How athletes can support strength gains with nutrition

Posted on February 16, 2021 by

Picture this. You’re following a high-quality strength-oriented program as prescribed by your strength and conditioning coach, but no matter how hard you train your strength gains are few and far between, especially compared to your teammates.

If this is you, it may be worth reviewing some of your dietary habits to see if how, when and what you are eating supports your goals. It is important to note that increasing your strength doesn’t necessarily mean increasing your body weight. Consider the following areas:


1. Are you fuelling adequately? 

The key fuel used for high-intensity exercise in the gym is carbohydrate, making carbohydrate intake before training extremely important to optimise output and delay fatigue. Carbohydrates are found in a range of foods including whole grains, starchy vegetables, dairy and fruit, so including at least of one of these in your pre-training meal or snack will support training performance.

Even if you train early in the morning, consuming carbohydrates beforehand will allow you to push yourself further and consequently get more out of the session. This doesn’t mean you need to wake up hours before training and compromise on sleep time just to eat, it could be something light and relatively easy-to-digest in the 30-60 minutes prior to training starting. Examples include fresh or dried fruit like a banana or dates, a slice or two of toast or some rice cakes with honey or jam.


2. Are you eating enough protein?

Exercise puts stress through the muscle – a process required for training adaptation. Protein plays an important role in repairing muscles from this stress, making it a key nutrient for individuals involved in resistance training and looking to increase strength. To optimise training adaptation from strength-focused sessions, individuals should aim to consume 1.6-2.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight. For a 70kg athlete, this equates to 112-154 grams of protein per day.


3. Are you spreading your protein out across meals?

While total quantity of protein consumed per day is important, so is its distribution. Consuming your daily requirements of protein in 1-2 hits per day will not be as beneficial for strength gains as regular, evenly distributed protein doses.

Using the 70kg athlete as an example, consuming 112-154 grams of protein evenly across the day should look like 30-40g of protein per meal, unlike what we commonly see where an individual consumes minimal protein at breakfast, a moderate dose at lunch and a huge dose at dinner.


See below for an example of some dietary substitutes/interventions to support strength gains:

Meal time Initial diet Post-intervention Nutrition intervention used
Pre-training snack Nil Banana Carbs pre-training
Breakfast Weetbix + almond milk + berries Weetbix + cow’s or soy milk + Greek yoghurt + berries + nuts/seeds Higher protein
Morning snack Apple + vita-weats with vegemite Vita-weats with can of tuna Higher protein
Lunch Salami & salad sandwich on white bread Chicken tenderloin & salad sandwich on grainy bread Higher protein
Pre-training snack Handful of nuts Piece of fruit and oat-based muesli bar Carbs pre-training
Dinner Very large serve of steak + mashed potato + vegetables Moderate serve of steak + mashed potato + vegetables Lower protein to allow for more even spread
Supper Fruit salad Fruit + Greek yoghurt Higher protein



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