I've been weight training for over 20 years and if there is one thing that I have come to realize is the importance of proper nutrition. As an active weight trainer, proper nutrition will account for about 60 to 70 percent of my success. That may seem a little high to you but I can tell you from personal experience that at least 60% of your success will come from proper nutrition.
With that being said, how does nutrition play a role for women weight trainers? Well, speaking from a physiological perspective, a woman's body will differ from that of a male, in terms of fat storage, metabolism and general body make up such as bone and muscle size. In general, a woman's body will tend to be smaller in frame, muscle size and bone size. However, we are all human beings and if there is one constant in our diets it's that we all need proper nutrition in order to grow and get stronger.
You see, the way I see it is that weight training will basically provide a stimulus to the body which basically causes it to react in a certain way. So, if you lift a certain amount of weight on a consistent basis day in and day out, your body will adjust to the heavy lifting by getting stronger.
This is the only way our bodies will adjust to this outside stimulus.
By adapting, our bodies cope with the stress and over time, it improves in order to combat this stress. As our bodies get stronger, the muscles will eventually grow over time. How much muscle growth will depend on how strong your body reacts to levels of weight training. By increasing the amount of stimuli via intensity, the body is basically forced to grow.
Basically, the harder your body is forced to work, the more strength and growth you can expect. However, don't expect to look like a body builder any time soon because these athletes focus strictly on generating huge amounts of intensity with each passing workout. In other words, body builders and strength athletes work extremely hard with each workout and just one of these workouts would probably kill the average person.
Alright, I think you get the picture. It's safe to say that this is the basic premise of weight training.
Now, how does proper nutrition factor into this basic premise of weight training? Wouldn't it be possible to weight train and forego nutrition and reap the same benefits? Nope - It doesn't work like that. I've tried it and it doesn't work. From the time you pick up a weight, your body will adapt by getting stronger. As your body gets stronger with each passing workout, it needs to support new growth with proper:
Fuel - carbohydrates;
Building material - protein;
Lubrication and transport - fats;
Vitamins / minerals
Let's look at each in more detail.
First off, fuel is another way of saying carbohydrates. Our bodies need a certain amount of carbohydrates to function. Even more so when we exercise, especially with weight training. I’ll be the first to say that carbohydrates is not the enemy that they’ve been made out to be and the sooner you understand this, the better off you’ll be. You see, carbohydrates is our bodies number one fuel source and it has a very, very important job to do and that’s to keep the engine running smoothly. As we weight train, our muscles need an every constant supply of high grade fuel supplies in order to keep getting stronger.
By feeding your body high quality carbohydrate sources, you ensure that your muscles are ready for each and every workout. Without an adequate fuel source, your muscles will perform poorly and will not improve from workout to workout. And workout improvement is what you want from weight training.
You want to know why carbohydrates are deemed evil by certain nutritional circles in the fitness world? It’s carbohydrate choice. Although carbohydrates all boil down to simple sugars in the end, it’s how they get there that makes all the difference in the world. There are basically 3 types of carbohydrates:
• Monosaccharides- simple sugars found in a variety of fruits and honey
• Di saccharides- table sugar and other simple sugars
• Polysaccharides- complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat pasta, whole grains, and legumes
The difference between each of these types of carbohydrates is how fast they convert to simple sugars in the body and used as energy. Of course, simple carbohydrates such as mono and di saccharides will convert to blood sugar a lot more quickly than polysaccharides will. You want to know where the real evil lies with carbohydrates? It’s the balance between each of these three types of fuel sources. A good rule to remember is that both mono and di saccharides should make up about 15% of your carbohydrate intake while poly saccharides should make up the rest. This is a pretty good balance and should keep you going.
Now, the only times that I recommend you have fast acting carbohydrates are:
It is at these times when these carbohydrates work like magic at keeping your body in balance and growing. Why? At these times, our bodies are basically in starvation mode, and will actually soak up most of the carbohydrates you feed them. The sooner you get some fuel into your body the better it will be.
