3 Refueling Tips for Building Muscle


Optimum Nutrition LogoStrength training doesn’t end the moment you exit the weight room. The choices you make after the last rep will impact your strength gains and overall recovery. Proper refueling immediately after a strength session allows you to bounce back faster from training, and better build muscle to enhance performance going forward. The 3 main things to keep in mind when it comes to refueling after a strength workout: replenishing glycogen stores, repairing and building muscle, and rehydrating.

1. Replenish Glycogen
When you eat excess carbohydrates your body stores it as glycogen (a starch). Unlike fat, this fuel is easy for your body to use, so it’s first fuel your muscles turn to when you exercise intensely. After awhile, your glycogen stores decrease which can lead to “glycogen depletion.” Many runners and cyclist are familiar with this phenomenon as “bonking” or “hitting the wall,” but did you know it’s just as important for strength training?

While you hear a lot about the issue of glycogen depletion in endurance sports, research supports the idea that low glycogen stores can lead to fatigue in strength training as well. Lifting heavy weights mostly taps into glycogen as your main fuel source. Without it, you can’t lift as intensely. Ideally, you enter each strength session with your glycogen stores replenished, burn through much of it during the workout, and refuel with carbs afterwards.

2. Repairing and Building Muscle
A natural side effect of strength training is muscle breakdown. Don’t worry–your body subsequently repairs damaged tissues leading to muscle growth. Nutrition plays an important role to help this process along. Forgo a proper post-workout meal and you’re cheating your body of the nutrients it needs to repair and rebuild that muscle. Protein in particular plays an important role in this process and should be included in any recovery meal. Here, protein from your diet helps supply your muscles with the amino acids needed to repair itself.

3. Rehydration
Since muscles are made up of around 70% water, replacing lost fluids after a strength-training workout is of the utmost importance. In fact, research has demonstrated that even slight dehydration decreases power output during strength training and increases the risk of injury. In terms of fluid intake, athletes should generally throwback 16–24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during the workout. If you’re a salty sweater, consider opting for an electrolyte drink along with water.

What’s the Nitty-Gritty On Macronutrient for Strength Training?

Balancing your daily nutrients (e.g. protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water) is key to overall health. However, if your goal is to build muscle mass, you should focus on carbs to replace glycogen stores, protein to repair and rebuild muscle, and fluids to rehydrate. Studies show that a carbohydrate-protein combination post-workout has a bigger impact on later exercise performances than taking in carbohydrates alone.

Daily Macronutrient Calculations

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) gives the following guidelines for calculating the macronutrient needs in strength athletes on a daily basis. It’s important to remember that these are general guidelines. The ACSM emphasizes that nutrition plans should be individualized based on the athlete’s needs and training programs. Since most strength programs add weight, resistance, sets and reps over time, you may need to adjust your post-workout nutrition as you progress. In addition to doing your homework on what you should be taking in after training, be sure to listen to your body and respond accordingly. If you’re feeling fatigued or aren’t recovering properly, your nutrition plan is one place to make adjustments.

Here’s a table comparing those guidelines (more geared towards strength trainers) to those used in the MyFitnessPal app (more geared towards general health).

  MyFitnessPal Recommended Guidelines ACSM Recommended Guidelines
Protein 20% of daily calorie goal 1.6-1.7 grams per kilogram per day
Carbohydrates 50% of daily calorie goal 6-10 grams per kilogram per day
Fat 30% of daily calorie goal <10% saturated fat

HI-TECH TIP: Interested in changing your macronutrient goals? You can adjust these goals in the MyFitnessPal app by going into your diary settings.

Post-Workout Macronutrient Calculations

The recommendation for the optimal post-workout carbs-to-protein ratio ranges from 3:1–4:1. The American Council on Exercise suggests taking in the following within 30 minutes of finishing up your strength workout:

Carbohydrates: 1–1.5 g/kg of body weight
Protein: approximately 1/3 of the number of grams you ingested in carbohydrates

Recent research suggests that at least 20 grams of whey protein is needed to enhance the repair and rebuilding of the muscles. However, you may need more depending on your genetics, body composition, lifestyle and fitness level.

Example: A 200-pound athlete should consume around 100–140 grams of carbohydrates and 30–47 grams of protein within 30 minutes of finishing a strength-training workout.

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