Have you been training for a while, but aren’t getting the strength & muscle gains you want? Your diet may be the culprit. Get your nutrition in line, otherwise you’re wasting your time.
Basic Nutrition Rules for Strength Gains:
So you want to make big strength gains. You’ve got yourself a great training plan. You’re ready to leave it all in the gym. But wait! Exercise isn’t the whole equation. In fact, its (unfortunately) almost less important than your diet.
You will see more success on good diet paired with 3 hours of light exercise a week, than on a bad diet paired with 7 hours of intense exercise a week (source: New York Times).
With this in mind, here is a crash course on nutrition to compliment your strength training.
The single most important thing you can do with your nutrition is steer away from processed foods, and stick to whole foods. Whole foods are unprocessed & unrefined things like fruits, vegetables, meats, beans, oats, etc.
Processed foods contain added sugars, trans-fats, nitrates, corn syrup, sodium and other chemicals. A good way to avoid processed foods is to avoid food that comes in a box or plastic packaging, with long ingredient lists. And yes, beer is a processed food.
To build strength & muscle, you must eat more calories than you will burn in one day. Yes, even if you are trying to lose body fat. You know that to lose weight, one must eat at a calorie deficit. Therefore, to build muscle, one must eat at a calorie excess.
If you are unsure of how many calories you should be consuming daily for strength gains, use a calorie calculator. Don’t leave it up to guesswork, and definitely don’t under-nourish yourself with strength training.
Now that you know you have to eat a lot of whole foods, how do you go about fitting it all in? The general recommendation is 6 meals a day:
- Post-workout meal (whatever time of day it may be, eat within 60 minutes post workout)
Your post-workout meal is the most important meal of the day if you’re serious about strength training, so don’t skimp on it. Eat a huge portion of protein & carbs within one hour of working out.
Cooking 6 meals a day is obviously unrealistic, so you may have to master the art of meal-prepping. If you struggle to eat this much, then liquid calories are a great way to get your quota in. Make smoothies and protein shakes your new best friend.
Proteins are the building blocks of the human body. Your hair, skin, and nails are almost pure protein. More importantly, your muscles depend on protein for recovery & growth. As a general rule you should be eating 1-2 grams of protein for each pound of your bodyweight, daily. That means you should be eating protein with every meal.
Good sources of protein:
- Red meat
Eat complex carbohydrates, and avoid the simple cabs. Complex carbohydrates provide a lasting energy source for your body, and should be eaten primarily in your post-workout meal.
Good sources of complex carbs are whole grains such as brown rice, bread, & oats, as well as starches such as sweet potatoes. Avoid simple carbs in the form of white bread, rice, bagels, pizza, etc.
Fruits & Veggies:
This should go without saying, but you should be eating fruits & vegetables with each meal. They’re full of nutrients, fibers, good carbs & sugar.
By far one of the most misunderstood parts of nutrition, even the healthiest of weightlifters need fat in their diets. Eat healthy fats in moderation, and avoid fatty fats like the plague.
Healthy fats are found in:
- Real butter
- Whole eggs
- Red meat
- Olive oil & olives
- Fish oil
Stay away from:
- Vegetable oil
- Processed foods (again)
The uninitiated are often a bit wary of supplements, but they play an important part of any nutritional plan for strength gains. Supplements should be used to fill the nutritional gaps that you aren’t getting through your food. Whey protein is the most common, as well as creatine and glutamine.