By Brittany Dillon, Registered Dietitian

Nutrition tips from the YMCA of Middle TN

Heavy weights and high repetitions are not all that is needed when starting a weight-training regimen. Your diet matters when it comes to fueling these developments. When you start lifting more, your body is likely going to require more to keep you going and help you build muscle. However, there’s no need to overload on pasta or protein shakes!

Basic dietary changes

When trying to get your body into healthier shape, it is important to make some basic dietary changes. First, try not to drink sugar calories, such as sodas and fruit juice, and limit intake of processed foods, including packaged and fried fast food. These foods are low in fiber, protein, and micro-nutrients and high in empty calories.

Next, aim for lean protein sources, such as chicken, fish, and turkey. These options are low in saturated fat and provide adequate protein and heart-healthy fats.

As far as carbohydrates go, aim to make half of your grains whole grains, which will provide fiber and deliver essential minerals. Lastly, fresh or frozen fruit are good examples of carbohydrates that can provide energy to sustain you during exercise.

Ideal meals and timing

To ensure your body is equipped to accomplish a quality workout, you’ll also want to pay attention to when you’re eating. Take a look at the tips below for ideal meal timing and nutrient delivery.

Before exercise:

Eating prior to a workout not only increases energy levels, but may also increase the amount of calories burned.

Eat your snack or light meal 60-90 minutes before entering the gym. This will help reduce abdominal pain and discomfort. Fats and fibers take longer to break down, so try to consume those three hours before weight-lifting.

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source. This is especially true for weight lifting. Carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index (like nuts, beans, fruits, and sweet potatoes) will sustain you through your weight-lifting workout because they take longer to digest.

Good snack examples include a handful of almonds with half of a banana, or apple slices with one tbsp peanut butter.

Avoid carbohydrates with a high glycemic index including glucose, sucrose, and maltose (like white bread, russet potatoes, and honey), as these are absorbed into the blood stream quickly and may cause you to have a sugar crash.

After exercise:

Post-exercise nutrition is important for replenishing glycogen stores and repairing muscle tears sustained during exercise.

While carbohydrates supply energy, protein facilitates muscle building and recovery. Eating a carbohydrate food paired with protein can maximize muscle strength and size.

Aim to consume a snack with protein and carbohydrates 30 minutes after exercise, followed by a full meal two hours later.

Good snack examples include chocolate milk, Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread.

Once you are able to sit down and enjoy a full meal, fill half of your plate with veggies, a third with whole grains, and a third with lean protein. An example would be a chicken breast served over brown rice topped with stir-fry vegetables.

Remember that specific nutrient guidelines should be individualized based on the amount and intensity of the weight-training regimen performed.

Hungry for more?

Learn about Sports Drinks, Chocolate Milk, and Protein Shakes: How they help you hydrate! Plus, check out more nutrition tips and recipes from our expert staff. Get more information on YMCA memberships and health and fitness programs at your local YMCA fitness center near you.