Nutrition 101 For Strength Athletes, Building Muscle, & Body Fat Loss

If you don’t have much knowledge about nutrition and how it affects your physique and performance, this article is going to be the best place to start. We are going to go over the basics of nutrition for strength in its simplest form to ensure that you know exactly how nutrition works. I don’t want to waste your time explaining advanced nutritional information when you don’t have a good grasp of the basics. If you already know the basics, like calories and macronutrients and how they affect body composition and strength, then you can go ahead and jump to Nutrition 201, which explains more advanced tactics.

nutrition for strength athletes
You have to eat right to get results!

The Importance Of Nutrition

Nutrition is going to play the biggest part in your journey to your best physique and top performance. Training, recovery, and supplementation all take a back seat to nailing down your nutritional intake. Nutrition will be the biggest factor in your success, or failure.

You can have the best training program ever made, but with a shitty diet, you’ll still get shitty results. Even if you make use of every recovery technique possible, without a nutritional plan that ensures proper recovery, you won’t recover well at all. Also, if you are somebody that thinks that supplements even come close to the importance of nutritional intake, you need to rethink your “knowledge”.

So, it’s only right that you get a well rounded understanding of how nutrition for strength works and how it will affect your body composition and your performance in the gym. Too many people follow fad diets made by people who don’t use science as a basis of their diet creation. Instead of thinking you are doing right by following the latest trend, lets make sure you know how the whole nutrition thing actually works!

Overview Of Calories

Your body gets its energy for Calories. Almost everything that you eat has calories in it. Even those calorie free food have a few calories per serving, which companies are allowed to ignore in their nutritional labels. A lot of people, especially those who are just starting out, have a bad relationship with calories. They think that they need to lower their calorie intake drastically to make a difference. If this is you, you need to make a change. Calories are your best friend to ensure that you have great performance in the gym and get the physique that you yearn for!

You can overeat calories, but you can also undereat calories. Both of these situations will make your physique suffer. First, you need to understand that there is a certain amount of calories that you can consume that will make you maintain your current weight. This number changes daily, so most calorie calculators make things complicated for no reason. My best approach is to just multiply your body weight, in lbs, by 15 if you are female or 16 if you are a male. This is usually a good estimation of your maintenance calories.

What Is The Result Of Calories?

Overeating will cause excess fat gain, along with muscle gain if you are using resistance training. The key to building muscle without gaining much fat is a slight calorie surplus, where you are only eating 100-200 calories over your daily maintenance calories. Overeating usually helps your performance, especially with strength. Endurance may take a hit as your body weight increases and you need more energy to move your body weight through training.

Undereating will cause fat loss, and lean body mass loss if you are not cutting calories properly. Too much of a calorie deficit can lead to metabolic adaptation, which slows your metabolism to a crawl and makes losing weight much harder than it should be. You need to find the sweet spot of eating just enough calories to ensure that you are losing maximal fat while retaining muscle and keeping your metabolism active. My typical recommendation is to start with multiplying your body weight by 12 for females, or 13 for males. If you are losing about .5-1.5 lbs per week, you are good to go.

Overall calorie intake affects your physique and performance more than anything else. Food composition, macronutrients, micronutrients, and everything else is less important than overall calorie intake.

Overview Of Protein

Protein is the most important macronutrient of the 3 for physique and performance. This is because it is responsible for lean body mass growth and retention. Your muscles need sufficient amounts of protein to avoid a negative nitrogen balance and overall muscle loss. Carbs and fat can be adjusted up and down with little affect on body composition, assuming calorie intake is the same. However, protein cannot be adjusted without consequence. If you have too low of a protein intake, you risk muscle loss and making your body retain more body fat instead. This can result in similar weight loss as a high protein intake, but your physique will not look as good.

