When you are busting your butt and breaking your wallet with your personal trainer or coach but not seeing results, nutrition may be the answer you are looking for. It is very easy to focus on the output – the training that you are doing each week – but overlook the rest and recovery needed to allow those results to occur! Nutrition is an area often underutilized, ironically moreso if weight loss is a desired goal as well. Without the right nutrients, your body will struggle to perform at its best, and you may not see the results you desire, including physique changes.
In this article we will explore how incorporating the right nutrients into your diet can enhance your fitness journey and maximize your workout efforts.
Proper nutrition fuels your body with the necessary energy to power through intense workouts, aids in muscle recovery, and promotes overall health and well-being by maintaining the immune system, central nervous system and all body systems that allow us to perform. By providing your body with the essential macronutrients and micronutrients it needs, you can optimize your performance, support a healthy metabolism, increase endurance, and build lean muscle mass more effectively.
Whether you are a seasoned athlete or just starting your fitness journey, understanding the impact of nutrition on your training can make a significant difference in your results.
Understanding macronutrients and their importance.
Macronutrients, including proteins, fats and carbohydrates, are the building blocks of a well-balanced diet. Each macronutrient serves a specific purpose and plays a crucial role in supporting your fitness goals.
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy during moderate and high intensity workouts. They provide the rapidly-needed fuel to power through intense workouts and sustain energy levels throughout the day. Including complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains in your diet can provide a steady release of energy and prevent crashes.
Proteins are mandatory for muscle repair and growth. They help to rebuild muscle fibers that are broken down during exercise, promoting muscle recovery and strength. Proteins allow the muscular adaptation to run farther, faster, and lift heavier. They are utilized in every system of the body and play key roles in digestion and immune support as well. While weight-lifters often prioritize protein, endurance athletes often minimize their value in favor of carbohydrate. Doing so can contribute to lowered immunity during training and significantly inhibit the muscular adaptations that come from key workouts focused on speed and strength. Nutrient-rich sources of sources of protein, such as beef, poultry, seafood or tofu should be included in every meal to support muscle development, immune health, and more.
Fats also play a vital role in overall health and performance. Quality fats supply essential fatty acids to maintain brain, skin and eye health as well as several important micronutrients. They also aid in the absorption of Vitamins A, D, E, and K and serve as a secondary source of energy during prolonged exercise. In healthy metabolism, fats are used as a primary fuel in very low intensity movement or during rest. Incorporating avocados, nuts, olives and olive oil, into your diet can help optimize your performance and support your body’s needs. Please note that animal fats need not be avoided for most of the population; the belief that cholesterol directly contributes to heart disease was a leap of faith made in the 1950’s and unsupported by the bulk of subsequent science. The USDA stopped recommended cholesterol restrictions as of 2015 and also backpedaled on limiting all fats in the diet. (1)
The impact of proper nutrition on energy levels and performance
Proper nutrition directly impacts your energy levels and performance during personal training sessions. When you provide your body with the right nutrients, you are essentially fueling it for success.
Carbohydrates, as mentioned earlier, are the primary source of energy for your body during a workout and play an important role in recovery. By consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates before your workout, you can ensure that your carbohydrate (glycogen) stores are topped up, allowing you to perform at your best. Complex carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, brown rice or sweet potatoes are excellent choices for sustained energy. The amount of carbohydrate needed depends greatly upon the nature of your workout, your metabolic health, sex and age. General guidelines given are often based upon research done on college-aged men, so if that is you, you are in luck! If this is not you, your needs may vary, but consuming a minimum of 30 grams of carbohydrate within an hour of exercise is important for most people (and often more is helpful).
Proteins are crucial for muscle repair and growth. By consuming protein-rich foods before and after your workouts, you can enhance muscle recovery and promote lean muscle development. Including a source of protein in your pre-workout meal, such as a protein shake or Greek yogurt, can help provide your muscles with the necessary amino acids to rebuild and repair. 10 grams of protein in your pre-workout meal, consumed 30-60 minutes before exercise, is often enough to do the job.
