Just as your training programme needs some knowledge and structure, so does your eating programme - an energy drink before your training and a protein shake after will not cut it - regardless of how much the advertising or branding tells you it will.
The successful change to your physique comes from consistency, with your training, eating, sleep and rest - as well as some less obvious factors that can also have a profound impact - your stress levels, your lifestyle, as well as your digestive and gut health.
For many, this will mean re-evaluating some of the core beliefs that we have been fed over the years regarding eating, calories, fat and carbohydrates - and ditching the processed low fat, low sugar options we have previously gone for, or the lunchtime sandwich, that has offered convenience and a calorie count.
Reality is, you probably need to be eating more carbohydrates and fat on your training days - both things that we previously thought we should avoid to achieve a fit healthy physique.
Another reality is that you may put on scale weight as you become stronger and healthier. This is because muscle is denser than fat - just ask a few of our members - their body-weight has gone up and they finally have the physique that they want - with a higher percentage of lean muscle, and a lower percentage of body fat.
Even though we all have slightly different energy requirements, it is worth noting that the often quoted 2,000 calories per day for women will not be enough on your lifting days - you would need to be consuming around 2,500, maybe more, particularly if you are doing squats and deadlifts - and a large part of this needs to come from carbohydrates which are what give you the energy and strength to power through your routine.
You will also need SOME more protein than the average female, though don't be seduced by the advertising that tells you that you need excessive amounts; you don't - you just need a consistent amount throughout the day, and a little more in the period after your training. For most, a range of 1.5 to 1.7 per kilo of bodyweight will be sufficient.
If you stick with low calories meals, or with a regime full of just fruit, smoothies and salad, you will fail to give your body the nutrients needed for the mental and physical energy required to execute your training routine, particularly the big compound lifts. To fuel your brain and body, think eggs, deep leafy greens, fish and nuts.
The dead-lift and squat require more energy and fuel than any other move you can do in the gym. This means that you need to eat a large snack or meal around 1.5 to 2 hours before - with plenty of carbohydrate for intense lifting, as well as fuelling properly immediately afterwards. You have a 2 hour window of opportunity to refuel to get the best results from your training. You should ensure that your meal is at a ratio of 4:1 carbohydrate to protein – aim for around 25 grams of protein – 100 grams of meat or fish will give you just over 20 grams of protein, 400g of cooked quinoa or mixed beans will give similar and so will 3 eggs - then don't forget to the add the carbohydrate!
Post-workout your body is in a state of damage and you need to provide it with the nutrients to repair. You have depleted your energy stores, broken down your muscles, elevated your cortisol levels (your body’s stress hormone), and generated free radicals - this is how weight training works. You will also have placed a huge workload on your neuromuscular system - far more than any cardiovascular workout.
Your diet should encourage repair and growth, not hinder it. Protein and carbohydrates are critical – fail on the carbohydrate, and your body won't synthesize the protein or vitamins and minerals effectively. You need plenty of vitamins and minerals too - these support our neuromuscular system as well as numerous other functions such as our metabolism. So, after your workout you need macronutrients, but also necessary are micro nutrients - better known as vitamins and minerals.Finally your diet needs to be rich in vegetables, with a little fruit - aim for the colours of rainbow every day.
And following the above, with a real food diet from primarily plant based sources will also have a huge beneficial impact on our digestive system and gut health, which means that we will be getting the most out of our foods to achieve the optimum mental and physical well-being we require. We can train hard, but if we don't have a healthy digestive system and gut, we will not be getting optimum results from our training because our food intake will not be being metabolised to support the energy, repair and growth
So here's to great lifting, great eating, great energy and a great physique. Below is some additional knowledge that I think it worth sharing. It really brings home to me that success comes from consistency, and looking at everything as part of a bigger picture:
Prepare for the Lift:
Mentally prepare for the moves and lift being undertaken; a dynamic warm up to raise body temp and specifically get blood flow to the muscles to be used. Map out the movement mentally with a relevant warm up - for squats, air squats, lunges, crab walk etc. 5 minutes walking on a treadmill, or a 5 minute jog is not sufficient.
Rest between sets:
Take appropriate rest between sets - if lifting heavy it should be at least 2 minutes; this is not an aerobic/cardio workout - so it is counterproductive to go into the next set too soon or breathless. Make sure you also do warm up sets - say for squats with an empty bar - again, this helps map out the move - though don't exhaust yourself with the warm up sets.
Stretching & soft tissue work:
Focus on 10 minutes stretching after the workout - quads, hams, gluten, piriformis - static holds of 30 seconds, and utilise bands, rollers, lacross balls. Plan regular soft tissue sessions into your programming. Without the necessary mobility you won't progress significantly - look at ideas such as Ido Portal's 30 minute squat challenge. You might also want to put a Primal Patterns or Yoga class into your weekly programming - again, this will help hugely in building your body's strength to its true capability.
Rest & sleep:
A strength training workout is more taxing on our body and mind than an aerobic/cardio workout - we may not think so as we are probably not as sweaty or as breathless - but be rest assured you have taxed your body and neuromuscular system significantly, and need to programme rest and recovery days into your training as well as make sure you are getting at least 7 hours’ sleep per night.
You track your own progress with our Body Composition Analysis. Speak to a member of our gym team for more details.
About the Author
Nick Owen is a qualified nutritional adviser and holds a Diploma in Non-Medical Nutritional Advice. Nick uses nutrition to support a wide variety of client goals. These include weight management, fat loss and muscle building, general health and well-being, improved energy levels, concentration and complexion. Nick’s approach is practical and realistic, starting with an analysis of current eating patterns and lifestyle, and then working over a series of consultations to support achievement of the desired goals.