Protein intake should be around 1g per lb of body weight. This is actually a little bit more than you need to maximize protein synthesis, recovery, and ensure lean body mass retention and/or growth. However, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, so it is great to include a little extra. When you are cutting calories, you tend to have a higher appetite. A higher protein intake will help keep you feeling more full, and for longer too.

Protein amounts to 4 calories per gram. However, due to the thermogenic effect of food, protein can actually amount to more like 3-3.5 calories per gram, since your body needs to use more energy to digest protein. That is another reason why a high protein intake is optimal for those looking to improve their physique. Studies have compared the same calorie intake with varying levels of protein intake, and they always show that the higher protein intake leads to more fat loss and better lean body mass retention during a cutting phase.

eat to win - nutrition for strength
Eat To Win!

Overview Of Fat

Dietary fat does not automatically store as body fat. Lets make that point clear right away. Low fat diets used this fear to make you think that you should avoid dietary fat altogether. You definitely should not. Dietary fat is needed for many of the important functions in your body.

One of the most important things that fat does is regulates your hormones in your body. Low fat intake can cause a hormonal imbalance, which can negatively affect your body composition and performance. Lower fat intake is usually linked to lower levels of testosterone, which can lead to higher levels of body fat and reduced strength. This isn’t just important for men, either. Women need testosterone too.

Another great thing about fat is that it helps improve the lubrication of your joints, which we all know is very important for the longevity of our lifting careers. If you plan on lifting heavy weights and getting stronger, keeping your joints healthy and injury free is a top priority.

Fat amounts to 9 calories per gram, which makes it the most calorie dense macronutrient by far. It is very easy to overeat with high fat foods. Just sit yourself in front of a jar of peanut butter and you will understand what I mean! Your dietary fat intake should amount to about 20-30% of your total calorie intake. Any higher intake will lower your carbohydrate intake, which is very important for your performance, which we don’t want to hinder!

Overview Of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates should be used as your body’s main source of quick and quality energy. While there are low carb and even no carb dietary plans out there, I don’t recommend them in general. Carbohydrates are not an issue for most people. They are not evil and do not cause you to gain more fat than any other macronutrient, regardless of what your local gym guru says. And the daytime TV show hosts should not be your source of nutritional advice either!

Carbohydrates, whether simple or complex, are great performance boosters. People that have went through a period of cutting calories and cutting carbs will tell you that they lost a little bit of performance due to the carbohydrate reduction. Carbs are needed to produce muscle glycogen, which is a huge source of energy in the gym. Being glycogen depleted leads to less strength and endurance in the gym. We don’t want this to happen, so we don’t want to cut out carbs.

Carbohydrates amount to 4 calories per gram. Your diet should already have the amounts of protein and fat already calculated. Whatever calories you have left over should go towards carbohydrates. While studies have shown that high amounts of sugar intake doesn’t lead to body fat storage, as long as calorie intake is managed, there is no reason to consume a rapidly digesting sugar without physical activity coming soon. Keep your simple carbohydrate/sugar intake around your workouts and the rest of the day can be complex carbohydrates. This will keep you feeling great throughout the day and avoid any sugar highs and lows that some experience from high sugar intake and no physical activity afterward.

Nutrition For Strength & Strength Athletes

If you are looking to build strength, you need proper nutritional intake. Strength athletes need to make a weight class for their competitions, which also makes nutrition very important. Even for the regular trainee that cares about building strength and a respectable physique, nutrition is the most important factor of the equation.

If you absolutely don’t care about your physique and don’t have to make a certain weight class, eating more than your maintenance calories regularly will boost your strength more than anything else. If you need to make a weight class, you know that you cannot let your weight get out of control. That also means that you should maximize the amount of lean body mass and limit your body fat, since body fat doesn’t produce performance enhancement.

You can get, and stay, lean without sacrificing much strength. You just need to ensure that you don’t cut calories at too fast of a rate. That means you need to have a longer cutting period to avoid losing much strength. This also means that you need to keep your carbohydrate intake as high as you can throughout the cutting period. Also, don’t drop your protein intake since lean body mass usually equals less strength as well.

