The goals of a weightlifting diet should be to lose fat, increase muscle mass and increase energy. Of course, as we discussed on the previous page, coming up with the right nutritional formula for achieving these goals can be challenging. The following categories, however, can simplify the process -- helping you figure out what to eat, and when.
Meals per day: Weightlifters should eat throughout the day -- every two to three hours, adding up to around six to eight small, consistently sized meals. This ensures you have a constant supply of energy and aren't tempted to binge. Be sure you eat about 60 minutes before a workout and then within one to two hours following one. It's acceptable to consume calories through bars or shakes during a long workout. It's also helpful to eat a small meal right before bed.
Determining the makeup of your meals: Generally speaking, low-fat meals are ideal for weightlifters. How low the fat should be is up for debate. Some trainers and nutritionists believe a meal's fat content should be as low as 10 percent; others believe more fat -- up to 30 percent of a meal -- can be consumed. Both protein and carbohydrates are critical. Protein can make up around 20 to 30 percent of a meal, whereas carbohydrates can round it out at roughly 40 to 60 percent. Some trainers even recommend that beginners consume 1 to 1.5 grams of protein and 2 to 3 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight in determining a range of how much food you should consume each day [source: Stoppani, et. al].
Determining your daily caloric goals: To build muscle mass, you want to consume more calories than you burn. If you are currently physically active, you can multiply each pound of bodyweight you have by 20 to come up with a fairly reliable indicator of how many calories you should consume in a day [source: Stoppani, et. al].
Snacking wisely: There are many snack bars available for weightlifters. To choose the right one, look for a carbohydrate to protein ratio of between 2:1 and 4:1. Also make sure its total calories are under 200.
Hydrating yourself well: Proper hydration is important for a number of reasons, including replenishing your fluids and keeping the cartilage in your joints hydrated [sources: Robbins]. Water is always a great option, but sports drinks can be beneficial as well -- particularly during or right after a workout -- because they can temporarily raise glucose levels, providing the body with extra energy. Make sure you're drinking eight 8-ounce (227 milliliter) glasses of water per day in addition to what you drink during your workouts.
Other tips: There are a lot of rules and formulas involved with weightlifting-related eating plans. Such constraints can make it hard to stick with a diet. To avoid this pitfall, consider taking a cheat day once a week.
If you're wondering which specific foods you should choose, we've got that information waiting for you on the next page.