Fats, although often misunderstood, are an important energy source for endurance exercises. Including healthy fats in your diet can help sustain energy levels during longer workouts. A handful of nuts or a tablespoon of nut butter can provide a boost of healthy fats without weighing you down. If you are engaging in high-intensity activity such as running or swimming, fats are best saved for meals outside the exercise window so they do not sit too long in the digestive system, leading to cramping.
Nutrition strategies for pre-workout and post-workout meals
Pre-workout and post-workout meals are essential for maximizing your personal training results. These meals serve different purposes and should be tailored to your specific needs.
For your pre-workout meal, aim to consume a combination of carbohydrates and protein. This combination will provide your body with the necessary fuel to power through your workout and support muscle recovery. A well-balanced pre-workout meal could include a chicken breast with brown rice and steamed vegetables or a smoothie made with protein powder, low-fructose fruits such as bananas and dates with almond milk, and a handful of spinach. Many fruits such as pears, apples, grapes and mangoes contain higher levels of fructose which can cause gastrointestinal upset during activity in some people and are best avoided right before a workout!
Post-workout meals are crucial for replenishing glycogen stores, repairing muscle fibers, and promoting recovery. Within 30 minutes of completing your workout, aim to consume a meal or snack that contains both carbohydrates and protein. This could be a protein shake with a banana, a turkey and avocado wrap, or Greek yogurt mixed with protein powder, berries and granola. Aim for 30 grams of protein or more in this recovery meal if you’ve had a challenging workout.
Remember to listen to your body and adjust your pre-workout and post-workout meals based on your individual needs and preferences. Experiment with different food combinations to find what works best for you. If you need support in finding which foods your body will do best on, or have a complication such as weight-loss resistance or blood sugar challenges, a nutrition consultation may be your best course of action to eliminate all the guesswork.
The importance of hydration for optimal performance
Hydration is often overlooked but is a critical component of optimal performance during personal training, running and other activities. Even mild dehydration can significantly impact your energy levels, cognitive function, and overall performance due to its impacts upon the central nervous system. This increases the risk of injury and can happen even if we do not feel thirsty.
During exercise, your body loses water through sweat, and it’s essential to replenish those fluids and electrolytes. Aim to drink water throughout the day, especially before, during, and after your workouts. If you engage in intense or prolonged exercise, incorporating electrolyte-rich drinks to replenish lost minerals becomes essential to optimal performance and recovery. My favorites are LMNT, Redmond Re-Lyte and Skratch Labs brands.
Remember that individual hydration needs vary depending on factors such as body weight, activity level, and environmental conditions. Pay attention to your body’s signals such as clumsiness, poor form, and lack of mental clarity and drink when you feel thirsty to maintain proper hydration.
How to create a personalized nutrition plan for your fitness goals
Creating a personalized nutrition plan is crucial for achieving your fitness goals. While the basics of nutrition apply to everyone, tailoring your diet to your specific needs can help optimize your results.
Start by assessing your current eating habits and identifying areas for improvement. Are you consuming enough vegetables? Are you getting enough protein? Are you skimping on your pre and post-workout nutrition? Ask yourself these questions to gain insight into your current nutritional status. Begin with what seems obvious first and see if this leads to sufficient improvements. If implementing what ‘you know you need to do’ is where you struggle, having a health coach or nutritionist to help you be accountable to your own goals and strategize solutions to make change easier is often the best bang your your buck you can invest in.
Next, determine your fitness goals. Are you looking to lose weight, build muscle, or improve athletic performance? Each goal requires different nutritional strategies, so understanding your objectives will help guide your choices.
Consider seeking guidance from a nutritionist who can assess your individual needs and create a personalized nutrition plan tailored to your goals. Nutrition professionals like myself can help you determine the appropriate calorie intake, macronutrient distribution, micronutrient needs and food choices to support your efforts.
