin and muscle.

When you eat protein, such as a chicken breast or a whey shake, your body breaks the protein down into the individual amino acids. Those aminos are absorbed by your intestines and travel via your bloodstream to all parts of your body, like your muscle fibers. There, the amino acids are reassembled to form the type of protein needed, such as muscle protein. This process of assembling amino acids into a specific protein is known as muscle protein synthesis, which is how muscles recover and grow.

You Are What You Eat

The protein recommendation set by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB – the unit of the Institute of Medicine that sets the nutrition recommendations for Americans) for the general population is a measly 0.4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight for males and females alike. For a 145-pound woman, that's less than 60 grams of protein per day, or about an 8 oz. chicken breast for the entire day. Try staying strong on just that for your daily protein. Thankfully, research shows that athletes—particularly strength athletes (which you are) require close to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. That means if you weigh 145 pounds, you need a minimum of 145 grams of protein each day.

Do this: Eat a minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight and up to 1.5 grams per pound when you are dieting and dropping carbs. Choose from lean protein sources such as chicken breast, turkey breast, eggs, lean beef, low-fat dairy, fish, as well as whey, soy and casein protein powders.

You Are What you Don't Eat

If you want to be lean, then you need to avoid eating too much of the wrong foods. The good news is that research shows that protein can significantly decrease hunger more than carbs or fat. One University of Washington School of Medicine (Seattle) study reported that when subjects were placed on a high protein diet (30% of total daily calories from protein) for 12 weeks, but allowed to eat as many calories as they wanted, they ate an average of 450 calories less per day and lost over 10 pounds of bodyweight, with most of it being body fat.

French scientists found that dietary protein causes the small intestines to increase glucose production, which travels to the liver to trick the body into thinking it is adequately fed. Australian researchers found that subjects fed a dose of whey or soy protein had lower levels of the appetite-boosting hormone, ghrelin and higher levels of the hunger-reducing hormone, cholecystokinin, as compared to those getting a dose of glucose. These hormone levels in the protein groups caused them to eat 10% fewer calories at a buffet-style meal three hours after the protein dose, as compared to those who received the glucose dose.

The newest line of research, from the University College London, has discovered another way that protein blunts hunger is by a hormone called peptide YY (PYY), which is produced by gut cells that travels via the bloodstream to the brain to reduce hunger. They found that subjects eating a 1000 calorie meal that was about 65% protein, they were significantly less hungry and had PYY levels that were almost 50% higher as compared to when they ate meals that were 65% carbs, or 65% fat.

Do this: Keeping protein intake up to at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day and keeping each meal focused on protein will help to blunt hunger all day long. The most important meal of the day for blunting hunger all day long may be breakfast. Here, the bodybuilding staple—the—egg does more than just supply an excellent source of protein. One study from Saint Louis University (Missouri) found that women who ate eggs, toast, and jelly for breakfast reported feeling fuller, and ate almost 300 calories less the rest of the day than when they ate a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast.

Protein Aids in Fat Loss

Protein also helps you get lean by boosting metabolic rate, as well as slowing down the digestion of carbs, which ultimately leads to burning more fat. Research shows that a high protein meal raises your metabolic rate by up to 20-30%, whereas a high carb meal may only raise it by 5-10%, and a high fat meal by 3% or less. This means high protein diets can help to keep your metabolism revved up after meals and help you burn more of the calories you eat at meals, along with more fat.

A study from the University of Toronto discovered that protein eaten at a meal that was high in carbs slowed the digestion of those carbs better than fat. This means that eating protein with carbs ensures that they are digested slowly, releasing their carbs as glucose into the bloodstream at a slow and steady pace, which keeps insulin levels low and steady. Preventing large spikes insulin, as happens when carbs are digested rapidly, means less fat will be get stored as body fat and more body fat will be burned away as fuel.

Do this: Eat about 20-40 grams of protein with every meal, especially those with a lot of carbs.

Protein Fuels Workouts

Right before workouts is one of the most critical times to get some in. A protein blend that contains whey is a good idea here. The rapid digestion of whey and excellent concentration of BCAAs make it a must-take protein around workout time. This allows these important amino acids to get into your system where they can be used during the workout to prevent muscle breakdown and enhance recovery and growth. Yet there's another reason to go with whey before workouts. That would be vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels. Whey protein contains peptides (short protein fragments) that enhance blood vessel dilation. This allows for greater blood flow to exercising muscles, which enhances the delivery of nutrients (such as the amino acids and glucose) and oxygen to muscle during exercise, which are critical for energy during the workout and for recovery after. This enhanced blood vessel dilation also has the potential to keep blood pressure better maintained as you age and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Do this: Take a protein blend that contains whey protein (like Pro JYM) within 30 minutes of workouts.

