Nutrition for Strength

Nutrition is important, period. But for strength athlete, who isn't trying to make weight, this is an area that sometimes is overlooked. One quick Google search “nutrition for strength” brings up 108 million results, so it is easy to see how confusion can set in when trying to choose a diet for you.

The Bare Bones:

  • Identifying your goals is paramount.

  • “The Goldilocks Theory” for calories - Not too much not too little. Just right for your goals.

  • Marconutrients, food timings and composition are all personal. Learn how to track these along with performance to identify what works.

  • Setting a plan means nothing without making yourself accountable for your actions.

1. Get your calories in check - This is what I like to think as “The Goldilocks Theory”. You overeat and you are more than likely to put on weight, which might not be an issue for some, but for others trying to stay in a weight class this maintenance is paramount. Under eat and you are going to feel lethargic, not be able to train to full intensity and really limit your opportunity for muscle and strength gain. Determining your calorie intake can be tricky, especially when the Scientific Advisory Committee of Nutrition (SACN) identifies the issue of differences in basal metabolic rates between individuals with varying metabolic health’s (Public Health England, 2011). If you would like to find out your own calorie requirements, there are many equations and formulas out there. Or alternatively get in touch with the team at Zelos Training Systems for a helping hand. Once you have a maintenance, stick to this and track for a little while. If weight starts to rise unintentionally, and training is impaired then drop your calories and vice versa if weight loss occurs.

2. Macronutrients - This is the same concept as calories above, Keep protein goals to 1.8/2kg per kilogram of bodyweight, even if this seems aggressive to some, it will ensure an anabolic state essential for muscle building and strength gain, without any negative side effects (Lowery 2009). Now pick a split for your carbohydrates and fats. For those who haven't tracked their macronutrients before, then I would take an even split between the two and then monitor performance, and adapt accordingly.

NOTE: adapting and monitoring your nutrition will get you the best results, something we will touch on later on in the article

3. Nutrient Timing - This is linked to your macronutrients, but mainly your carbohydrates. Fats and proteins should just be equal throughout the day, with emphasis on protein after training.Protein - Each serving/meal through the day aim to try and get at least 25/30g of protein and as soon as you can after training (within 60 minutes I would try and aim for). Try and use leaner sources such as chicken, fish and extra lean mince when you can etc.

Fats - These should come from unsaturated sources where possible. Unsaturated fats can contribute towards a healthy heart (Hooper 2011). Examples of these would be olive oil, oily fish, avocado, nuts & seeds etc.

Carbohydrates - The majority of these should come around training, in a 4 hour window, 2 hours before and 2 hours after. Below I have put a suggested starter point of how you might want to spilt these up, but you will probably end up adjusting a little depending on how you feel. Again monitor and adjust:

Pre workout (2 hours prior) - 25% of carbohydrate intake

Intra-workout (during) - 12.5% of carbohydrate intake

Post workout (within 60 minutes) - 25% of carbohydrate intake

Post-Post workout (within 2-3 hours) - 22.5% of carbohydrate intake

Rest of the day - 15% of carbohydrate intake

4. Food Composition - These are the types of food you eat, e.g. lean meats, unsaturated fats, wholegrain carbohydrates etc. I could go down the traditional nutritionist route at this point and say we should try and cut out saturated fats, salt, sugar, cakes, biscuits, hopes & dreams etc. but I'm not. Everything in moderation, and everyone’s moderation is different. If you start eating 4 doughnuts at lunch time and a massive jacket potato with cheese and feel like death when training comes around, then you're not feeding your body in the correct manner for your workouts. Simple. This is where monitoring your own intake along with performance is going to get the best results. However, a good place to start is by limiting traditional unhealthy foods because nobody is fuelled by just doughnuts and cakes I can guarantee it.

Everything above is great, but if you can’t monitor progress and adapt to improve your performance then there isn't much point. This isn't a hard thing to do, it is just being mindful of how to approach the situation in the most effective way.

Step 1

Take the information above and apply it. Get your calories, macronutrients, timings and food quality all planned out ready to stick to. I would advise using a tracking app such as MyFitnessPal or LifeSum to track your food intake, as this will not only take out the guess work but is also portable and actually pretty easy to do.

Step 2

Keep a diary, write everything down. Literally everything. This will help you keep track and find out what foods your body responds best to. Monitor how your sleep, training, moods, libido, appetite, and anything else that you think might be relevant. I would suggest using a scale of 1-10 for each category each day and mark down how you think it went, along with a section for additional notes

Step 3

Complete 10 days and review. After 10 days, look back at your food intake and diary and see if there are any underlying nutrition issues. There may be one day where you ate late, so sleep was affected, which then effected training the day after? Or maybe you had a large 2000kcal lunch consisting of just bread and couldn't train because you slipped into a coma? These are areas you know you can alter and change.

Step 4

Rinse and repeat. Another 10 day cycle and review at the end. It usually takes individuals around 6/8 weeks but after this time they are in complete control of their nutrition. The end goal is to not need to write anything down, or even track a huge amount because you know the right types of foods to eat at the right time, to improve and optimise performance in the gym.

It is safe to say no diet fits your uniqueness. It is time to take your nutrition into your own hands and understand how to do that. It might take a week, it might take 6 months, but sticking to a plan and being mindful throughout it is essential. But be honest with yourself, make yourself accountable to others and make a long term positive change. Good luck!


Hooper, L., Summerbell, C.D., Thompson, R., Sills, D., Roberts, F.G., Moore, H, and Smith, G.D. ”Reduced Or Modified Dietary Fat For Preventing Cardiovascular Disease". Prescriber 22.17 (2011): 34-34. Web.

Lowery, L.M, and Lorena, D. "Dietary Protein Safety And Resistance Exercise: What Do We Really Know?". J Int Soc Sports Nutr 6.1 (2009): Web.

Public Health England,. SACN Dietary Reference Values For Energy. London: The Stationary Office, 2011. Print.

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