Training

Optimal Nutrition for Strength Performance

If your diet sucks you’ll never reach your true strength potential.

I don’t care how “effective” your training program is, how badly you want to succeed, or how good your genetics are. If you want to be as strong as possible you need to get your nutrition dialed in.

This doesn’t mean you need to eat “clean” (I hate that term) all the time or suffer through every meal. Rather, whatever constitutes the “best” diet will depend entirely on the individual and their specific needs, goals, and preferences.

That being said, the topic of this article is strength. Not aesthetics. Not general health. Simply brute strength. As such, I will only cover the essentials of optimal nutrition for strength performance.

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Want to get stronger? Continue reading.

How Much Should You Eat?

Before we get into specifics such as meal frequency, timing, and composition, it’s necessary to discuss total daily caloric intake.

While strength performance is affected by a variety of factors, I am of the opinion that total daily caloric intake and macronutrient composition are paramount for success.

In other words, the total amount and overall macronutrient composition of food consumed is, in my opinion, the most important nutritional factors related to strength performance.

That being the case…how much should you eat?

As noted above, it all comes down to your goals. We already established our main goal of increased strength but, among strength athletes and enthusiasts, there are three major goal subsets:

  • Fat Loss
  • Mass Gain
  • Weight Maintenance

While our overarching goal is increased strength, the subset goal will determine how much we eat on a daily basis. As such, below I’ve outlined general calorie and macronutrient guidelines to follow based on the three goal subsets.

Fat Loss

Losing strength during fat loss is unacceptable. If your training and nutrition are in check then, at the very least, you should be able to maintain (if not gain) strength during a cut.

To effectively lose fat, though, it is necessary to create and maintain a caloric deficit. While some professionals advocate creating the deficit through exercise, I prefer to do it through strategic dieting.

To make things as simple as possible, below I’ve provided the general calorie and macronutrient recommendations that I use for myself, as well as my clients, during a fat loss phase:

Total Calories per day* 10 – 12 calories per pound of bodyweight
Protein per day** 1.3 – 1.6 grams per pound of bodyweight
Fat per day*** 20-25% of total calorie intake
Carbohydrates per day*** Fill in the rest

To illustrate, a 175lb male would adhere to the following guidelines:

Total Calories: 11 x 175 = 1,925kcals/day

Protein: 1.4 x 175 = 245g/day

Fat: .22 x 1,925 = 47g/day

Carbs: 131g/day

*Total calories do NOT need to remain constant throughout the week. If you’d prefer to cycle calories based on the day (i.e. training days and rest days) that is a perfectly viable option.

**During fat loss protein should never drop below 1g/lb of bodyweight.

***Carbs and fats can be manipulated to include more or less of each depending on needs and preferences.

Get more from Jordan at SyattFitness.com
Get more from Jordan at SyattFitness.com

Mass Gain

Mass gain is frequently used as an excuse to let the diet go to shit and gain unnecessary amounts of weight. A well executed mass gain phase, however, will minimize fat gain while maximizing muscle growth and strength gains.

To gain mass it is necessary to create and maintain an adequate caloric surplus. To help you accomplish this, below I’ve provided the general calorie and macronutrient recommendations that I use for myself, as well as my clients, during a mass gain phase.

Total Calories per day* 16-18 calories per pound of bodyweight
Protein per day** 1 – 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight
Fat per day*** 20-25% of total calorie intake
Carbohydrates per day*** Fill in the rest

To illustrate, a 175lb male would adhere to the following guidelines:

Total Calories: 17 x 175 = 2,975kcals

Protein: 1.4 x 175 = 245g

Fat: .20 x 2,975 = 66g

Carbs: 350g

*Total calories do NOT need to remain constant throughout the week. If you’d prefer to cycle calories based on the day (i.e. training days and rest days) that is a perfectly viable option.

**During mass gain protein should never drop below 1g/lb of bodyweight and need not exceed 1.5g/lb of bodyweight.

***Carbs and fats can be manipulated to include more or less of each depending on needs and preferences.

Weight Maintenance

As the name suggests, the goal of weight maintenance is to sustain your current bodyweight while increasing strength. Needless to say, this is desirable for a variety of reasons, not least of which includes improvements in both relative and absolute strength.

To simplify the process, below I’ve provided the general calorie and macronutrient recommendations that I use for myself, as well as my clients, during a weight maintenance phase.

Total Calories per day 13 – 15 calories per pound of bodyweight
Protein per day 1 – 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight
Fat per day 20-25% of total calorie intake
Carbohydrates per day Fill in the rest

To illustrate, a 175lb male would adhere to the following guidelines:

Total Calories: 14 x 175 = 2,450kcal

Protein: 1.4 x 175 = 245g

Fat: .22 x 2,450= 60g

Carbs: 232g

*Total calories do NOT need to remain constant throughout the week. If you’d prefer to cycle calories based on the day (i.e. training days and rest days) that is a perfectly viable option.

