And How to Optimize Your Training with the Right Nutrition
Strength training is not just for building strength and bulky muscles. More and more studies are coming out showing that there are a wide range of benefits associated with resistance and weight bearing exercise, beyond just athletic performance.
While strength and weight training has traditionally had a reputation for being a male-centric type of exercise reserved for those trying to bulk up and gain mass, it is now transitioning to a popular activity and tool used for weight loss, cross training, and overall general fitness.
Of course, increasing lean muscle mass and improving strength are some of the major benefits of strength training, but that’s not all. This type of training can affect the body in so many beneficial ways, and it can actually contribute to allowing you to live a longer and healthier life.
Nutrition is vital with this strength-based exercise. Without the right nutrition, you might be short changing yourself and limiting the effects of your training. The best way to optimize your gains and really take your health to the next level is to make sure your nutrition is on point.
We’re breaking down some of the main reasons why strength training has been gaining popularity, the benefits of building strength, and how to incorporate nutrition for the best results.
1. Helps with Weight Management
It’s long been believed that cardio is the best type of exercise for losing weight. No one can deny the amount of calories burned during a high-intensity workout, or the slow steady burn of a long endurance run or ride, but studies show that strength training can also be a great way to shed some extra pounds.
Lifting weights and other resistance exercises have been shown to actually “rev up” your metabolism, which helps your body to continue to burn more calories even after your workout. This occurs for a couple of reasons:
- Strength training increases lean muscle mass, which plays a huge role on your resting metabolism. The more muscle you have, the more energy your body has to use at rest to maintain and fuel that muscle tissue.
- Strength and resistance training causes little tears in your muscles. These micro tears are the body’s adaptive response to this type of activity, and will allow your muscles to be built back up bigger and stronger. For your body to be able to rebuild those muscles properly, it needs energy (calories) and protein building blocks (amino acids).
2. Increases Muscle Mass, Strength, and Endurance
It’s pretty well established that strength training can increase your muscular strength and muscle mass. But along with the increases in strength and muscle size* did you know it can also increase your endurance and power?
*Don’t worry if your goal isn’t to gain mass or bulk — Depending on the type of strength training you are focusing on, you can still reap all of the benefits without ending up with big bulky muscles.
Muscular strength is defined as the maximum amount of force that a muscle can exert in a single effort or single rep of an exercise. Gaining muscular strength requires lower rep ranges with heavy weight.
On the other hand, muscular endurance is defined as the ability of a muscle to sustain movement for a long period of time. Gaining muscular endurance requires higher rep ranges typically coupled with lower weight.
Strength training is considered anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic refers to bursts of activity for short periods of time that your body does not require oxygen to accomplish. This particular type of exercise promotes strength, speed, and power.
3. Improves overall quality of life
Strength training can also boost performance in everyday life by improving your balance, coordination, and posture.
Even though you might feel tired after a hard training session, strength training can help you feel more energized and alert to keep you going throughout your day so that you can accomplish your everyday tasks.
It might also improve your sleep. Studies show that strength training can help you fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep because its effect on the reduction of stress hormones. Which leads us to benefit number four...
4. Helps to Reduce Stress
Stress is one of the biggest factors in overall health. High stress levels can increase your risk for health problems and chronic diseases.
When you start feeling the stress that everyday life can bring, you can turn to strength training to actually help you manage it. Studies show that consistent strength training can help improve your mental health by reducing stress, anxiety and depression, and it can even help boost your confidence and self-esteem.
Strength training is a great outlet to help reduce your stress levels because it gives you something to focus on that is completely in your control. You are able to set goals, and you have all the power to work towards and accomplish those goals.
Have you ever finished a workout and felt bad after it or wished you never completed the workout? Probably not.
That feeling is from the feel-good hormones called endorphins that are released throughout your workout. Endorphins interact with receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain, and they also boost your energy and positively affect your mood. This effect has been compared to the effect that morphine has on the body!
Strength training also has been proven to cause an “anxiolytic effect” in the body. Anxiolytics are medications that are used to inhibit anxiety and reduce stress.
Overcoming challenges and making progress with your strength training feels good! Seeing results both physically and mentally will ultimately lead to more confidence and self-esteem.
5. Decreases the risks for chronic diseases
The most common chronic health issues in American adults are type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. But the good news is studies have shown that strength training can actually work to help decrease the risk for all of these conditions.
Strength training can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, which can help lower or completely eliminate the need for type 2 diabetes medications, and in some cases even reverse the progression of the disease.
High Blood Pressure
Family history of high blood pressure? Strength training has been shown to reduce your risk of developing hypertension.
Already been diagnosed with high blood pressure? Incorporating strength training into your fitness routine can help lower your blood pressure (when combined with a healthy diet of course).
Strength training is also known to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Risk factors for cancer include obesity, poor diet and lack of physical activity. By adding in strength training to your routine, and fueling your body properly, you can reduce and totally eliminate these risks.
Heart disease or cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death in the United States. A sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, and high BMI all increase your risk for CVD. But even the healthiest and most active individuals are not totally immune to cardiovascular issues, especially those who have a family history of heart problems.
Strength training can help manage some of the risk factors that lead to the development of CVD like helping with weight and cholesterol management. Studies have shown strength training can increase your HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease LDL (bad cholesterol), which are some of the main indicators of heart health.
6. Improves bone health
Osteoporosis and sarcopenia are extremely common chronic diseases that people (especially females) can develop as they age.
Osteoporosis is a condition where the density and quality of bone is reduced leading to more fragile bones. In addition to a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, the best way to prevent osteoporosis is by strength training.
Load bearing exercise, like the movements you find in strength training, can help preserve bone by placing a mechanical load or heavy weight on bones. This stress causes the bones to create an adaptive response resulting in stronger bones.
