Home Fitness Weight Training Nutrition Dietary Requirements

Dietary Requirements

omelette and salad

When most individuals think about the general concepts of strength training and building muscle, they imagine spending time in the weight room, aggressively working their muscles, and pushing themselves to their physical limits in order to make progressive gains in muscular strength, mass and density. In reality, physical exercise is only one component of strength training. Another major and equally important aspect is what you feed your body each and every day.

Maintaining proper dietary intake, particularly one that's attuned to your strength training goals, is absolutely crucial for all weight trainers. This begins with ensuring that you're consuming whole foods that are unprocessed and nutritious in order to receive the vast majority of your calories.

It also includes maintaining the proper ratios of fat, carbohydrates and protein, all of which have their own irreplaceable roles in strength training. Adhering to a proper strength training diet also involves consuming plenty of vitamins and minerals, which facilitate all bodily processes including muscle growth and much more.

By enhancing your knowledge of dietary topics such as the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates, the dangers of trans fat and the importance of consuming complete proteins, you'll equip yourself with the tools needed to design a diet that will facilitate any given strength training goal. This goal could be becoming a bodybuilder, losing weight, or (most likely) something in between.

In any case, eating whatever you want, whenever you want will not provide you with the appropriate kind of fuel you need to support your strength training program. Instead, it's necessary to carefully consider the types of foods you eat every day, both on training days and rest days.

The Importance of a Natural, Whole Foods Diet

As you continue to progress in your strength training career, your caloric requirements will rise as well. This results from a number of factors:

  • Calories are needed before the workout in order to energize your body and mind.

  • Calories provide necessary fuel for the actual workouts you perform, while you're performing them.

  • Calories are necessary immediately after the workout in order to refill depleted energy stores.

  • Calories are especially needed while you're resting, as this is when the majority of muscle growth occurs.

  • Strength training will cause your body to burn fat and gain muscle, resulting in a greater total body weight than you had previously. Muscle tissue requires more calories than fat by volume in order to sustain itself. As such, you'll need to consume more calories just to support your bodily functions (digestion, circulation, etc.) after you've made gains in muscular mass, strength and density.

However, it would be incorrect to assume that these calories can come from any source. In fact, paying careful attention to the types of foods you consume is crucially important not only for weight-loss seekers, but for strength trainers as well. Eating the wrong types of foods could leave you feeling lethargic and improperly energized for your workout, or even reduce the effectiveness of your workout after you complete it.

As a general rule of thumb, all individuals who decide to engage in a strength training program should strive to include as many natural, whole, unprocessed foods in their diet as possible. In short, these are the types of foods that our bodies are designed to easily digest, and the foods from which our bodies can most easily extract nutrition. Processed and artificial foods typically consist largely of empty calories, meaning that they lack vitamins and nutrients despite their high caloric counts.

Examples of foods that are natural, healthy and unprocessed include the following:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Brown rice
  • Whole grains (such as barley and quinoa)
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Olive oil

Examples of foods that are heavily processed and should be avoided by strength trainers include the following:

  • Candy bars
  • Soda
  • Snack crackers
  • Snack cakes
  • Frozen "TV dinners"
  • Hot dogs
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Most fast food items
  • Sugary cereals

As you can probably tell from the above examples, distinguishing between natural whole foods and unhealthy processed ones is usually a matter of common sense. However, the distinction becomes less clear for foods such as bread and pasta, which typically undergo minimal processing before they hit your dinner table.

It's very important to inspect the label to determine the product's ingredients in this type of scenario to check for key indicators of the product's nutritional value. In addition to inspecting the product's nutrition facts (total fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein, carbs, vitamins, etc.), check the ingredients list while keeping a few items in mind:

  • A huge list of ingredients you don't recognize is typically a bad sign. In fact, the fewer ingredients included in the product overall, the better.

  • The ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance. In other words, if the first ingredient listed is "high-fructose corn syrup," you'll know that most of the product consists of sugar and should therefore be avoided.

  • If the product is grain-related, the first ingredient listed (other than water, perhaps) should be the whole version of that grain, not a processed version such as "enriched bleached flour."

The Different Types of Fat

oil and butter

Of all the nutrients, fat is perhaps the least understood. Many individuals, even those who are actively researching ways to lose weight, tend to believe that fat is a nutrient that should be avoided at all costs. However, in reality, fat is a crucial component of any well-balanced diet, and the diet maintained by a strength trainer should be no exception.

Just a few reasons why fat is important include:

  • Fat provides energy to the human body.

  • Fat surrounds and protects internal organs.

  • Fat is crucial to cellular development and several cellular processes.