Beginners and intermediate trainees will benefit from a regular cutting plan where you are in a mild/moderate deficit every day. This small deficit won’t affect performance too much, and will allow you to improve your physique. The more advanced trainee has more muscle mass and higher levels of strength. This makes lean body mass loss and strength loss during a cut much easier. In this scenario, calorie cycling is my go to technique, which I will be talking about in the next article, Nutrition 201.

Nutrition For Building Muscle

To build muscle, you need to ensure that your protein intake is high enough and that you are not in a calorie deficit. While it is possible to build muscle with small calorie deficits, it definitely isn’t optimal, especially after your first year or two of training. The longer you have been training, the harder it becomes to gain muscle. Natural trainees usually have an upper limit to muscle mass that they can attain without gaining excess body fat. That means the longer you have been training, the less of a calorie surplus that you should utilize.

It isn’t very hard to ensure that you are building muscle with your nutritional intake. Just hit your calorie goals every day and monitor progress. A slight calorie surplus of 100-200 calories per day will limit fat gain while you attempt to put on muscle mass. The higher the surplus, the more fat you will be putting on. Just follow the general guidelines when I went over calories and macros and you’ll be on your way!

Beginners see the best muscle gains of anyone, which is why I never recommend that a beginner starts out with a cut, as long as their body fat percentage isn’t too high. Beginners that want to have a six pack but only weight 170 as it is would benefit much more from a long bulking phase, in which they can limit fat gain and get those awesome “newbie” gains. Believe me, a six pack at 150 lbs isn’t close to as impressive as it can be at 190+ lbs.

Nutrition For Body Fat Loss

It doesn’t matter how many calories you are burning with your weight training and cardio if you are not putting yourself in the position for a caloric deficit energy balance. I actually recommend cutting back on cardio when cutting, since energy is lower overall and it can be more detrimental for lean body mass loss. Instead of worrying about how many calories you are burning when you workout and trying to always up that amount, I recommend lowering your calorie intake a little more. This will account for the fewer calories burnt during your workouts and still give you the same results.

Like I stated before, multiply your body weight by 12 for females, or 13 for males to find your starting calorie intake to lose body fat. Protein intake should stay the same, at 1g per lb of body weight. Your fat intake should stay at the same percentage of your total calories, which will actually be lowering your total fat intake a bit since you are lowering your calories. The rest of your calories will come from carbohydrates, which will be much lower than the amount you consume on a maintenance or bulking plan.

This lowered carb intake can, and probably will hinder your performance in the gym. This doesn’t not automatically mean that you are losing muscle mass. It is actually a result of lower glycogen stores in your muscles, meaning less energy for the workouts. The higher your calorie deficit, the worse your performance will get. Don’t worry about your strength though. Muscle memory makes gaining that strength back much easier when you start eating more calories after you finish your cut.

How Fast To Cut?

If you are losing anywhere between .5-1.5 lbs per week, you are on the right track. The more body fat you have on your body, the more you can safely lose per week. As you approach lower levels of body fat, lets say that six pack, you will be cutting smaller amounts per week to avoid muscle loss.

That’s all there is to nutrition for body fat loss! You don’t have to worry about meal timing, food composition, or anything else. Just hit your calorie and macro goals every day and you will see awesome results. Never cut out the foods you love, thinking that they are somehow to blame. A calorie is a calorie and a macro is a macro, “clean” eating doesn’t mean better fat loss. Don’t suffer and cut out your favorite foods!

Master The Basics Before Thinking Ahead

Now you know the basics of nutrition for performance and physique! Before you move forward and read Nutrition 201, make sure you have this whole article mastered. Without consistency with these basics, advanced tactics won’t help you much at all.

So, do you feel like you know more about nutrition now? Let me know with a comment below. Also, share this with your friends on social media to help them out as well!

Milo Martinovich

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