Nutrition in Strength Training
Nutrition plays such a crucial role in getting results out of your training. If you want to see changes from all the hard work you are putting in, you need to make sure your nutrition is on point.
Fueling your body properly is going to help you reach your goals and maximize your gains. Making sure you are taking in adequate energy before, during, and after training is vital to see the results you want.
Low energy intake can lead to loss of muscle mass, loss of menstrual cycle in women, loss or failure to gain bone density, increased fatigue, increased risk of injury or illness, and can prolong the time you need to recover.
When it comes to optimizing your nutrition, there are two important areas to look at. Your daily “Everyday Nutrition” that is what you consume for meals and snacks throughout the day as well as your “Pre/During/Post” workout nutrition which involves what you are taking immediately before, during, and after a workout. The nutrition that you take in during this workout window will help make sure you are getting the most out of your workout and to help your body recover quickly and efficiently afterwards.
You might hear the term “macros” thrown out there when talking about nutrition, especially in the weightlifting world.
Macros, or macronutrients, refer to the big three components of the human diet — carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Strength training usually follows a macronutrient breakdown that is higher in carbohydrates and proteins and lower in fats to support this specific type of training.
Carbohydrate: 3-10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight should be taken in each day. This wide range takes into account the variations you see in people’s overall activity level, gender, and environmental conditions. Carbohydrates provide energy for your training, assist in muscle recovery, and help support and maintain blood glucose levels.
Protein: 1.2 – 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day is recommended for active people. Protein helps to build and maintain muscle mass, but also plays a vital role in the maintenance of the body’s tissues, immune system and other vital physiological and metabolic processes that keep the body functioning and strong.
Fat: Fats should make up 20%-35% of daily total calories. It is not recommended for athletes focusing on strength training to take in a high fat diet since fats are not utilized in muscle rebuilding and recovery. Fats are still necessary, however, for the absorption of nutrients and in the production of hormones.
Your post workout meal or snack is very important to optimize your strength gains. Those 30-60 minutes after your workout is known as your “anabolic window” where your muscles are in a sponge-like state and can more easily absorb essential nutrients to maximize muscle repair and recovery.
If you are training consistently and really looking to optimize your strength and muscle gains, it is crucial to make sure you are taking in high quality protein along with carbohydrates within 30-60 minutes after a workout.
Carbohydrate: You should try and take in 1.0-1.5 grams of carbs for each kilogram of body weight during the first 30-60 minutes after a workout. This will help to replace your muscle glycogen stores and ensure rapid recovery so you’re able to go full out at your next workout.
Protein: 20 grams of a high quality complete protein appears to be sufficient for most people to stimulate the muscle rebuilding process. Smaller individuals (less than 110 pounds) may be okay with less (e.g. 15 grams), and bigger individuals with larger amounts of lean body mass (over 220 pounds) may benefit from higher amounts (e.g. 25-30+ grams).
Micronutrients refer to vitamins and minerals that are needed in much smaller amounts, but are just as important as macronutrients.
For athletes practicing strength training, B vitamins, vitamin D, antioxidants, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and electrolytes are very important for muscle repair and recovery:
B vitamins play a huge role in the energy production process, and are needed to build and repair muscle.
Vitamin D is needed for adequate calcium absorption to promote bone health.
Antioxidants (including vitamin C, E, beta-carotene, and selenium) protect against oxidative stress, and reduce inflammation and muscle soreness. Oxidative stress is caused by an increase of cell-damaging free radicals, which are natural byproducts of cellular metabolism. Antioxidants protect cells by binding and eliminating free radicals’ ability to damage your body’s healthy cells.
Calcium is necessary for the growth, maintenance, and repair of bone tissue. It is also involved in the maintenance of blood calcium levels, regulation of muscle contractions, nerve conduction, and normal blood clotting.
Iron is needed to help form the oxygen-carrying proteins hemoglobin and myoglobin.
Zinc is needed for the growth and repair of muscle tissue, energy production, and immune support.
Magnesium is involved in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism. It also plays a role in the regulation of neuromuscular, cardiovascular, immune and hormonal functions.
Electrolytes like sodium, chloride, and potassium are utilized to send electrical signals necessary for muscle contraction. To ward off the crippling muscle cramp, its make sure you are maintaining your electrolyte levels.
Last but not least, hydration.
You’ve heard it before, our bodies are made of 60% water. Muscles, however, are almost 80% water. So it goes without saying that drinking plenty of fluids is pretty important…
But we’ll say it anyway — Hydration is crucial before, during, and after exercise. It’s recommended to drink 16-24 ounces of fluid for every pound of weight lost after exercise. Your during and post-workout drink is also an easy way to replenish electrolytes, while also making the hydration and fluid absorption process quicker and more efficient.
Incorporating strength training into your workout routine can affect the body in so many awesome ways, and really can help you to live a longer, healthier and more active life.
With any type of training, proper nutrition can really make or break it. If you want to see the most benefits from your training, be sure you’re going into your workouts fueled and hydrated, and you’re on point with your post-workout recovery nutrition.
If you have any questions on how to optimize your nutrition for your training, schedule a free consult with the INFINIT Formulation Specialists. Our team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are experts in sports and performance nutrition, and can develop a bullet-proof strategy tailored to you.
About the Author
Gabby Ferrara is a 2019-2020 Dietetic student intern who currently is completing her final undergraduate year at the University of Cincinnati and is preparing to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. INFINIT Nutrition is proud to partner with the University of Cincinnati's Coordinated Program in Dietetics (CPD) to provide our next generation of nutrition professionals an opportunity to spend time with the INFINIT Team and gain real-life experience of working at a sports nutrition company.