Fueling for Strength Training

Fueling for Strength Training

By: Sara Howe


Let’s set the scene; you are a woman and have been trying to “get toned” for years, and you constantly jump from one diet to another and may fear eating “too many carbs.” You do endless hours of cardio per week, you do pilates to “get long and lean muscles,” and you might pick up some weights 1-2 times per week. Does any of this sound familiar? In this article, I will explain how to fuel for strength training correctly, what it takes to build muscle and debunk some common myths about nutrition and strength training. 

First, let’s start with some honest truths. Building muscle takes a long time, and it takes work. It requires eating enough calories. It requires progressive overload. It requires rest. Talking about calories can be triggering, but I will explain it straightforwardly. For your body to build new muscle tissue (aka “get toned”), your body needs more energy. Calories are a unit of energy. When you say to yourself, “I am going to eat this XYZ…it’s a low calorie,”…that is saying, “I am going to eat this XYZ…it will not give me much energy”. So if you eat very little and want to build muscle–it won’t work. Here’s another truth…1,200 calories is the daily requirement for a TWO-YEAR-OLD. If you are reading this article, you are not two years old and therefore need QUITE a bit more than 1,200 calories per day, regardless of whether you want to build muscle. I will not get into specific calorie requirements in this article because they will vary from person to person based on many different factors. 

How do you properly fuel for strength training? The answer here can be very nuanced, but, you need to eat ENOUGH! Regarding protein needs, the recommendation to build or sustain muscle mass is at least .75-1 gram per pound of body weight per pound per day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, your protein intake should be between 113-150 grams of protein per day MINIMUM. Carbohydrates are also essential, especially if you are in strength training. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source out of all macronutrients. Many women think that “low carb” is the answer, and if you are strength training and want to build muscle, then “low carb” will not help your goals. Eat those carbs!! Eating 1-2 hours before your workout, you can eat a full meal with protein/fat/carbs. If you have 30 minutes or less before your workout, I recommend either a carb source or protein and carb. Carbohydrates are the most quickly digested and will be used during strength workouts. Fat takes longer to digest and can cause GI discomfort for some, so avoid high-fat foods before an activity if you have limited time. 

Here are FOUR common myths that we can stop believing:

  1. Picking up heavy weights is going to make me bulky. MYTH! That is not true. It takes A TON of work to “get bulky,” and the “toned” look you are probably going for requires you to pick up some heavy weights. Don’t fear lifting heavy. It’s so empowering. 
  2. Fasted workouts are better than fed workoutsMYTH! If you are strength training and want to become stronger and build muscle, you need to eat before your workouts. Our bodies perform better in a fed state, and I bet you’ll be able to lift more and feel better if you are provided. Try it out. 
  3. My body can only digest 20-30 grams of protein each meal. MYTH! Our bodies don’t just stop absorbing protein when it reaches a certain amount. Your body will use it. Some people may have GI issues when going above 60 grams per meal, depending on the person and their regular protein intake. Again, this is nuanced and individualized, but I wanted to emphasize that your body will absorb the protein you consume.
  4. Skipping breakfast is good for me. MYTH! You have been fasting for about 10-12 hours when you wake up. For a woman, that is plenty of time. Eating a larger breakfast with at least 30 grams of protein will prepare you for a successful day. Suppose you struggle with afternoon cravings or overeating at night. Try to make your breakfast larger. If you are struggling with the afternoon/evening cravings, it’s likely due to under-fueling at the beginning of the day. 

Please let me know if you enjoyed this article and would like me to expand on any of the topics! If you have questions or comments, I am most active on IG, and I will also include my website–www.saratuckerhowe.com if you are interested in health coaching or macro coaching.

NFM Staff
Author: NFM Staff

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