Protein Helps with Recovery

Taking a protein shake immediately after workouts has been shown in numerous research studies to be the best way to boost muscle protein synthesis at the most critical time, as soon as the workout is over. This is not only the time when you can take muscle protein synthesis the highest than any other time of day and therefore drive the most muscle rebuilding and growth, but if you don't provide your muscles the proper nutrition at this time they will actually breakdown rather than rebuild. Studies confirm that a post-workout protein shake enhances recovery, muscle strength and muscle growth.

Research also shows that getting in a protein shake at this time decreases delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the soreness you experience a day or so after a tough workout. A Georgia Institute of Technology study found that subjects who ingested a protein and carb drink after a workout designed to cause muscle damage, experienced more than 50% less muscle soreness than those who took a carb-only drink.

Do this: Drink a 40 gram protein shake immediately after workouts along with 30-40 g of fast-digesting carbs, such as my Post JYM Fast-Digesting Carbs. Consider including 20 grams of soy protein powder. Soy protein not only has numerous health benefits such as reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, reduced risk of estrogen-related problems (breast cancer, hot-flashes), reduced risk of certain cancers, it also has been found to significantly enhance muscle recovery following workouts better than other protein sources.

Protein Enhances Brain Function

Sure, you workout to enhance your body, but working out also has clear benefits for your noggin. The same can be said about a proper diet. Research shows that eating high protein can enhance your brain function. Research from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Zurich), discovered that a breakfast that is higher in protein than carbs, or at least equal in protein and carbs allowed students to perform significantly better on various cognitive and memory tests that were designed to mimic typical work tasks, as compared to when they ate a breakfast that was higher in carbs than protein. This means you'll have a better shot at getting that raise you deserve and you won't forget your best-friends birthday, again this year.

Do this: For breakfast eat about 30-40 grams of protein such as from eggs (which will also blunt hunger the rest of the day) along with 20-30 grams of slow digesting carbs from sources such as oatmeal or whole-wheat toast.

Female-Friendly Supplements

Female-Friendly Supplement #1: Citrulline

This non-essential amino acid is readily converted in the body to nitric oxide (NO), and it also increases growth hormone levels. By increasing NO levels, it relaxes blood vessels to deliver more blood flow to, ahem, important body parts. While arginine is often thought of as mainly a man's supplement for bigger muscle pumps during workouts and better erections in the bedroom, it can also provide a similar sexual boost to women. Stanford University researchers reported that in females between the ages of 22-73 who had low sex drive, 60% reported an improved overall sex life after taking an arginine-based supplement for four weeks.

Bottom line: Getting blood flow below the belt can improve sexual function in both males and females.

Supplemental Source: Pre JYM includes an optimal 6-gram dose of citrulline malate. This is actually a better option than simply taking arginine, as citrulline is absorbed better than arginine and leads to higher blood levels of arginine. For more on citrulline vs. arginine, read my Pre JYM Ingredient Breakdown.

Female-Friendly Supplement #2: Caffeine

Caffeine is the world's most popular stimulant, thanks to the fact that it exists naturally in coffee beans and tea leaves. While we all could use a little "wake-me-up" first thing in the morning, or boost before the gym, caffeine offers benefits beyond its stimulating properties – it's one of the most studied ergogenic aids and has been shown to be effective for booting muscle strength, muscle endurance and mental focus. Specifical to women is caffeine's ability to suppress the cognitive decline that occurs with aging, as discovered in a 2010 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that showed no such protective effect of caffeine for men. This study lends further support to a 2007 study by French researchers showing a similar neuroprotective benefit of caffeine in women.

Moreover, a 2011 study from Harvard that tracked women for almost 20 years suggested that women who consumed the highest caffeine levels (mainly from coffee or tea) were 20% less likely to become depressed as those who consumed little to no caffeine. An earlier published study from Harvard also found a slight association between caffeine consumption and a reduced risk of breast cancer. This may be due to caffeine's ability to reduce estrogen levels, as discovered by the National Institutes of Health, possibly through higher sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) levels.