  • Fat regulates the production of hormones.

  • Fat regulates body temperature.

  • Fat transports many vitamins through the body.

Nutritionists typically recommend that individuals receive approximately 20% to 35% of their daily calories through fat. If you consume 2,000 calories per day, this would equate to between 44 and 78 grams of fat daily.

Of course, consuming too much fat or the wrong types of fat will be detrimental to your strength training program, as well as your overall health. For this reason, it's crucial that you learn to distinguish between the different types of fat, of which there are two general categories: saturated fats and unsaturated fats.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are most commonly found in animal meat, though they're also found in palm oil and coconut oil. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Many studies have indicated that eating too much saturated fat increases the risk of developing heart disease, as well as having excess levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. According to the USDA, individuals should strive to consume fewer than 20 grams of saturated fat daily.

Examples of foods typically rich in saturated fat include:

  • Cheese
  • Meat
  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm oil

Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats are most commonly found in plant-based foods such as vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as the oils that come from these types of foods. Unsaturated fats remain liquid at room temperature. Although most types of unsaturated fats are healthy when consumed in moderation, one unsaturated fat - trans fat - should be avoided entirely.

Trans Fat

Trans fat is considered the worst type of fat by many doctors despite the fact that its unsaturated. The reason why trans fat is so detrimental to health is that it lowers HDL (good) cholesterol levels and raises LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, subsequently increasing your risk for heart disease. Other negative effects of consuming trans fat include increased inflammation, plaque buildup in the arteries and increased triglycerides (fat) in the blood.

Trans fats are rarely found in nature, and are instead produced through a laboratory process known as hydrogenation, which occurs when vegetable oil is infused with hydrogen. Although this process gives the oil a longer shelf life, it also makes it more difficult to digest and detrimental to healthy cholesterol levels.

In recent years, many food manufactures have reduced or eliminated trans fats from their products. However, it's still advisable to examine the labels of certain types of foods, such as the following, to ensure that they're free of trans fat:

  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Crackers
  • French fries
  • Donuts
  • Margarines
  • Shortenings

As a strength trainer, your goal should be to consume as little trans fat per day as possible. Although this may seem easy, it's important to realize that if a single serving of any product contains less than .5 grams of trans fat, the manufacturer can legally list "0 grams trans fat" on the nutritional label. As such, it's important to check the ingredients list for the following terms:

  • "Fully hydrogenated oil" contains zero trans fat

  • "Completely hydrogenated oil" contains zero trans fat

  • "Partially hydrogenated oil" definitely contains trans fat

  • "Hydrogenated oil" may contain trans fat

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fat (or MUFAs) is a healthy fat found naturally in many types of foods and oils. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, but become solid when chilled. According to recent studies, consuming monounsaturated fats decreases your risk for heart disease by regulating blood cholesterol levels. Other studies indicate that eating monounsaturated fats may help to regulate insulin levels and stabilize blood sugar, which lowers your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

The following foods are rich in monounsaturated fat, which is health-positive when consumed in moderation:

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Peanut butter
  • Avocados
  • Various nuts
  • Various seeds

Polyunsaturated Fat

Polyunsaturated fat (or PUFAs) is another type of healthy fat that's naturally found in oils and other plant-based foods. Polyunsaturated fat remains liquid at room temperature and when chilled. Recent studies indicate that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat in your diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and help to prevent Type 2 diabetes. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) including Omega-6s and Omega-3s are considered polyunsaturated fats.

Examples of foods rich in polyunsaturated fats include:

  • Soybean oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Corn oil
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Trout
  • Mackerel
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a subset of polyunsaturated fats. By consuming a sufficient amount of omega-3s, you'll reduce your risk of developing heart disease, reduce the amount of plaque and triglycerides in your blood, lower your risk of experiencing abnormal heartbeats, and reduce your blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids are referred to as "essential" because your body cannot produce them on its own. Instead, omega-3s must be obtained through food sources such as the following:

  • Albacore tuna
  • Sardines
  • Trout
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Walnuts
  • Flax oil

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 fatty acids represent another subset of polyunsaturated fats, and are considered "essential" due to the fact that the body cannot produce them on its own. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), omega-6s are an important part of any diet, and between 5% and 10% of your daily calories should come directly from omega-6s.

By consuming omega-6 fatty acids, you'll reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, stabilize your insulin levels and reduce your blood pressure. Although omega-6s were once thought to increase arterial inflammation, this notion has been disproved by the AHA.