The most important thing I can say here is to keep a good carbohydrate balance. Most of your carbohydrate choices should come from whole food sources. Anything processed is to be avoided like the plague.
Personally, I will usually have a fibrous carbohydrate such as broccoli along with a small serving of starch carbohydrates such as whole wheat rice. Depending on where I’m at with my training I’ll adjust the amount of carbohydrates needed.
I’m going to assume your pretty busy with jobs and families so the most important element that I can get across to you is to have a small portion of fibrous and starch carbohydrate with each meal. Remember, nothing too big. One half cup of fibrous carbohydrate such a spinach and 3 tablespoons of starchy carbohydrate such as whole wheat rice is fine. Here’s is a partial list of carbohydrates you should be considering:
• Whole wheat breads
• Whole wheat bagels
• Cream of wheat
• Whole wheat English muffin
• Assorted mushrooms
• Whole wheat pitas
• Rye bread
• Granola - avoid the bars or sugary kind
• Baked potatoes
• Yams or sweet potatoes
• Whole grain cereals
• Spinach - baby or adult
• Whole wheat rice
• Whole wheat pasta
The important thing to remember is to have a small portion of fibrous carbohydrate which is usually a vegetable and starchy carbohydrate such as whole wheat rice.
Note* Simple carbohydrates such as sugars and fruit juices should be avoided and the only time you should be having these carbohydrates is first thing in the morning and immediately after weight training.
I like to refer to protein as building material. When you think about it, that’s exactly what protein is. Protein is that nutrient that is solely used for growth and repair within our body. Just as wood and cement is used to build a house, so is protein to our bodies. Protein is working day in and day out in order to repair and grow our bodies. I’m going to assume that you have a basic understanding of what protein does so I’m not going into the specifics at this point. However, if you do want to get a better understanding, please see this page here.
What I’d like to get across to you now is the relationship between weight training and protein. You see, as we weight train, our bodies will eventually get stronger and stronger. As we improve, we need to keep adding more stimulus to our training environment in order to keep growing.
As we improve our weight training, we also need a proportionate increase in nutrients, specifically protein. Now, I’m not going to say you need a huge amount of protein but you do need enough to support strength and muscle gains. How much protein do you need? Personally, I try and get about .8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight but I’m going to say that might be a little too much for woman weight trainers.
I would suggest you try and get .5 to .7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So, if you weight a 135 pounds, you would need to consume about 60 to 100 grams of protein per day.
This sound like a lot? Don’t worry, it’s not. Let’s say you eat 5 small meals per day. With each meal, you’d be consuming about 12 to 15 grams of protein per meal - Not that much. However, this should give you a good start for your protein consumption.
Does it matter what kind of protein you eat? Yes, there are good and bad sources of protein. Bad sources usually have a heft portion of saturated fats attached such as rib eye steaks or chicken legs with the skin on. The most important point I can make here is to try and get one serving of protein per meal. I strongly suggest you consume a high quality protein that doesn’t contain a lot of fat to it. Here are some sample sources:
• Turkey or chicken breast
• Beef - Sirloin tip / round tip
• Low fat milk
• Low fat cheese such as cheddar or monterey jack
• Low fat yogurt
• Low fat cottage cheese
• Fish such a salmon, trout, or tuna
• Lentils and Quinoa
• Pork tenderloin
However, I compiled a more detailed list here.
I really think woman are a little too hard on themselves when it comes to having a few layers of fat - even if its perfect for their size, height, and body frame. The next time you're in the grocery line, take a look at the magazine rack which should be located right beside you and ask yourself what you see. Chances are, your going to see magazines that target women for weight loss. You’ll probably see an image of a model or some celebrity in their bikini with the headline:
Quite frankly, I’m disgusted at how the media and Hollywood has brainwashed a good potion of woman into believing that unless you’re built like a model, you’re flawed or your lazy for not trying to look like a model. Anyways, I’m not going to get into that.