Supplemental Source: Pre JYM contains 300mg of caffeine, and Shred JYM provides 200mg. Both of these amounts fall into my recommended beneficial range of 100mg-300mg. Take Pre JYM 1-2 times a day and Shred JYM 2-3 times a day also falls under my dosing recommendations. To learn more about caffeine’s fat-burning potential, as well as how to take Pre JYM and Shred JYM in the same day, check out my Shred JYM Ingredient Breakdown.

As for when to take caffeine, pre-workout is the best time, but you can also take Pre JYM any other time of day you want (aside from right before you go to bed, since it may be hard to fall asleep after having just taken caffeine). While coffee may be a fine way to get your morning pick-me-up and provide some health benefits, it's caffeine in supplement form (mainly caffeine anhydrous) that has been found to provide the best performance benefits.

Female-Friendly Supplement #3: Calcium

Calcium is important to numerous functions in the body, from bone health to muscle contractions. And while this one seems like a no-brainer, since every woman is told to get in plenty of calcium for healthy bones from an early age, I'm not actually suggesting it just for bone health. Fat loss? Sure, there may be an association between calcium intake and body fat levels, but both bone health and body fat are two benefits that men can also derive from calcium.

The distinct reason I suggest calcium for women is for benefits that a man will not get: reduced PMS symptoms. Several studies have reported an inverse relationship between calcium intake and PMS symptoms – in other words, the higher the calcium intake, the less the PMS symptoms. One study from Iranian researchers reported that women suffering from PMS that took 500mg of calcium twice a day for three months had a significant reduction in fatigue, appetite changes and depression compared to those who got a placebo. An earlier study found that women taking 300 mg of calcium four times a day for PMS had significantly reduced bloating, depression, pain, mood swings and food cravings, as compared to those taking a placebo. Several other studies on calcium supplementation have shown similar results.

Supplemental Source: Every woman should consume 1,000mg-1,200mg of calcium per day from food and supplements regardless of PMS symptoms (or lack thereof). Your best bet is to take it in at least two divided doses of no more than 400mg-600 mg each for enhanced absorption of calcium. One scoop of my blended protein powder Pro JYM contains 400mg of calcium, so three scoops of Pro JYM per day fully covers your calcium intake needs

Also, there's some evidence that shows calcium from dairy—such as the 400mg of it in Pro JYM from the milk used to make the whey, casein, and milk protein—provides better benefits than supplemental forms of calcium like calcium carbonate. If you need to supplement your diet with a calcium supplement, consider using the calcium citrate form, which may be better absorbed than other types of calcium supplements.

To further promote calcium absorption, also take each calcium dose with about 500-2,000 IU of vitamin D3. In fact, recent studies from the University of Massachusetts suggest that vitamin D intake is associated with fewer PMS symptoms, although this is may be due to higher calcium uptake. Visit my Supplement Guide for more on this powerful nutrient one-two punch.

Female-Friendly Supplement #4: DHEA

DHEA (short for dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone produced naturally in the body of both males and females mainly by the adrenal glands, as well as the gonads, the gastrointestinal tract and even the brain. DHEA is the most prevalent hormone circulating in the body, as it gets converted into about 20 different hormones, with the two main end products being testosterone and estrogen. DHEA is usually thought of as a male hormone, yet women can get the benefits of DHEA supplementation as well, with effects that include better energy, greater brain function and mood, increased strength and muscle mass, and enhanced fat loss.

This is due to an increase in testosterone and insulin-like growth factor-I levels (IGF-I) in women, which was shown in two separate studies using 100 mg of DHEA per day from the University of California, San Diego, and the Tel Aviv University (Israel). The Israeli scientists reported that this led to an increase in female subjects' sexual arousal and cognition. Although both studies used older postmenopausal women, similar results should be expected in younger women, as DHEA levels begin to drop after 25 years of age. Since testosterone and IGF-I are important for muscle strength and hypertrophy, supplementing with DHEA may be a safe way to naturally boost you testosterone and IGF-I levels slightly without adverse effects and only benefits.

Supplemental Source: Supplement with 100 mg of DHEA daily with meals.