**During weight maintenance protein should never drop below 1g/lb of bodyweight.

***Carbs and fats can be manipulated to include more or less of each depending on needs and preferences.

When Should You Eat?

Now that we’ve covered “how much,” it’s time to discuss when (or at what times) you should eat for optimal strength performance.

As noted above, I am of the opinion that total amount and overall macronutrient composition are the most important nutritional components related to our goal. That being said, I also believe that meal timing (specifically pre-workout) can dramatically influence strength and recovery.

Pre-Workout Meal

Pre-workout nutrition is, in my opinion, more important than post-workout nutrition. Reason being, the body takes a relatively long time to digest a meal that includes a variety of whole foods. As such, if we consume a balanced meal prior to training, our bodies will continue to receive a steady supply of nutrients (particularly amino acids) throughout the entire session and even into the post-workout window.

My recommendation: Eat a moderate-to-large pre-workout meal 1-3 hours prior to strength training.

Post-Workout Meal

Assuming an adequate pre-workout meal was consumed, there is no reason to rush the post-workout meal as your body will still be receiving nutrients. Furthermore, the so called “anabolic window” has been shown to last for up to 24 hours post-workout. As such, unless you plan on waiting an entire day to eat, there’s no reason to rush the post-workout meal.

My recommendation: Eat a moderate-to-large post-workout meal when you feel ready and comfortable. If that’s 1 hour, 3 hours, or 5 hours post-training…I don’t care. Just make sure you eat lots of protein, some starchy carbs, and some high quality fats.

Anytime Meals

Pre and post workout meals aside, it honestly doesn’t matter when you eat. It doesn’t matter if you eat breakfast, practice Intermittent Fasting, or stop eating after 8pm. All that matters is that the total amount of calories consumed and overall macronutrient composition are in line with your goals.

My recommendation: Eat whenever works best for you. It honestly doesn’t matter. Stick to a meal schedule that makes your life easier and more enjoyable.

What Should You Eat?

I’m not going to waste your time by breaking down the macronutrients and explaining how various foods affect our bodies; that’s for a different article at a different time. Instead I am going to provide you with a list of my personal favorite foods – sorted by macronutrient – that my clients and I eat on a regular basis.

I’d note, there’s nothing inherently special about these foods other than that they’re whole, natural, and unprocessed; they’re nutrient-dense, often high in protein, and are my go-to options for improved strength performance as well as living a healthy lifestyle.

Proteins

Fats

Carbohydrates

Beef Fish All vegetables
Fish (salmon, tuna, haddock, etc) Whole Eggs All fruits
Chicken Nuts/Nut Butters Oatmeal
Turkey Avocado Rice
Whole Eggs Olives/Olive Oil Quinoa
Greek Yogurt Higher Fat Dairy Potatoes

Protein

Unquestionably the most important macronutrient in the diet, protein must be emphasized at each and every meal. I don’t care what sources you get it from (refer to the table above) but make sure to eat protein at every meal.

Fats

Arguably the most misunderstood and underappreciated macronutrient, fats offer myriad health benefits. While I don’t believe we need to focus on adding more fat into our diet per se, I do believe we need to focus on emphasizing more high quality fat sources. In other words, don’t focus on adding more fat into your diet; instead, make a concerted effort to eat fats from a variety of high quality sources such as the ones outlined in the table above.

Carbohydrates

Easily the most overemphasized macronutrient, carbohydrates are important but not essential to our success. By all means incorporate carbohydrates into your routine (especially pre/post workout) but they should never be treated as the most important component of a well-rounded diet.

Supplements

Supplements have a time and a place but it’s important to understand that absolutely nothing (aside from “special” supplements) will benefit you more than a well rounded diet. Be mindful and don’t allow anyone to fool you into believing that you can out-supplement a poor diet.

Real food comes first!

That being said, there are some supplements that you may find useful on your quest to achieving superhuman strength. These supplements are listed below:

  • Creatine
  • Vitamin D (if you don’t live in a warm/sunny environment)
  • Calcium (if you’re lactose intolerant and/or don’t eat dairy)
  • Fish Oil (if you don’t eat fish at least 3x/week)
  • Protein Powder (for convenience) 

Wrapping Up

You could train harder than everyone else….You could be the most determined lifter in the world….You could have the absolute best training program…

But…if your nutrition sucks you will never achieve your ultimate strength potential.

Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.

Jordan Syatt is a strength training and nutritional consultant out of Total Performance Sports in Everett Mass. He is a World Record Powerlifter, featured in publications such as T-Nation, Muscle & Fitness, and Men’s Fitness Magazine. He is also Precision Nutrition Certified, Westside-Barbell Certified and owner of http://www.syattfitness.com.
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