Sources of omega-6 essential fatty acids include the following:

  • Avocados
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Flax oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower seed oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Corn oil
  • Cashews
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Durum wheat

The Different Types of Carbohydrates

bread and veggies

Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy. Carbs are crucial to a strength training routine because without them, you won't have the energy necessary to complete the exercises with the appropriate intensity.

Maintaining a diet that's deficient in carbohydrates will also impact your mental health in that you'll have difficulty concentrating and an ongoing sense of fatigue and tiredness.

Carbohydrates are divided into two categories: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Both types of carbs have their own specific roles in a weight training program. Most nutritionists agree that carbohydrates should make up approximately 50% to 60% of your total daily caloric intake.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbs, also known as simple sugars, consist of either one sugar molecule (monosaccharides) or two sugar molecules (disaccharides). The body digests simple carbohydrates and converts them into sugar very quickly, providing you with a near-instant spike of energy that wears off in a short period of time.

In general, simple carbs should be replaced with complex ones as often as possible, with one notable exception: the meal or snack you consume immediately after a workout. After a session of intense strength training, your energy stores will be depleted. Eating a snack consisting at least partially of simple carbohydrates is an excellent way to quickly refill these energy stores, and prevents your body from turning to muscle tissue as a source of fuel. In virtually all other cases, you should try to consume complex carbs instead of simple carbohydrates.

Example sources of simple carbohydrates include:

  • Refined flour products (white bread, cereal, etc.)
  • Certain fruits
  • Certain vegetables
  • Milk
  • Syrups
  • Candy
  • Soda
  • Sugar

Obviously, certain simple carbohydrates are healthier to consume than others. For example, foods such as milk, fruits and vegetables contain naturally-occurring sugars, which are far better than the refined sugars that are added to candy, syrups and soda.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs consist of at least three sugar molecules, and are otherwise known as polysaccharides. Complex carbohydrates are digested by the body slowly, meaning that it takes a significant amount of time for the body to turn the carbs into sugar.

Complex carbs are generally considered healthier than simple carbs because they help to stabilize blood sugar levels, minimize insulin spikes and provide a long-lasting sensation of fullness. A weight-loss seeker, for example, would be wise to eat a snack including complex carbs instead of one including simple carbs, even if both snacks contain the exact same number of calories. This is because the individual will remain satisfied for a longer period of time after eating the complex carb snack.

Although complex carbohydrates should be included with virtually every meal you consume, strength trainers should pay special attention to ensuring that they consume them prior to a workout. By doing so, you'll have the long-lasting energy you need to perform your workout with the proper intensity, making you less likely to suffer fatigue and burnout prematurely.

Examples sources of complex carbohydrates include:

  • Whole grain products (whole wheat bread, cereal, etc.)
  • Whole grains (quinoa, millet, buckwheat, etc.)
  • Oatmeal
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Fruits (apples, pears, blueberries, strawberries, etc.)
  • Vegetables
  • Brown rice
  • Popcorn
  • Potatoes


healthy proteins

At their most basic level, proteins are the building blocks of life. Also known as amino acids, proteins are absolutely crucial to the repair and reconstruction of your muscle fibers not only immediately following a strength training workout, but during the rest and recovery period between workouts as well.

Without a sufficient intake of protein, your body will literally lack the physical materials necessary to manufacture muscles with additional size, strength and density. This is the reason why protein is often considered the most important macronutrient for strength trainers.

However, protein is vital to other body tissues besides muscles, including organs, skin, bones and more.

For the general population, nutritionists recommend consuming 0.4 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. In other words, a 200-pound individual would need to consume 80 grams of protein daily in order to remain healthy. However, strength trainers require more protein than the average individual in order to support progressive gains in muscular mass, strength and density. As a strength trainer, you should consume at least .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds, you should therefore consume at least 160 grams of protein daily. Depending on your metabolism and the intensity of your training, you may need to consume as much as 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids

Proteins are divided into two categories: essential and non-essential. Nine amino acids are considered essential, while thirteen are considered non-essential. The difference between the two is that essential amino acids only come from food sources, while non-essential amino acids are produced by the body. However, this isn't to say that you can't receive non-essential amino acids from food sources as well.

Complete and Incomplete Proteins

Proteins are also divided into two additional categories: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, while incomplete proteins only contain some essential amino acids. When you consume an incomplete protein, you must combine it with a different incomplete protein in order to receive all nine essential amino acids.

