You may notice that you're positively starving when you leave the gym after a particularly sweaty session. It's natural for the body to crave more food when you're doing more exercise, but just because you're eating more calories doesn't mean you shouldn't be strategic about what you're putting into your body. This is especially true if you've started lifting weights for the first time.
"It's essential to know that nutrition has a significant impact on your results," Dr. Luiza Petre, board-certified cardiologist and weight-management specialist, told POPSUGAR. If you're lifting weights in an attempt to build muscle mass, Dr. Petre said, "You will likely need some additional calories." More importantly, though, you need to make sure you're getting enough protein.
Dee (Diksha) Gautham, NASM-certified personal trainer and NPC bikini competitor, confirmed this to be true. "Protein is the building block of our muscle tissues and will support muscle recovery and building strength," she explained. Similarly, Dr. Petre added that giving your body a good amount of whole protein source won't only build and maintain muscle, but will also "stimulate the release of fat-burning hormones."
So how much more protein do you need to be eating if you're doing strength training on the regular? Well, let's start with the recommended daily intake of protein for women, which is 0.37 grams per pound of bodyweight. The CDC puts it in easier terms — you should aim for 46 grams of protein a day. However, that's the case if you're not exercising a lot or lifting heavy weights.
If you're looking to put on muscle, Dr. Petre said, "The general rule is that it is necessary to eat at least 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day." Dee also suggested you aim for one gram of protein per pound of your weight. In an ideal world, you would squeeze in an extra serving of protein before and after your workout, which would "easily keep the metabolism revved up at all times for maximum benefit during exercising," according to Dr. Petre. As for which protein to eat, Dr. Petre recommends whole protein, like lean beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, eggs, and soy.
But protein isn't the only thing to think about. "With abundant protein meals, you should not forget the importance of carbohydrates when starting weightlifting," Dr. Petre explained. "A reasonable intake of quality carbs is also required to train on — and for recuperation." So don't be afraid of carbs! It's the energy that will help you get through workouts and recover faster.
"However, this does not mean you need to eat abnormal amounts of sugar and pasta," Dr. Petre warned. "Eat non-starchy carbs which are higher in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, regularly throughout the day." Another thing to keep in mind is when you eat your complex carbs. Dr. Petre says if you eat them first thing in the morning — think whole grain bread, brown rice, or quinoa — "your body is more likely to use them to help refuel your energy reserves."
Although it feels natural to increase your calorie intake when you're lifting weights, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to, especially if you're trying to simultaneously shed fat. "If you're trying to build muscle and lose body fat at the same time, you can do it, but diet is key: focus on decreasing your overall calories slightly while still keeping your protein up," Dee suggested. Getting all that protein will also keep you fuller for longer, so you don't have to worry about dealing with painful periods of hunger.
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