Home » Nutrition for Strength Training: A Hands-On Approach

Nutrition for Strength Training: A Hands-On Approach

Few fields in health and wellness sparks as much debate as food. Everywhere you look you see a host of fads, quackery, contradictory information. It gets understandably confusing, especially if you must plan most of your meals yourself. A lot rides on how you fuel your body, so the task is quite daunting. And that’s not yet factoring practical concerns like your budget.

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Fortunately, the logic behind food is simple. People need the same kinds of nutrients to live, but how much of these they will need depends on the lifestyles they lead. The physical demands of strongman competitions mean you’ll need much more than you expect.

The Rundown on Nutrition

The nourishment the human body demands come in two basic categories: macronutrients (or macros) and micronutrients. Macros are the most important nutrients the body needs to survive and function. These include the following sets of compounds:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Proteins

Of these, proteins—crucial to the growth and development of muscles—get most of the attention in fitness circles. All three, however, are essential. The body burns carbs for energy. Fats serve as an extra source of energy and are crucial for many major bodily functions. Some of the essential micronutrients the body can only be absorbed by fats.

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals you hear in health class. These are needed by the body in much smaller (though still crucial) quantities. The body must receive the right mix of micronutrients to stay healthy in the long run. When you’re strength training, you must increase your intake of the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Vitamins C, D, E, and B Complex

Vitamins and minerals are best absorbed from food. One study has shown that taking vitamin C and E supplements do not have a noticeable effect on muscle development. If you eat a well-balanced diet, you wouldn’t need to take any supplements at all.

Precise Proportions

Not everybody has the same macronutrient needs. For the demands of training, you’ll need a steady supply of carbs to fuel your body and proteins to build your muscles. This is especially important for physically demanding activities like marathons and strongman competitions. The general ratio for strength training is 45% carbs, 30% protein, and 25% fat.

Choosing when to fuel up is just as important. Studies have shown that loading up on carbs before a strenuous activity helped participants ward off fatigue and improve performance over a long stretch of time. Ideally, you should eat before a carb- and protein-loaded workout or immediately after a workout to energize your body and build muscle.

How much carbs you will need in every meal depends on how long you’ll work out. According to the Mayo Clinic, the amount of carbs you need for a short hour-long workout is up to 5 grams (0.17 ounces) for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. That’s about 4 ounces if you weigh 150 pounds. The longer you train, the more carbs you’ll need.

Planning and Choosing

One trouble with committing to a diet plan is how pricey it seems to get. Part of the reason why poor diets are common is that unhealthy processed food is cheaper than fresh food. This is true in both immediate costs and shelf life. Processed food can last a long time in the fridge or pantry while fresh food must be bought quickly and regularly.

One way to counteract this is to choose inexpensive, nutrient dense foods. The humble egg, a longtime pantry staple, is the shining example. But there are a few other good choices that you can add to the list. A few others make great quick post-workout snacks.

  • Peanut butter: If you’re not allergic, peanut butter makes a great and convenient protein-packed snack. Be sure to choose good quality natural peanut butter with few to no additives involved.
  • Canned fish: In the absence of fresh fish, canned oily fish like tuna and salmon works well as a source of fat and protein. They are also cheaper than fresh fish in some places.
  • Pumpkin and sunflower seeds:These seeds are packed with protein and are remarkably easy to eat

Consider any dietary restrictions when meal planning. This can open you up to substitutions to common sources of carbs and protein. If you have wheat allergies or gluten intolerance, for instance, consider adding pseudocereals like amaranth and quinoa to your diet.

While it may be time consuming, having a meal plan helps you achieve your dietary goals in more ways than one. On one end, it can help you save a lot of money on groceries. Listing down the meals you plan on cooking will let you know what ingredients you’ll need. This way, you’ll buy only the ingredients you’ll need and nothing more. You can plan your meals around sales and use it all up before it spoils. 

Likewise, your meal plan will ensure that most (if not all) of your meals meet your nutritional needs. You can list down dishes that meet all your nutritional needs and have them ready when you need them. Stricter planning can also help you maintain discipline, which you’ll need to meet your fitness goals. This can also make occasional cheat mealspossible without compromising your diet plan. 

The Deal With Dirty Loading

Ideally, the food you choose should be minimally processed. Fresh vegetables, lean meat, and whole grain should make up a large part of your diet plan, as would healthy sources of fats and oils like fish. Eat processed or otherwise unhealthy food sparingly, if at all.

Of course, even junk food contains macronutrients. This has led some people to use “dirty bulking” in their workout diet plans. This involves pairing unhealthy food with exercise. On the surface, it almost seems like a reasonable compromise: add on pain to retain pleasure. Unsurprisingly, you can’t have it both ways. A diet predominated by processed foods will kill your gains. One study found that a diet heavy in ultra-processed foods is tied to decreased muscle mass.

Processed foods often have very skewed macro proportions. A pizza might seem to have all the macros—protein, fat, carbs—but the amount of each that you’re getting isn’t balanced at all. You get too much carbs and fat and not enough protein. Meanwhile, a healthy meal of chicken and vegetables or grilled salmon would be closer to the proportion of macros you need. Many processed foods also lack key micronutrients like iron and zinc, which you could readily get from eating healthier options.

Many of these foods also contain the wrong kind of carbs and fats. Highly processed foods are also notorious for containing excessive amounts of sugar and unhealthy fats while lacking fiber. Refined sugars get absorbed by the body too fast, which can cause blood sugar problems later down the line. Blood sugar issues are worsened by a diet lacking in fiber; fiber slows digestion and helps regulate the rise of blood sugar levels. Meanwhile, saturated fats in excess can also contribute to heart disease.

Dinner From Scratch

When it comes to optimizing nutrition, it pays to know what you’re eating. And there’s no better way to do that than to prepare most of the meals yourself. By preparing your own meals, you know exactly what you’re putting in. You can avoid unhealthy fats and excess sugar while maintaining the right balance of nutrients. Maintaining a large freezer can help you save by buying meats in bulk when on sale or purchasing straight from the bucher.

Most of your post workout meals don’t need to be fancy at first. Tuna or peanut butter on a piece of bread will suffice in a pinch. For your main meals, however, it pays to put the work in to make them taste better. It’s easier said than done, but well worth the effort.

Fitness-minded diet plans have an undue reputation for being bland, which can put people off. It doesn’t have to be this way. A little skill can be all you need to make simple ingredients taste great. For instance, learning how to stir fry or sauté vegetables may help you include them in your diet more often. At first, you might find learning (or re-learning) the basics online enough. If you have the time for it, consider taking a cooking class to expand your skill set further. A short course in culinary arts expands your knowledge and helps you work a little more efficiently in the kitchen.

Variety is the spice of life. Try out new recipes and see what you can do to make your meals taste as delicious as they are healthy. You’ll be more inclined to stick to your diet plan if it isn’t monotonous. Don’t be afraid to mix things up whenever you can.

The Bottom Line

You must put in the work to get optimal results. This rings true both for actual training and what you use to fuel it. Your diet should sustain your gains and fuel your body when it’s pushed to the limits. The physical demands of strongman competitions mean your dietary needs are much different from the average person trying to stay healthy. 

Take a more active role in managing what you eat. Aim for a balanced diet rich in micronutrients and containing the right mix of macros for your needs. Plan your meals and choose ingredients that contain the nutrients you need. 

Remember: eating clean doesn’t mean depriving yourself of the pleasures of eating or breaking the bank. With enough skill, you can make many great-tasting healthy meals with the simplest of ingredients.

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