It may seem like a vigorous workout that comes with lifting weights is what helps build your muscle and strength, but that’s a misconception. In fact, it’s the muscle rebuilding process - replacing sore and torn muscle tissue with new healthy tissue - that builds your muscle mass.
Feed Your Muscles What They Need
Exercise on its own cannot help in fat loss. In fact it is said that those toned abs you’re aiming for aren’t made in the gym, they’re made in the kitchen.
While exercise has numerous health benefits, it can make no difference if it is not balanced by proper nutrition and adequate hydration. When it comes to strength training, your body needs sufficient nutrients to build and repair muscle. You need to time nutrient-rich meals during and around your workout session to aid in muscle recovery and to preserve strength.
Foods for Strength Training
Yes, carbohydrates. It might seem counterproductive, but your body’s primary energy comes from the glycogen reserves in your body. Your carbohydrate intake should be just enough - about 2-3 grams per pound of your weight - to restore glycogen levels; there should be no excess carbs, since those will be stored as fat. Carbohydrates should be taken pre-workout - ideally an hour or so before your session - to ensure that your blood sugar levels and glycogen levels are up.
Foods rich in carbs include: Oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.
Unlike carbs and fats, proteins are not a primary source of energy. However, their main role is restoring metabolic levels and repairing tired muscles after a heavy workout session. A vigorous strength-training session causes your muscle tissue to sustain some mechanical damage, and your body will need the protein to rebuild those muscles. Your body needs at least 1 gram per pound of body weight to maintain muscle health.
A protein-rich diet which includes any of the following foods also provides your muscles with the right balance of minerals and vitamins required for your body’s regular function: lean beef, egg whites, tofu, quinoa, legumes, chicken and fish like cod or salmon.
Healthy fats - especially omega-3 and monounsaturated fats - can actually help in enhancing fat loss, support metabolism, increase nutrient absorption and boost immunity. They also help in joint recovery and reduced inflammation after a heavy workout.
Some common sources of healthy fats include: Fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel, egg yolk, flaxseed oil and walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, avocados, peanut butter and nuts like almonds, peanuts, pistachios and pecans.
What About Supplements?
When taken right, post-workout supplements can give your body the necessary nutrients to help speed up recovery, replenish fluids and restore energy levels. If your diet alone doesn’t suffice, depending on the intensity of your training, you may rely on healthy, natural supplements. Make sure you read the labels, as many products are packed with harmful chemicals. And beware of brand promises. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Here’s a list of supplements that you can stack on top of your nutrient-rich diet:
Before turning to the glycogen reserves, your body relies on creatine phosphates for its energy source. These tend to run out with 10-20 seconds of a regular workout session. But for strength-training exercises, the body needs more creatine phosphate - between 2-5 grams - to build those energy reserves. These can be taken either before or after the workout, with supplements of creatine monohydrate, creatine citrate or creatine alpha ketoglutarate.
Beta alanine is primarily used to conserve energy. After an intense workout, muscle fatigue can set in owing to elevated levels of lactic acid. Beta alanine combines with another amino-acid, histadine, to produce carnosine, which acts as an antioxidant and reduces the presence of hydrogen ions that are responsible for the production of lactic acid. Taking around 800 mg - 2 grams of beta alanine or carnosine before or after your workout session will suffice to your body’s requirements for a whole day.
Arginine increases the amount of nitric oxide, which in turn boosts circulation to your muscle tissue. It also helps boost the immune system. Arginine can be found in dietary sources like whole wheat, nuts, dairy and fish. For strength training, around 3-5 grams of arginine through supplements like L-arginine, arginine alpha ketoglutarate or arginine ethyl ester can be consumed 30-60 minutes before your workout session.
Intense training workout sessions push your muscles to perform at a level that requires them to draw on high-power energy sources. Therefore, planning your diet carefully ensures that your muscles are not only able to endure the intense physical activity, but are also able to recover quickly from the strain they’ve been put through.
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