You’re here because you want to weight train and get back into shape - Congratulations. Now, let me ask you a question, “is fat evil?”. According to my girlfriend, fat is not your friend and is considered one of the axis of evil. I hear this on a daily basis and I often wonder if she knows that fat is indeed your friend - Well not your best friend but someone who’s much needed in your life.
You see, fat plays a very important role in our bodies. Among others, here is a short list of what fats help to do:
• Insulation - Fats help insulate our organs;
• Fuel - When carbohydrates are used up, the body will turn to fat for fuel;
• Essential fatty acids;
• Building blocks for cell membranes
One of fats more important roles is to help fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, K, and E get into the body. Only fats can do this and you need enough fat to do this very important job. These essential fats, as they’re called are needed within the body.
Now, I’m sure most of you reading this page now have had exposure to the evils of fats and like carbohydrates, fats have all been lumped into one category and that’s the “bad” category. Let me state this, not all fats were created equally. Yes, they enter the body and convert pretty much the same but fats are quite helpful within the body. Basically, there are 3 kinds of fats which are:
Saturated fats are found primarily in animal fats and tropical oils and vegetable oils. Over the last 10 years or so, these kinds of fats have been targeted as being very bad for you and should be avoided at all costs. Are they all that bad? Yes and no. We need saturated fats for some important roles within our body such as:
• Hormone regulators;
• Help maintaining structure of our cells;
• Help calcium to be absorbed into the bone;
• Help boost your immune system
Remember this, we only need a little bit of saturated fats each and every day to survive. However, we don’t need a lot of it and that’s the problem. Since we live in a fast food society which dishes out animal products by the truck loads, it’s no wonder why saturated fats have been vilified. Too much saturated fats, like anything else, will be bad for you. Here’s what I suggest, keep your saturated fat intake to 3% to 5% of your daily calories. One serving of 1% cottage cheese should be enough. Keep your intake of saturated fats low and you’ll be fine.
Polyusaturated fats are considered “essential fats” because our bodies cannot make these fatty acids. These types of fats remain in liquid form all the time and are made up from nut, vegetable and seed sources. It is this fat that is used in the hydrogenated process to make up margarine and other vegetable shortening. This process allows for the oil to be hardened up and used as cooking materials. One of the resulting products is trans fatty acid which has been linked to raising blood cholesterol levels. You will want to keep this type of fat to a minimum.
Monunsaturated fats are found in olive oils, peanut oils, canola oils, and certain types of fish such as mackeral, salmon, and halibut. Recent research suggests that these types of fats have a positive effect on in lowering bad cholesterol and maintaining higher levels of good cholesterol. You will want to have more of this kind of fat in your diet.
The most important thing I can say here is to keep your fat intake to about 15% of you daily total calories. Since fat has 9 calories per gram of fat, you only need about 15% of your total calories from this nutrient. I strongly suggest you cook all of your meals with olive oil (you only need 1 teaspoon) and cut out all hard fats such as margarines and lards. Avoid all trans fats at all costs - Nothing fried.
Alright, that concludes this short discussion about nutrition and weight training for women. You really want to know how to get the most from your nutrition with regards to weight training? Simply use your common sense and follow a consistent eating pattern. Here’s all you need to know about eating right with a steady weight training program:
• Eat every 2 to 3 hours;
• Eat 5 to 6 small meals per day;
• Each meal should be from whole food sources - Nothing packaged
• Have 10 glasses of water each and every day;
• Simple carbs should only be consumed in the morning and right after exercise;
• Have one serving with each meal - No going back for more;
• Get rid of all junk food - Start getting used to drinking water and consuming veggies at night;
• Have one multi vitamin immediately after breakfast.
Always remember this, the closer the food source is to it’s original form, the better it will be for you. The further away it is from it’s original form, the worse it will be from you. Make the produce section of the super market you friend - You should be spending most of your time there. Stay away from the isle’s and use lean cuts of meat.
For a complete discussion on weight training nutrition, please this page here.
For a complete discussion on vitamins and minerals, please this page here.
All the best,