Imagine the scenario. You're following your gym program to the letter, but no matter how hard you train, you're not seeing the gains. You might feel you're falling behind your workout buddies who seem to improve faster than you. Perhaps it's your dietary habits that are letting you down. Read on to find out what nutrition strategies you can put into place to get the most out of strength training and get good gains.
Firstly, we need to look at your overall eating pattern and dietary habits.
Is what you eat, along with how and when you eat supporting your strength training goals? At this point, we should also not that training to increase strength doesn't necessarily mean you are looking to put on weight.
That might be an important point for you. Some people are looking to build mass, others aren't and just want to get strong. The important thing is that your nutrition plan lines up with what your overall strength training goals are.
Is your nutrition plan fueling you adequately to support your strength gains?
You may not realise, but the key fuel your body uses for high-intensity gym sessions is carbohydrate. Most gym bros will tell you it's the protein that matters. While that's true to an extent, carbohydrate will help you delay fatigue and ultimately allow you to get more out of each gym session.
Therefore, it's extremely important we look at our carbohydrate intake before training. Or our pre-workout carb intake, if you will.
We find carbohydrates in a wide range of foods. For example, whole grains, starchy vegetables, dairy, and fruit are all great sources. Consequently, adding at least one of these in your pre-training meal or snack will go a long way to support your training performance.
Pre-workout carbohydrate for early morning exercisers
Even if you're an early riser and like to train first thing, consuming some carbohydrate before your strength training session allows you to push further and harder. Ultimately, that'll mean you get more out of the gym session.
Now this doesn't mean you need to wake up even earlier before your early morning gym session. After all, we don't want to compromise on sleep time just so you can eat. Instead, you could have something light and relatively easy to digest. Ideally, you'd want to have it in the 30-60 minutes before your training starts.
For example, you might like to incorporate fresh or dried fruit into your morning routine. Perhaps a banana or some dates before you head out the door. Alternatively, you could have a slice or two of toast, or some rice cakes, with either honey or ham.
Are you eating enough protein to support your strength gains?
You likely already know that exercise puts stress through your muscle tissue. That's a big part of why we get sore in the days after our gym sessions.
This stress is the stimulus our body needs to encourage our muscles to grow. Growth can either take the form of increased size, or increased strength, or both. In effect, this is the training adaptation we are looking for.
In terms of nutrition for strength gains, protein plays an important part in repairing your muscles from this stress. Therefore, protein is a key nutrient to have in your diet if you're looking to increase strength through resistance training.
If we really want to get the best results from our strength or resistance training sessions, we need adequate protein. Ideally, we should aim to have between 1.6 and 2.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For example, if I was 70kg, that would be between 112 and 154 grams of protein each day.
In conjunction with an effective strength training routine, this protein intake will allow us to maximise our strength gains.
Lastly, are you spreading your protein intake out across the day to give you the best chance at building strength?
In terms of priority, the total amount of protein you consume in a day is the most important factor. However, if we're truly looking to maximise our strength gains with a good nutrition plan, we also need to look at protein distribution.
By protein distribution, we literally mean how is your protein intake spread throughout the day.
Consider two approaches for the 70kg exerciser mentioned above:
While not 'wrong', the second approach is way better.
In terms of strength gains, spreading your protein intake evenly is a far more beneficial nutrition strategy. Ideally, we want regular intake of protein throughout the day rather than in just one or two hits.
Compare this to what is often the case among experienced strength trainers and gym goers. They might only have minimal protein at breakfast time, a little at lunch then a huge intake in their evening meal.
Here are some more dietary strategies that might help maximise your strength gains:
Below is an example of some interventions we made for a client to help them get stronger. We use all of the strategies outlined above and made some substitutes where appropriate so we could fully support his strength gains with good nutrition.
BEFORE: Peter's initial diet, before we made any nutritional changes
Peter had been training twice per day on most days of the week for around 9 months. He was a little disappointed that he wasn't getting as strong as he'd hoped and felt his muscles weren't growing as much as they should. Here's what, how and when he was eating:
Weetbix, almond milk and some fresh berries
Apple and some Vita-weats with Vegemite
Sandwich with some salami and salad made with white bread
Handful of mixed nuts
Large steak with mashed potato and mixed vegetables
After-dinner snack before bed
Compare this with...
AFTER: Peter's diet now, with a few adjustments to support gains in strength through good nutrition
We didn't make any huge adjustments, yet we were still able to incorporate some valuable nutrition strategies to build muscle and strength. Here's what Peter eats now, along with my comments in italics.
Now we're getting some carbohydrate into Peter's system before his workout.
Weetbix with cow's milk plus some Greek yoghurt along with berries and some mixed nuts and seeds
We're getting more protein now than he did before.
Vita-weats with a tin of tuna in spring water
Again, more protein than his previous morning snack.
Sandwich with chicken tenderloins and salad made with grainy bread
Once again, Peter's now getting more protein at lunch too. See how we're spreading his protein intake throughout the day?
Apple and an oat-based muesli bar
Peter has his afternoon training session coming up, so we want some more carbohydrate as a pre-training snack.
Smaller steak with some mashed potato and vegetables.
Interestingly, we've decreased his portion size of protein in his evening meal. In doing so, we've allowed Peter to spread his protein intake more evenly through his day.
After-dinner snack before bed
Fruit with Greek yoghurt
Again, more protein.
Which nutrition strategy are you going to put into place to help support your own strength gains?
See how easy it can be? Nutrition doesn't have to be overly complicated. Often, we don't need a complete overhaul. In practice, it's usually just some minor tweaks here and there which prove to be effective and get the job done.
If you're training to increase strength but failing to see the expected gains, perhaps it's time to look at your nutrition. Remember these 3 key strength training nutrition strategies:
- Pre-workout carbohydrate
- Adequate protein
- Even protein distribution
If you do all three, I'm sure you will be well on your way to becoming stronger than ever. Which one are you excited to implement first? Let me know in the comment section below how you get on.