The benefits of tracking your food intake and using nutrition apps
While controversial, tracking your food intake and using nutrition apps can be powerful tools in optimizing your personal training results. These tools inevitably increase awareness into your eating habits, nutrient intake, and calorie expenditure, and can help you make informed choices.
By tracking your food intake, you can identify any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances in your diet. You can monitor your calorie intake and ensure that you are consuming an appropriate amount of macronutrients for your goals. Often clients discover that they are undereating and this is inhibiting their progress, despite thinking they had the opposite problem!
Nutrition apps can help simplify the tracking process and provide a comprehensive overview of your nutritional profile. My favorite is Cronometer, which utilizes the comprehensive NCCDB database, accounts for micronutrients, and has humans fact-check user submitted information to prevent multiple entries and incorrect data.
Remember that tracking your food intake should not become an obsession. It’s essential to find a balance and use these tools as a means of gaining insight and making informed choices, rather than fixating on numbers. While the insights gained from tracking can be very useful, I prefer to utilize this tool only when initial changes identified and implemented do not yield sufficient results.
Common nutrition mistakes to avoid in personal training and fitness
While proper nutrition is crucial for your athletic success, it’s equally important to avoid common nutrition mistakes that can hinder your progress. Here are a few pitfalls to watch out for:
1. Fasted Workouts: Silicon-valley biohackers and social media virality have created a physiological and fitness trainwreck through the encouragement of time-restricted feeding, fasted workouts, and OMAD (One Meal a Day). A fasted workout is like driving long-distance on an empty tank. And while your car will happily go the speed limit until there is nothing left, your brilliant body will make all sorts of compromises with low energy availability to try and keep you going as long as it can. What results is poor performance, compromised motor skills which increase the risk of injury, and a reduced ability to adapt to your workouts, leading to early stalling. In several of my clients, fasted workouts led to metabolic adaptations that made it harder to lose weight, effectively countering their primary goal!!! For most people, fasted workouts are inappropriate and eating regular, balanced meals are necessary to maintain sufficient energy and motor skills to perform well, adapt and recover from exercise to reach their long-term goals.
2. Relying on supplements to do the heavy lifting: Supplements can be useful in certain situations, but they should not replace a well-rounded diet. Focus on getting your nutrients from whole foods whenever possible. Nutrition is a very young science and we have hardly begun to explore the nutrients in our unprocessed foods which allow for human thriving, rather than simply prevention of acute disease like rickets and scurvy. By consuming primarily unprocessed foods like your great-grandparents did, you ensure that several unexplored food compounds which promote health and longevity are available to assist in your recovery and adaptation from your training sessions.
3. Neglecting micronutrients: While macronutrients (proteins, carbs and fats) often take the spotlight, our micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are equally important. Consuming a variety of vegetables, proteins, fruits and legumes ensure you are getting a wide range of nutrients. Using a tool such as Cronometer to periodically check which nutrients you tend to fall short on can help you become aware of gaps and find delicious foods to fill them.
Supplement recommendations for enhancing your results
Again, a well-balanced diet can provide you with all the necessary nutrients, but certain supplements may help enhance your training results. That said, it’s important to note that supplements are not a magic solution and are designed to supplement a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Here are a few supplements that may be beneficial:
1. Protein powder: Protein powder can be a convenient way to ensure you are meeting your protein needs, especially for individuals who struggle to consume enough through whole foods. Choose a high-quality protein powder that aligns with your dietary preferences (e.g., whey, plant-based). If choosing a plant-based protein powder, choose a sport blend with at least 2.8 grams of leucine per serving to ensure proper muscular adaptations to your training load.
2. Creatine: Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that can enhance muscle strength and power. It may be beneficial for high-intensity, short-duration exercises, such as weightlifting or sprinting. Creatine also plays a role in brain health. While common recommendations are for the weight-lifting populations, smaller doses such as 3 grams a day hold great promise in enhancing mood and cognition (2, 3, 4).
3. Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can support joint health and recovery. Emerging evidence also shows they can play a positive role muscle retention and gain, especially as we age. (5,6) And while there is also some evidence that omega-3 fats can facilitate fat loss, a systematic review of the literature indicates there is too much inconsistency in the research for this to be as promising (7, 8).
Omega-3 fatty acids are most abundant in fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel or through fish oil supplements. If relying on supplements, look for a ‘high potency’ brand containing 1,000 grams of combined EPA and DHA per capsule. Also, because fish oil is contraindicated with some medications, you will want to speak with your health care provider before taking fish oil. Fatty fish can be consumed 3-4 times per week or more for best results. Check out my omega-3 rich Seafood Dip for a tasty way to get more omega-3s and other important nutrients!
4. Multivitamins: While a nutrient-dense, low-processed food diet will likely provide most of the necessary vitamins and minerals, a multivitamin can help fill in any nutritional gaps, especially if you are unable to get sufficient amounts through diet alone (Vitamin D is a common one). Choose a reputable brand that provides essential nutrients you know you need. Fullscript is an excellent online supplement dispensary available in the US and Canada which offers pharmaceutical grade supplements that follow strict quality control protocols, something which is not mandated by the American government (Europe and Australia does a better job at this). Full disclosure, the link goes to my practice’s dispensary. If you create an account, send me an email and I can offer you a 10% discount on your supplements.
On that note, remember to consult with a healthcare provider or nutrition professional before starting any new supplements to ensure they align with your specific needs and goals.
Conclusion: The power of combining proper nutrition with personal training
Proper nutrition is a game-changer when it comes to personal training and achieving any fitness goal. By fueling your body with the right nutrients, you can optimize your performance, increase endurance, and build lean muscle mass more effectively.
Don’t overlook the impact of hydration and the benefits of tracking your food intake. Avoid common nutrition mistakes and consider incorporating supplements that align with your goals. By combining these strategies with your efforts, you will set yourself up for success and achieve the results you desire.
If you find yourself stuck with determining how to best fuel your workouts or find that life makes implementation challenging, reach out for support! I’ve worked with busy moms and jet-setting executives and know all too well how the best of intentions can be derailed by the chaos of a complicated schedule. Even those who tell me they ‘have no excuses’ find that having an extra mind to strategize and overcome mental and logistical obstacles is a valuable addition to their success.
- Mozaffarian, D., & Ludwig, D. S. (2015). The 2015 US Dietary Guidelines: Lifting the Ban on Total Dietary Fat. JAMA, 313(24), 2421–2422. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2015.5941
- Smith-Ryan, A. E., Cabre, H. E., Eckerson, J. M., & Candow, D. G. (2021). Creatine Supplementation in Women’s Health: A Lifespan Perspective. Nutrients 13(3), 877. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13030877
- Kious, B. M., Kondo, D. G., & Renshaw, P. F. (2019). Creatine for the Treatment of Depression. Biomolecules, 9(9), 406. https://doi.org/10.3390/biom9090406
- Roschel, H., Gualano, B., Ostojic, S. M., & Rawson, E. S. (2021). Creatine Supplementation and Brain Health. Nutrients, 13(2), 586. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu1302058
- Huang, Ya-Hui et al. “Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Muscle Mass, Muscle Strength and Muscle Performance among the Elderly: A Meta-Analysis.” Nutrients vol. 12,12 3739. 4 Dec. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12123739
- McGlory, C., Calder, P. C., & Nunes, E. A. (2019). The Influence of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Skeletal Muscle Protein Turnover in Health, Disuse, and Disease. Frontiers in nutrition, 6, 144. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00144
- Noreen, E.E., Sass, M.J., Crowe, M.L. et al. Effects of supplemental fish oil on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and salivary cortisol in healthy adults. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 7, 31 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-31
- Delpino, Felipe Mendes et al. “Effects of omega-3 supplementation on body weight and body fat mass: A systematic review.” Clinical nutrition ESPEN vol. 44 (2021): 122-129. doi:10.1016/j.clnesp.2021.04.023