So you have decided to put lifting into your routine? Great! In my view weight lifting beats endless sets on the pec deck or the leg press, or set after set of bicep curls. More demanding compound lifts will give your training a step change, and with the correct technique, periodization and nutrition, you will quickly see the benefits of both lean muscle growth as well as fat loss. Lifting will also give you more strength for running and cycling; as well as being ideal if you enjoy the challenges of obstacle races and other tests of strength and stamina.
For many, getting the nutrition right will mean eating more on training days – and eating more carbohydrates and fat – both things that we previously thought we should avoid to achieve that fit healthy physique. We have been conditioned to think it’s just protein that will increase our muscle mass – it isn’t – without carbohydrate we won’t have the energy to train hard or the catalyst for repair; without fat we won’t have the hormones (including testosterone) that help us with our metabolism and growth.
For the protein, don’t get carried away by the historic association that it’s protein, protein, protein for muscle. A good gauge is to eat around 30-35 grams in your main meals – or anywhere between 1.4–2 grams per kilo of bodyweight. However, as with anything with regard to exercise and nutrition, there will be an element of trial and error to establish what works best for your genetic make-up.
With this regime, you may put on scale weight – but that is because muscle is heavier than fat. Just ask a few of our members who finally have the physique and look that they want. Their body weight has gone up, they have a higher percentage of lean muscle, and a lower percentage of body-fat!
The recommended 2,500 calories per day is not enough for most of us on our lifting days. You need to be consuming around 3,000, maybe more, particularly if you are doing squats and dead-lifts. Eat too little, and all the hard work will be for nothing – your body will work even harder to maintain the fat that you have.
You will also fail to give your body the nutrients needed for the mental and physical energy required to execute the big compound lifts. These are complex moves – the dead-lift engages so many different muscles, and your timing is crucial for every part. You will only get it right if your neuro-muscular pathways are fuelled to optimum; so you need to think about fuelling your brain as well as your body. For your brain consider eggs, deep leafy green, fish and nuts – and don't go low fat!
The dead-lift and squat require more energy and fuel than any other move you will do in the gym. That means you need to eat a large snack or meal about 1.5 to 2 hours before – with plenty of carbohydrates for intense lifting. You also need to eat properly immediately afterwards. You have a 30-40 minute window of opportunity to refuel to get the best results from your training; this needs to be a ratio of 4 to 1 carbohydrate to protein – aim for around 30 grams of protein. 120 grams of meat or fish will give you just over 20 grams of protein, 400g of cooked quinoa or mixed beans will give similar, so will 3 eggs – and don't forget to add the carbohydrate.
Post workout your body is in a state of damage, you have elevated cortisol levels, and your training has generated lots of stress and free radicals. This is how weight training works, but you need a plan and foods that bring about repair and growth, and prevent the free radicals causing long-term damage. Protein and carbohydrate are critical. Fail on the carbohydrate, and your body won't absorb the protein, or the vitamins and minerals, effectively.
After your workout you will need to consume the obvious macro nutrients, but also the necessary micro nutrients – better known as vitamins and minerals – to mop up the free radicals, vital for the growth and functioning of your metabolism. Fail to get enough of these, and you will slowly erode your health.
To get the best from your weight training, your diet needs to be rich in all nutrients; missing out food groups will be detrimental, unless a medical need. Grains are a wonderful source of carbohydrate, energy and fibre; dairy is a great source of calcium; and eggs (white and yolk) are a great source of iron and fat soluble vitamins. Finally, your diet needs to be rich in vegetables, with a little fruit. Aim for the colours of the rainbow every day, and for greens and reds, if at all possible, twice per day!
Here's to great lifting, great eating, great energy and a great physique – and a capability to tackle a huge variety of mental and physical pursuits.
About the Author
Nick Owen is a qualified nutritional adviser, holding a Diploma in Non-Medical Nutritional Advice. Nick uses nutrition to support a wide variety of client goals including weight management, fat loss and muscle building, general health and well-being; and improved energy levels, concentration and complexion. Nick’s approach is practical and realistic, starting with an analysis of current eating patterns and lifestyle, making recommendations for change and then working over a series of consultations to support achievement of the desired goals.