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Fueling for Strength Training

Eating around exercise whether it’s endurance or strength training is key to be able to have the energy to complete the workout well and to help with muscle recovery. However, strength training is an anaerobic activity, meaning it requires quick muscle contractions to recruit muscle fibers to gain strength and power, demanding more energy.

What should I eat before strength training?

Most athletes I work with think that they need more protein before a strength training session to help offset the muscle breakdown occurring during training. However, the higher intensity the training, the more your body relies on carbohydrates for energy than slower digesting protein and fats.

Strength training at moderate-to-high intensity depletes muscle glycogen stores approximately 24 to 40% depending on the duration and volume of workout; therefore, eating easily digesting carbs, lower in protein and fat before your workout can help improve performance, sparing glycogen, especially if you are training first thing the morning after an overnight fast.

Carbs found in foods such as fruit, grains, milk, and yogurt are converted to glucose in your bloodstream and either used for immediate energy or stored in your liver and muscle as glycogen for use when training later. Training longer and harder your body depletes glycogen more quickly, so eating carbs before strength training is beneficial to be able push your training load to gain strength and power.

What are some carb options to eat?

If you have less than an hour to eat before a strength training session, choose quick-acting carbs that are easily digesting to avoid any stomach upset and to fuel your muscles before your activity. Guidelines include to eat less than 150 calories, 15-30 grams of carb, low fat (less than 10% total fat) and protein (less than 3 grams) per serving. Make sure dietary fiber is low as well (less than 3 grams per serving) to avoid any stomach upset or unexpected trips to the restroom!

Food choices include: toast with jam, half a plain bagel, graham cracker sheet, plain or flavored rice cake, packet of oatmeal, fig bar, or medium banana.

What should I eat after strength training?

If you are not planning to eat a meal within an hour after strength training, it’s suggested to eat a recovery snack containing protein plus carbs to help with muscle recovery. Tips on recovery nutrition can be found in more detail in my previous blog.

What should I eat if I strength train before running?

If you plan to strength train and run back-to back, instead of eating a recovery snack containing protein plus carbs after strength training, focus on eating more carbs instead. Remember protein takes longer to digest and may cause stomach upset if you eat protein right before a run. Also, carbs are your primary source of energy during runs, NOT protein.

The goal is to eat 20-30 grams of carb after you strength training and before your run. Food choices are similar to what is suggested before strength training and to make sure you keep your food choices low in protein, fat, and fiber.

Once you have completed both your strength training and your run, then you can focus on eating a recovery meal or snack containing both carbs and protein to help restore glycogen and to help repair and rebuild muscle fibers.

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