Female-Friendly Supplement #5: Iron

Iron is a mineral that's a part of numerous proteins and enzymes important for good health. In addition, as a component of red blood cells it helps deliver oxygen to our cells. Intense training lowers iron levels, and this may affect women more than men. Studies confirm that numerous female athletes are iron deficient, which leads to a reduction in performance, increased fatigue, decreased cognitive function and impaired immune function. This appears to be due to an increase in hepcidin (a hormone produced by the liver that inhibits iron absorption) with exercise. French researchers recently found that in almost 200 women between the ages 18-53 who complained of fatigue, those taking 80mg of iron daily for 12 weeks had a 50% reduction in fatigue. Army researchers also reported that women taking 100 mg of iron during 8 weeks of basic training had higher scores for cognitive performance and faster times in a two-mile run test.

Supplemental Source: Because iron toxicity can occur if you're not iron deficient, you should consider asking your doctor for a serum ferritin test to measure your iron status. If you're low, taking 30-100 mg daily without food can help, depending on how low you are. My multivitamin Vita JYM provides 18mg of iron, which will cover many women who train. If you find you're deficient and are using Vita JYM (and you really should for numerous other reasons as well), but sure to account for that 18mg in your daily total of supplemental iron to make sure you're not getting too much iron.

Since exercise decreases iron absorption, take iron supplements several hours before exercise if you train later in the day, or several hours after exercise if you train early.


Supporting Research

Ito, T. Y., et al. The enhancement of female sexual function with ArginMax, a nutritional supplement, among women differing in menopausal status. J Sex Marital Ther. 2006 Oct-Dec;32(5):369-78.

Ghanbari, Z., et al. Effects of calcium supplement therapy in women with premenstrual syndrome. Taiwan J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Jun;48(2):124-9.

Thys-Jacobs, S., et al. Calcium carbonate and the premenstrual syndrome: effects on premenstrual and menstrual symptoms. Premenstrual Syndrome Study Group. Am J Obstet Gynecol . 1998;179:444-452.

Alvir, J. M. and Thys-Jacobs, S. Premenstrual and menstrual symptom clusters and response to calcium treatment. Psychopharmacol Bull . 1991;27:145-148.

Thys-Jacobs, S., et al. Calcium supplementation in premenstrual syndrome: a randomized crossover trial. J Gen Intern Med . 1989;4:183-189.

Bertone-Johnson, E. R., et al. Calcium and vitamin D intake and risk of incident premenstrual syndrome. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Jun 13;165(11):1246-52.

Bertone-Johnson, E. R., et al. Dietary vitamin D intake, 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 levels and premenstrual syndrome in a college-aged population. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2010 Jul;121(1-2):434-7.

Santos, C., et al. Caffeine intake is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline: a cohort study from Portugal. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S175-85.

Ritchie, K., et al. The neuroprotective effects of caffeine: a prospective population study (the Three City Study). Neurology. 2007 Aug 7;69(6):536-45.

Lucas, M., et al. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of depression among women. Arch Intern Med. 2011 Sep 26;171(17):1571-8.

Ganmaa, D., et al. Coffee, tea, caffeine and risk of breast cancer: a 22-year follow-up. nt J Cancer. 2008 May 1;122(9):2071-6.

Schliep, K. C., et al. Caffeinated beverage intake and reproductive hormones among premenopausal women in the BioCycle Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb;95(2):488-97.

Nagata, C., et al. Association of coffee, green tea, and caffeine intakes with serum concentrations of estradiol and sex hormone-binding globulin in premenopausal Japanese women. Nutr Cancer. 1998;30(1):21-4.

Morales, A. J., et al. The effect of six months treatment with a 100 mg daily dose of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on circulating sex steroids, body composition and muscle strength in age-advanced men and women. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1998 Oct;49(4):421-32.

Bloch, M., et al. The use of dehydroepiandrosterone in the treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorder: A report of gender differences. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. In press, 2012.

Latunde-Dada, G. O., et al. Iron metabolism in athletes- achieving a gold standard. Eur J Haematol. In press, 2012 .

McClung, J. P., et al. Iron status and the female athlete. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2012 Jun;26(2-3):124-6.

McClung, J. P., et al. Longitudinal decrements in iron status during military training in female soldiers. Br J Nutr. 2009 Aug;102(4):605-9.

Vaucher, P., et al. Effect of iron supplementation on fatigue in nonanemic menstruating women with low ferritin: a randomized controlled trial. CMAJ. 2012 Aug 7;184(11):1247-54.

McClung, J. P., et al. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of iron supplementation in female soldiers during military training: effects on iron status, physical performance, and mood. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;90(1):124-31.


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