The goals of sport nutrition can be considered to be those supporting performance and recovery, driving optimal body composition and promoting training adaptations. In this way, nutritional periodisation is the deliberate manipulation of nutrients and ergogenic aids to achieve the goals over a macro-, meso- or micro-cycle. During the strength block, the main goal is to promote maximal and reactive strength (1, 2) through specific training and remodelling of muscle fibres.
How do we Build New Muscle?
There are 1000s of proteins in our bodies, all of which perform a variety of functions that are essential to everyday life and of course, exercise performance. The contractile proteins are responsible for making our muscles produce force, the structural proteins provide structure to our tissues and the enzymatic proteins that facilitate chemical reactions in the cell.
Strength training provides a stimulus that stresses the muscle causing the proteins to breakdown, essentially inducing a catabolic state know as muscle protein breakdown. In the presence of adequate protein feeding, the combined effects of exercise and cell signalling results in the formation of new proteins (referred to as protein synthesis). For this reason, we must consume adequate protein in our diet so that we have the relevant building blocks (i.e. amino acids) to make the new muscle tissue. It is these repeated changes in protein synthesis, in response to every single training session, which forms the basis of how our muscles adapt, remodel and grow.
Nutrients to Support Strength Training
Nutrition for strength training can be considered as either ergogenic aids to support exercise performance or specific nutrients to promote the recovery process.
Ergogenic Aid: an ergogenic aid is a supplement or technique that is used to enhance performance. These can range from nutritional techniques such as carbohydrate loading to illegal approaches in the form of banned substances. Perhaps one of the most widely researched and safe ergogenic aids is creatine.
Creatine is a naturally occurring nutrient consumed in the diet and stored predominantly in skeletal muscle. Intramuscular creatine stores can be increased through supplementation and supports performance via augmented phosphocreatine resynthesis during explosive exercise. In this way, enhancing strength performance and leading to greater gains in lean mass, strength and power (3). It is recommended to start supplementation with a loading phase of 20 grams per day for 5 days, followed by 3-5 grams per day during the strength training block (3). Supplementing alongside carbohydrate and protein can increase muscle creatine uptake (3).
Recovery: protein ingestion in the post-exercise window and day-to-day can support muscle recovery and facilitate training adaptations. After a strength session there is a state of catabolism, as muscle protein has been broken down during the session. Providing a protein feeding at this time can promote muscle rebuild, with up to 40 g of high-quality protein required to maximally stimulate protein synthesis post whole-body strength sessions (4). A high-quality protein source is one that contains all of the key amino acids, such as whey protein.
Recovery: the period overnight provides an opportunity to deliver nutrients to further promote training adaptations and protein ingested in the pre-sleep window is digested and absorbed, thereby increasing protein synthesis (5). In combination with strength training, supplementing with casein protein pre-sleep can be used effectively to further increase gains in muscle mass and strength (5).
Daily Nutrition Advice
In exercising populations daily protein intake should never be compromised and this is of increased importance during strength training blocks. The recommended daily protein dose sits around 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram body mass per day with no negative effects up to 2.2 g.kg.day (3). This should be split into a bolus feeding strategy of 0.3-0.5 g.kg evenly spaced three to four times per day, including a feeding post exercise (3). Ingested protein should be a “quality” protein source, i.e. one that contains all of the key amino acids. This is largely the case with animal and dairy proteins, some vegetarian sources such as soy and certain supplements. Including a daily snack option, such as a protein bar, can ensure an optimal protein feeding pattern throughout the day.
Take Home Messages
- The periodisation of nutrients and ergogenic aids can support the goals of strength training.
- Creatine is one of the most widely reached, safe and beneficial supplements to use alongside strength training.
- Day-to-day protein ingestion of 1.6-2.2 g.kg.d is recommended, with a feeding post-exercise and pre-bed, to support the recovery process and promote training adaptations.