A weightlifter's diet requires controlled calories to gain muscle weight and strength without increasing body fat. Because this isn't a cardio based exercise, a good diet for it has fewer calories than what a football or rugby player would get. The right balance of calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrate will increase muscle strength and size and keep the lifter's body fat percentage low.
Your body needs adequate calories, otherwise the protein in your muscles may be broken down for energy. Gaining muscle is gaining weight; therefore you need to add 300 to 500 calories to your normal intake to gain muscle. Anything more than that can become fat. The extra calories should come from fruit, whole grains, and vegetables. If you are unsure how many calories you currently consume, use an online or smartphone calorie counter app to track for one week and take the average. Add 300 to 500 calories to this average.
Eating sufficient carbohydrates allows the body to spare muscle and dietary protein from becoming fuel so it can be used as building blocks for muscle. Low-carbohydrate diets are associated with decreased strength. The American College of Sports and Exercise recommends strength athletes consume 3 to 4 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight each day. Fruits, whole grains, starchy vegetables, and beans are good carbohydrate sources. You can check daily grams of carbohydrates with a calorie counter or by reading labels.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 20 to 35 percent of daily calories from fat for weightlifters. The American Heart Association recommends saturated and trans fats be replaced with unsaturated fats such as fish, olive oil, and nuts are examples are unsaturated fats. To limit saturated fat, choose lean and skinless meats.
Picking Up Protein
You should get 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily, or 12 to 15 percent of daily calories. Meat, poultry and fish are common sources of protein, as well as eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy products. A protein intakes above 0.9 grams per pound of body weight is excessive. Because high amounts of protein can be detrimental to health, consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian before starting a high protein diet.
Right Time to Dine
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends small, frequent meals every three to four hours for muscle gain. Pre-workout snacks should include carbohydrates, 10 to 20 grams of protein, and fluid. Choose low fat and low fiber foods to prevent an upset stomach. Pre-workout snacks could be low-fat chocolate milk, meal replacement shakes, and low-fat granola bars. Post-workout snacks need 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight, and 10 to 20 grams of protein. Post-workout snacks could be nut butter and crackers, trail mix, and granola with yogurt.
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Nutrition and Athletic Performance
- American Heart Association Scientific Statement: Managing Blood Lipids
- Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group Nutrition Fact Sheet - Gaining Weight, Building Muscle
- European Journal of Applied Physiology: The effect of glycogen availability on power output and the metabolic response to repeated bouts of maximal, isokinetic exercise in man.