One of the most common examples of combining two incomplete proteins in order to form a complete protein is rice and beans. Brown rice contains some of the nine essential amino acids, while beans contain the rest. The fact that both foods are incomplete proteins is irrelevant, so long as the two are eaten together. Other examples of complimentary proteins include:

  • Legumes and seeds
  • Legumes and nuts
  • Legumes and grains
  • Dairy and grains
  • Dairy and seeds

Examples of complete proteins include the following:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Yogurt

Examples of incomplete proteins include the following:

  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Grains
  • Corn
  • Peas

The Importance of Knowing Your Basal Metabolic Rate

healthy loss

As a strength trainer, one of your most important objectives is ensuring that your dietary plan is line with your strength training goals. This involves not just the types of foods that you eat, but the total number of calories you consume on a daily basis.

Before it's possible to determine whether you're consuming the right types of calories in the correct amounts to facilitate a given strength training goal, you must first calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR.

Your Basal Metabolic Rate is defined as the minimum number of calories you must consume in a day in order to sustain your bodily functions in a state of rest.

Your BMR is equivalent to the number of calories you would burn in one day if you spent that entire day sleeping in bed. Although you may assume that little to no calories would be burned with such an activity, the reality is that bodily processes such as breathing, digestion, blood cell production and body temperature maintenance account for roughly 70% of the total calories burned by the average person in a day. The remaining 30% of calories are spent on physical activity.

Calculating Your Basal Metabolic Rate

In order to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate, you'll need to use what's known as the Harris-Benedict formula. This formula takes into account factors such as weight, height and age, and differs for men and women. The formulas are as follows:

BMR Formula (Standard English)

  • Women BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

  • Men BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in year)

An example of how the Harris-Benedict formula works for women is provided below:

Subject: Female, 30 years of age, 5' 6" tall (167.6 cm), 120 pounds (54.5 kilos)

BMR Formula (Standard English)

Women BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

Calculated BMR: 655 + 522 + 310 - 141 = 1,346 calories/day

Calculating Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure

Although your BMR is a useful and interesting piece of information on its own, its practical use is limited because you'll never spend the entire day sleeping in bed, especially if you're an active strength trainer. Instead, it's more valuable to calculate your total daily energy expenditure, or TDEE. This is a measure of your BMR plus all of the calories you burn each day through physical activity. In short, your TDEE value is the total amount of calories you burn each day.

In order to calculate your TDEE, you'll need to use the following simple table, which requires you to multiply your BMR by a certain figure based on your activity level:

Activity Multiplier

  • Sedentary = BMR X 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)

  • Lightly Active = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)

  • Moderately Active = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)

  • Very Active = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/wk)

  • Extremely Active = BMR X 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports & physical job or 2X day training, etc.)

In the previous example, our female subject calculated her BMR to be 1,346 calories per day. Let's assume that her activity level is very active, giving us a multiplier of 1.725.

TDEE: 1.725 X 1,339 = 2,322 calories/day (the average number of calories she burns each day)

Weight Training Strategy #1: Increase Lean Muscle Mass and Weight

As mentioned previously, knowing your BMR and especially your TDEE value will assist you in aligning your dietary plan with your strength training goals. In this example, let's assume that your goal is to build lean muscle mass while increasing your overall body weight. This is a typical goal for strength trainers who are satisfied with their current body fat percentage but wish to make gains in muscular strength, mass and density. As you make these gains, your body will naturally become heavier due to the fact that muscle weighs more than fat by volume, and your body will gain muscular bulk during your strength training program.

In this example, you would need to consume more calories per day than your calculated TDEE value. Doing so will provide you with the energy (carbohydrates) needed to fuel your workouts, as well as the building blocks (protein) needed to build larger, stronger, denser muscles after your workout.

Weight Training Strategy #2: Increase Lean Muscle Mass and Lose Weight

Another typical weight training goal is to burn fat and lose overall body weight while building muscle mass. This scenario is a little trickier in light of the fact that the lean muscle you build will be heavier than the fat you're burning. As a result, your body's natural tendency will be to increase in overall weight, despite the fact that you'll be gaining a more lean and toned appearance.

Although this shouldn't be a concern for most individuals (after all, the best weight loss wisdom holds that you should concern yourself more with your body measurements, your appearance and how you feel, not what a scale tells you), it could be important if you're trying to maintain a specific weight for a certain sport, such as a fighting competition.

In order to lower your overall body weight, burn fat and still gain lean muscle mass, you'll need to consume fewer calories each day than your calculated TDEE value. PlayModel Each time you establish a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories, you'll lose one pound of body weight. However, you'll need to make a couple of adjustments to your diet if you want this strategy to work as intended:

  • Eat less fat and simple carbohydrates in order to reduce your total caloric intake and lose weight.

  • Eat more protein in order to give your body the materials it needs to build bigger, stronger, denser muscles.

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