When I was a teenager all I wanted to be was an awesome basketball player. So I worked on it: shot baskets all the time, and played pick-up with the boys. The summer after I graduated high school, I started jogging to stay active when I couldn't play basketball (I was in 110 degree in the daytime, futbol-crazy Spain). In 8 weeks I unnecessarily lost 10 pounds. A month later I was trying out for a spot on my college basketball team. Needless to say, I was weak, wimpy, tired, and slow (but slim!). But I still made it, so long as I could hang with the program. That September my team started training in the weight room in a way that I'd never really trained before. Barbell box squats, bench press, box jumps, parallel bar dips, and hang cleans. It was intense! And I couldn't keep up. On my 90s diet of mostly non-fat yogurt, bagels & nonfat cream cheese, and iceberg lettuce salads, I fell further and further behind my teammates, and struggled through the entire year to stay healthy enough to function. And gained -- yup, 15 pounds. 

That summer I went home, kept lifting weights and doing my drills, and started eating more like a responsible human. The training was still hard work, but at least I didn't feel exhausted all the time. By that August something awesome had happened. I came to preseason practice to see that I'd become the quickest player on my team. That led to actually getting into the games, and then to being a Starter that season. AND I felt great! I now believe that the X-factor between not keeping up, and becoming the quickest player was the quality of fuel I afforded myself.

But it's even more important now!  The story above all happened when I was 18-20 years old, when my body was young and better-tolerate the extreme dietary neglect I threw at it.  Personally speaking, now that my body is twice that age, I feel like it's getting more responsive to the quality of the food I feed it on a regular basis.  I am talking everything from waking up feeling alert and perky vs. groggy an puffy, to how great or sluggish I felt during a workout. Quite frankly, it makes sense, being that my body has surpassed the age threshold (30-35) at which more cells are degenerated than are regenerated. And if you're still reading, chances are you're interested because your body is also getting more... sensitive. 

Continue reading to get just a few quick tips on getting the most oomph out of your fuel for strength training.

1. Eat Breakfast within one hour of waking.
Boot Camp Addendum: If working out first thing in the morning: eat a little something (protein + carbs, if you can) before your workout. Around 100-200 calories is plenty. Then, eat a meal within an hour after exercising.

2. Get the protein right. Protein is essential to growing muscle. A lot of research and discussion has circulated about how much protein to eat while working on getting stronger. There are so many recommended ranges! Check yourself against these numbers:

Protein should make up 10-35% of your diet.

  • RDA for sedentary adults 0.8 - 1.0 g/kg/bw/day
  • 1.2 – 1.4 g/kg/bw/day for endurance athletes1.6 – 1.7 g/kg/bw/day for strength athletes

ACSM Guidelines

At your post-workout meal, your body is most receptive to taking in protein and starting to respond the the stress you put on it with the 20-pound dumbbells. Your goal is 10-20 grams of protein. Here are some examples: 3 eggs (20 g.), one chicken breast (25 g.), 16 oz. milk, single container of 2% greek yogurt (20 g.),  half cup of Tofu (10 g.), & legumes (10-20 g./serving). More examples here. 

All numbers aside, typically, if you eat protein with every meal, you'll be getting enough. Aside from it's status of rebuilding damaged muscle, protein also is what makes your body tell itself, "I'm satisfied." In essence, it helps keep you from eating and eating and never feeling satiated. 

3. Think of eating as part of your training. My old boss often asked our everyday athletes if they were fueling their engines with premium grade rocket fuel or just Regular. If you think of your food as fuel, you are more likely to make good choices more often than you would otherwise.

4. Eat veggies with every meal. Sorry, but you still don't get out of eating vegetables! They provide so many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Recovery from training may be slower if you are shirking on your veggies!

5. Eat real foods! It's easy to start down the protein bars, powders, and other forms of food-like substances. Don't. You can get protein into a smoothie in so many other waysFood in it's original form is always going to be healthier than food that is denatured, synthesized, or extracted. Even when you're "in training."

Okay, pick one of these items and see if you can do that one thing really well. (Then work on mastering the next thing.) Which one are you gonna pick?