How to eat for a weightlifting session

A weightlifting session is far more complex than ‘turn up and rip the bar off the floor’. Fuelling for this type of session is completely different to a CrossFit class or HIIT class. Following on from Part 1 - How to Survive your first weightlifting meet, we turn our focus on how to fuel for a weightlifting session.

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At this point, you should know that nutrition has a significant impact on your results. Abs are built in the kitchen, you are what you eat, and all the rest. "Yeah, yeah," I know, "I've heard it all before."

Seriously, though! You might be working very hard in the gym, but research indicates that what you eat before, during, and after your workout may be the difference between meeting your goals and falling short.

Pre-workout nutrition

In short, a balanced meal of protein and carbohydrates one to two hours before exercise is a pretty useful rule of thumb.

Carbohydrates are our body's preferred fuel source for high intensity, explosive activities, we need to fuel our body so it can train and perform at its best.

You want every gram of carbohydrate you consume to be utilised as an immediate fuel source. The fine balance of getting enough to support the session but not too much it that we have an excess of calories is hard. Ideally, we want to eat around 20-30% of our total daily carbs before training and 20-30% after the training session.

I like to have consumed at least two meals before training. My first meal includes slow digesting complex carbohydrates like rolled oats or sweet potatoes. This allows the carbs to be digested, my blood sugar levels are stable and glycogen levels are full prior to training.

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I consume my second meal roughly one hour before lifting, I try to time it so I can begin training without a lot of food sitting on my stomach. This is where we want food that is easy to digest and this can mean a little trial and error to find what works for you.

However, most people can benefit from 40 grams of carbs before they train. I often see clients under-fuelling before sessions and just focusing on post workout nutrition. Trust me….eating some protein and carbs pre training will supercharge your lifting session.

Carbohydrates activate the sympathetic nervous system. This is the fight or flight branch of the nervous system. We want this activated before the session to support training intensity!

A source of lean protein, like chicken, turkey, tuna, prawns or egg whites, is omnipresent in each one of my meals. Protein is essential for tissue growth and repair. Since the body is continuously breaking down proteins, our diet must provide sufficient quantities.

Intra workout nutrition

Intra workout nutrition is a tricky topic. It is not essential by any means and if you are new to weightlifting then focus on getting the pre and post workout nutrition sorted first, then you can address intra workout nutrition. In short when we advocate using intra workout nutrition

  • If you are training fasted in the morning

  • If you are training twice per day

  • If you are an advanced athlete who’s training session lasts more than 90 minutes

The type of intra workout will be a mixture of carbohydrates and electrolytes. This is to reduce neuromuscular fatigue, aid in replenishing glycogen levels and improve muscular contractions.

Cyclic dextrin, vitargo, dextrose, waxy maize starch are good powders to start with. Endure from bulk powders has added fast digesting protein also and we have had good feedback from our clients who have used this.

Post-workout nutrition

As lifting sessions involve large muscle groups, we can cause significant muscle damage and deplete energy stores.

You need to follow the 4 R’s of recovery. REPAIR, REPLENISH, REHYDRATE AND RELAX.

A post-training meal with both protein and carbs will enhance glycogen storage and muscle protein synthesis. I’ve found that for me works very well consuming a ratio of 3:1 (carbs to protein) in my post-training meal.

I usually choose easily digested foods like sweet potatoes, fruits (pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi), rice cakes, white rice, oatmeal, potatoes and pasta for carbs.

Although recommended intakes vary and depend on body size and activity, a post-workout protein is almost universally helpful to kickstart muscle repair, recovery, and growth. My favourite protein sources are protein powder, eggs, greek yogurt, cottage or quark cheese, chicken, protein bars and tuna.

I always add a few healthy fats to my meals like avocado, nuts, nut butters or a trail mix (dried fruits and nuts). They keep me full for longer, especially when I train before coaching the classes in the evening. Never coach on an empty stomach!

These are the usual on-the-go snacks that I take to the gym with me:

  • Egg with avocado and sweet potato

  • Tuna sandwich on whole grain bread (tuna, quark cheese and avocado is my flavor of the month)

  • Oatmeal, whey protein, banana and almonds (works well as pre-training meal as well)

  • Cottage cheese and fruits.

  • Rice crackers and peanut butter.

  • Whole grain toast and almond butter.

  • Greek yogurt, berries, almonds and dark chocolate

  • Protein shake and banana.

  • Homemade cookies (my favourite are this awesome Pumpkin Oat Cookies )

Creatine Monohydrate

For people with strength or hypertrophy goals, consider supplementing with creatine monohydrate. While there are many forms of creatine available, I prefer micronised creatine monohydrate (creapure) because it's the most studied, solid, tried-and-true creatine on the market.

The body has three primary methods for developing its ultimate energy source, ATP. Which method your body uses depends on the intensity of the activity.

For the most intense activities, like weightlifting, the body uses creatine phosphates to produce energy.

Creatine supplementation of ~5 grams per day will provide greater stores to call on when training, so that you can train more intensely. In short, creatine can help you train heavier for more reps. The timing on the creatine is not critical. You can use it before or after your workout, or anytime throughout the day.

Remember, it is about what you eat over the day AS WELL as how you time your workout nutrition. .

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Marta Lesina is one of our nutrition coaches based out of The Yard in Peckham and CrossFit Blackfriars. If you are interested in working with her head over to the nutrition coaching page and sign up for online coaching!