Fitness requires both regular exercise and good nutrition. Your nutritional requirements may change depending on what kind of exercise you are doing and how intensely you are training. Eating right can dramatically affect your performance and your recovery after exercise.
All of us, whether we are sedentary or active, need balanced amounts of the three major nutrients, carbohydrates, proteins and fats plus various vitamins, minerals and micronutrients.
Carbohydrates are our main energy source. Carbohydrates are converted to glycogen and stored in our muscles and liver for a quickly accessible energy reserve; we keep enough glycogen in our muscles for about two hours’ activity. Excess carbohydrates are converted to fat and stored as reserves to get us through times of famine.
Protein is used for growth and repair of muscles and other tissues.
Fats are a concentrated energy source and are used for brain and nerve growth and repair, for cellular metabolism and to manufacture hormones and other biochemicals that our bodies require. Whether you train or not, you need 20-30% of your calories to come from the right kind of fats. Avoid saturated and trans fats, and get most of your fat calories from monosaturated oils, like olive oil, and omega 3 fats, like in fish and flax seed.
When you do weight training, you use lots of energy and you cause microtrauma to the muscles. It makes sense, then, that weight trainers need extra carbohydrates and protein in their diets.
Weight trainers need 500-600 grams of carbohydrate per day, but not just any carbohydrates; they need good quality, low-glycemic, complex carbs. They also need more protein than non-exercisers, 0.6-0.8 grams per pound per day. Few weight trainers need to increase their protein consumption, however, because most people already eat more protein than they need.
The timing of your food intake is at least as important as how much you eat. Eating before and after a workout session prepares your body for exercise and helps it recover quickly afterward.
The most important meal for weight trainers is the one you eat shortly before a workout. This meal should contain 15-20 grams of high quality protein and 35-50 grams of carbohydrates. Studies show that this combination of nutrients taken shortly before weight training stimulates muscle growth and replenishes glycogen stores.
Your muscles only have enough glycogen for an hour or two of activity, so it’s important to supply them with extra energy if you are exercising for a long period of time. Eating an energy bar or a carbohydrate-containing sports drink every hour will help prevent muscle fatigue.
After a workout session, you need to refuel those muscles and give them the protein they need. Eat another 15-20 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbohydrate within a few hours after your workout session.
The most important nutrient for any athlete is water. Drink at least 16 ounces two hours before a workout, 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes throughout your workout, and another 16 ounces afterward. If your workouts are intense and long, you can weigh yourself before and after to see how much water you lose. You need to drink 16 ounces of water for every pound of weight you lose. Water is best, but electrolyte-containing sports drinks are good for longer workouts.
The bottom line for weight trainers is that you need a good, balanced diet with extra carbohydrates and protein. Before, during and after workout sessions—depending on how long and intense they are—you need extra protein, carbohydrates and water.