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How to Form an Eating Plan for Weight Lifting

The goals of a weightlifting diet should be to lose fat, increase muscle mass and increase energy.
The goals of a weightlifting diet should be to lose fat, increase muscle mass and increase energy.
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Add up your daily meals, divide them by fat, protein and carbohydrate percentages, multiply them by your daily caloric needs and what do you have? Likely, confusion.

Sometimes it seems that forming an eating plan for weightlifting is more suitable for mathletes than athletes. To complicate matters, there are numerous areas of disagreement in the fitness profession. While there are a few dietary tips for weightlifting in which there's a consensus -- like increasing your hydration, for example -- there are plenty more where the guidelines represent differing opinions among professionals.

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Take the consumption of fat, protein and carbohydrates for example. The dietary strategies involving the ideal daily intake of these compounds are as varied as the nutritionists who recommend them.

Fortunately, the differences in opinion related to a weightlifter's nutrition are seldom wildly incompatible. For instance, you're not going to find one nutritionist who recommends changing your diet to 90 percent protein while another suggests 90 percent carbs. The differences in approach are subtle, and that's good news for you. It means that if your current eating plan isn't working well for you, a few tweaks may be all that's necessary to get it on track.

So, if you're weightlifting and wanting to start a complementary eating plan, start with our guidelines on the following pages. You can then consult with a nutritionist and physical trainer to gain a more detailed evaluation of how the diet is working for you.

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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.

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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.

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By now you know that a proper weightlifting diet should be somewhat lowin fat with a balance of protein and carbohydrates that slightly favors more carbs. Next, we'll show you the types of these compounds you should choose.

Fats: Generally speaking, unsaturated fats are best for any person's health. Sources of this kind of fat include avocados, nuts, olive oil, flaxseed oil and fatty fish. However, weightlifters can get by with slightly more saturated fat than most people, as a diet too low in cholesterol can lower strength levels [source: Stoppani, et. al].

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Protein: Choose proteins with a high biological value (BV) for better absorption and muscle growth [source: Evans]. Milk and eggs both have high BV. When it comes to meat, fish has a higher BV than beef and chicken. For most people, it's easy getting enough protein from these sources; vegetarians, however, may need to add supplemental protein to their diets [source: Cane, et. al].

Carbohydrates: For weightlifters, it's really important to know whether a carb is slow digesting or fast digesting. Slow-digesting carbohydrates don't cause as rapid a spike in your blood-sugar levels as their counterparts. They are often known as complex carbohydrates, and they should comprise most of your carb consumption. Buckwheat, brown rice, whole grain pasta, yams and oatmeal all qualify as slow-digesting carbohydrates. The only time you should consider fast-digesting carbs, like white breads, rices and pastas, is directly following a hard workout, when it's ideal to have a blood-sugar spike [source: Robbins].

Supplements can also be an important part of a dietary plan. Caffeine, creatine, beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB), arginine, cocoa and cinnamon have all been shown to benefit strength gaining. While a well-balanced diet should supply you with the nutrients you need, intense exercise can create deficiencies, so extra vitamins and minerals are sometimes desirable. Just keep in mind that you should only take supplements under a doctor's supervision. Some can interfere with prescription medications, while others can lead to toxicity and overdoses.

Keep reading for lots more information.

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Sources

  • Cane, Deidre Johnson; Cane, Jonathon and Joe Glickman. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training." Alpha. Dec. 6, 2005. (April 9, 2012)
  • Evans, Nick. "Men's Body Sculpting." Human Kinetics. Oct. 20, 2010. (April 9, 2012)
  • Keller, Larry and Schuler, Lou. "The Men's Health Hard Body Plan: The Ultimate 12-Week Program for Burning Fat and Building Muscle." Rodale Books. Nov. 18, 2000. (April 9, 2012)
  • Men's Fitness. "The Fit 5: Starting a Nutrition Plan." (April 9, 2012) http://www.mensfitness.com/nutrition/the-fit-5-starting-a-nutrition-plan
  • Robbins, Greg. "9 Ways to Crush Workouts Forever." Men's Fitness. (April 9, 2012) http://www.mensfitness.com/training/build-muscle/9-ways-to-crush-workouts-forever
  • Stoppani, Jim and Velazquez, Eric. "25 Ways to Improve Your Workouts." Muscle & Fitness. (April 9, 2012) http://www.muscleandfitness.com/training/25-ways-improve-your-workouts
  • Stoppani, Jim and Wuebben, Joe. "Basic Nutrition." Muscle & Fitness. (April 9, 2012) http://www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/basic-nutrition
  • Wuebben, Joe. "Eating While You Lift." Muscle & Fitness. (April 9, 2012)http://www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/other/eating-while-you-lift

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