Whether your goal at the gym is to improve muscle tone, increase cardio ability, get in shape or just to pursue a healthy lifestyle, you will need to improve both strength and stamina. To achieve a conditioning goal like this and keep building on your accomplishments, it’s advisable to plan out a clean eating diet that continuously fuels muscle rebuilding with amino acids from protein, while also replenishing your body’s stores of the carbohydrate energy known as glycogen.
Here are a few principles to keep in mind to support your training:
- Do short, intense workouts
- Make certain you are getting adequate sleep
- Never miss a meal
- Keep a food diary to monitor how much protein, carbs and fat you’re consuming from whole foods daily
It is normal for many to have three regular meals throughout the day, but for those training hard it might be advisable to look at trying to increase the number of smaller meals and/or ensure sufficient snacks are consumed. To keep muscle recovery fuelled with amino acids from protein and to keep energy levels up with carbohydrates, you should aim to eat a smaller than normal meal every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day. In essence, you’re dividing the traditional three meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner into 6 or 7 smaller meals, some of which could include protein bars and shakes.
Keeping the eating part of this programme relatively simple is a good way to stay on track and make progress day after day. Imagine that every plate you eat from is divided into 3 sections: one for proteins, 2 for carbs. Each of these servings will amount to a portion roughly the size of a closed fist. If you’re choosing wisely, avoid packaged processed foods and cook meals with healthy leans meats and vegetables as close to their natural state as possible. Follow this and the fats will pretty much take care of themselves. To maximise your efforts in the gym, add to your meal plan a protein and carbohydrate shake like Gold Standard 100% Whey or 2:1:1 Recovery™ within 30 to 45 minutes of completing your workout.
Cutting back on carbohydrates has become a popular strategy to lose fat, but taken to the extreme, can leave you lacking energy to workout. Carbs are your body’s preferred power source and are essential for fuelling both physical and mental effort. The trick is to choose complex carbohydrates packed with nutrients and dietary fibre. Low glycaemic index carbs digest slowly to provide sustained energy. Examples include sweet potatoes, asparagus, oatmeal, nuts and whole grain bread.
Hydration is another area that requires focus. The amount that any individual will sweat is highly individual and dependent on several factors. Dehydration is known to reduce training intensity, so maintaining a regular fluid intake throughout the day is essential. Urine colour is the simplest way to monitor hydration status, with urine that is yellow/colourful suggesting a dehydrated state.
Your training plan will depend on your goals and preferences, but trialling new classes at your gym is a great way to keep your programme fresh. A personal trainer is also an invaluable resource to kick-starting your workouts and ensuring good form when introducing weights.
To give your muscles 48 hours to recover from an intense whole body training session, plan your workouts every other day: Monday, Wednesday and Friday with Sunday as a day off; or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday if that works best for you. For maximum results, you shouldn’t keep doing the same workout routine week after week either. Go for a run outside, increase the reps, change the order of exercises or split your routine between upper and lower body movements so you’re training two days in a row, followed by a day off.
Increasing Lean Muscle Mass
To gain lean muscle mass you have to feed muscle rebuilding and recovery regularly. Planning and preparation are extremely important and it is likely that increasing the number of small meals consumed will be the most effective. Calories consumed as fluids e.g. protein shakes to reduce the “volume” of food are a simple way to aid this process and support the 5/6 meals required per day if you’re training hard.
Losing Body Fat
Alongside building lean muscle mass, many are keen to reduce the amount of body fat they carry. In this instance, a sensible approach is important. Carbohydrate should not be avoided, but planned around training and controlled in the evening. A focus on portion size and a reduction in poor snack choices are where the biggest wins can be made.
Caffeine use for competition may be beneficial to increase focus, alertness and reduce fatigue. The ingestion of 1-3 mg/kg body mass of caffeine 60 minutes before a workout is advised for those who have slowly built up in training first. Caffeine sensitive individuals should start on the lowest doses.
Most athletes who are eating a well-balanced diet will consume sufficient vitamins and minerals to meet their nutritional requirements without the need for additional supplements. However, a good multi-vitamin can provide a useful insurance policy, particularly during the winter months.