Gone are the days when strength training was just about elite body builders bulking up with killer iron and boringly strict meal plans. With the growing body of research backing up the importance of strength training for everything from weight loss to bone density to longevity, it has gone mainstream and is considered a must for every one of your clients seeking to achieve health and fitness goals.
As with so many other fitness activities, strength training is about more than just throwing some weights on a bar and lifting. Truly effective strength training also relies on a healthy nutrition plan and appropriate pre- and post-workout fuel, all designed to maximize results.
In general, an effective nutrition plan includes adequate energy (calories), macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and hydration, all customized according to the intensity, duration and format of the training program as well as to the individual. Each of these nutrition factors can either positively or negatively affect preparation for, and recovery from, moderate-to-intense training sessions. Over time, these factors can significantly impact the success of any strength-training goal. In fact, without an adequate meal plan containing enough calories to support a strength-training program, clients may actually be faced with loss of muscle mass and bone density, increased fatigue, injury, illness, nutrient deficiencies and a longer recovery process.
The best nutrition program, overall, to support a strength-training program includes the following:
- Carbohydrates: 6 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight (2.7 to 4.5 grams per pound of body weight). Carbohydrates maintain blood glucose levels during exercise and replace muscle glycogen. Personal carbohydrate requirements vary based upon the intensity and length of workouts as well as body size, sex and even environmental conditions.
- Protein: 4 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight). These recommended protein intakes can generally be met through diet alone, without the use of protein or amino acid supplements.
- Fat: 20 to 35 percent of total energy intake. It can often be tempting to drop below this level in the quest for improved results; however, consuming less than 20 percent of energy from fat does not benefit performance. It’s important to stress to clients the importance of total nutrition for optimal results.
- Hydration: Adequate fluid intake before, during and after exercise is important for health and optimal performance. Dehydration actually decreases exercise performance. In the hours after exercise, clients should aim for approximately 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound (0.5 kg) of body weight lost during exercise to replenish fluids.
As with other training programs, fueling up in the hours prior to strength training is essential to an effective session. The goal of this small meal is to boost energy for the training itself as well as to prime the body for faster recovery after the workout.
Approximately two to three hours before strength training opt for a meal that is:
- Relatively high in carbohydrates to maximize the maintenance of blood glucose
- Low in fat and fiber to minimize gastrointestinal distress
- Ample in protein and fats for a complete and balanced meal
Approximately 30 minutes to one hour before strength training, fuel up with a small and easily digestible snack that includes:
- Simplified protein and carbohydrate foods to aid in digestion and absorption of glucose and amino acids
- 70 to 75 percent carbohydrates, focusing on low-glycemic foods such as bananas
- 20 to 25 percent easily digestible protein such as nut butter
This pre-workout nutrition for strength training is still just part of the nutrition equation when it comes to maximizing results. In the 30 minutes after training is completed, it’s vital to refuel and recover with effective post-workout nutrition to help replace muscle glycogen, repair muscle damage and rebuild muscle tissue, all in preparation for the next session. The best post-workout snacks include:
Adequate fluids, electrolytes and energy
- Approximately 1.0 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.5 to 0.7 grams per pound of body weight
- Example: 150-pound individual would consume approximately 100 grams of carbohydrate within the first 30 minutes post-exercise
- Consume these again every two hours for four to six hours to best replace glycogen stores
- A small amount of protein paired with the carbohydrates provides amino acids to help reduce inflammation as well as build and repair of muscle tissue
The optimal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio for this post workout nutrition is 3:1 (3 grams of carbohydrate for every 1 gram of protein). Research shows this carbohydrate-protein combination consumed within 30 minutes of exercise nearly doubles the insulin response, which results in more stored glycogen. This stored glycogen is then ready to fuel your client’s next strength-training session.
As with any type of training, nutrition is key to optimal results for strength training. From a complete meal plan designed to support overall health and fitness to pre- and post-workout nutrition for strength training, the right nutrition can make or break results for you and your clients.
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Campbell, B. et al. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4, 8.
Kreider, R.B. et al. (2010) Exercise and Sports Nutrition Review: Research and Recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7, 7.
Leutholtz, B. and Kreider, R. (2001). Exercise and Sport Nutrition. In Nutritional Health (Wilson, T. and Temple, N., Eds.) Totowa, N.J.: Humana Press.
Sherman, W.M., Jacobs, K.A. and Leenders, N. (1998). Carbohydrate metabolism during endurance exercise. In Overtraining in Sport, (Kreider, R.B., Fry, A.C. and O'Toole, M.L., Eds.) Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.