How to fuel your strength training routine
We caught up with Jenn McAmis, an AFAA certified group fitness instructor, ACSM certified personal trainer and self-described fitness junkie, to hear about the best way to maintain a successful strength training routine.
If you're starting a strength routine as part of a diet plan, slow down for a second. Women need to be very thoughtful about how to incorporate strength workouts, since the calorie deficits and fast pace of diet plans can't adequately support strength training. "Women are often at a calorie and sleep deficit when they start lifting," says McAmis. "This is not what needs to happen if you want to see results."
McAmis offers the following suggestions for supporting your body during strength training.
Take measurements. "When you begin strength training, it's very likely that your weight won't drop quickly, or you may even gain weight," she says. Don't lose hope — lean muscle is heavy, so the numbers on the scale shouldn't be your main focus. McAmis suggests measuring your biceps, chest, hips, waist and thighs before starting your routine, so you can keep track of progress.
And lean muscle does a lot more than look pretty. "The lean muscles developed by strength training can increase metabolism, so that women burn more fat even while they're resting," McAmis says. She goes on to explain that women of average height should aim for 90 to 110 pounds of lean mass — including muscles, bones and organs — to support body functions throughout the day.
Eat a lot of lean protein. Don't skimp on the calories when you strength train, since your muscles need adequate fuel to recover and develop. "If you're hungry, eat," says McAmis. Just make sure it's the right stuff — like fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins for muscle recovery.
Sleep at least seven to eight hours per night. "One of the things you need most for muscle growth and recovery is sleep," she says. "Many things in life can be rearranged, but getting enough sleep while strength training is not one of them." Don't skimp on sleep to fit in your workout.
Listen to your body. McAmis cautions that strength training should improve your life, rather than damage it. "If something hurts, don't do it," she says. "You're working on strengthening your body for life, so don't cause problems you'll have to deal with in the future as a result of injury."
Don't give up. Remember that you're changing your body composition one tiny part at a time. McAmis says it's normal not to see results for four weeks, and acquaintances may not notice any difference for 12 weeks. "Don't be discouraged if you don't see results overnight," she says. If you're a results-driven person, this is also where it's handy to keep track of measurements rather than numbers on a scale.
"It will take time," concludes McAmis, "but with dedication, listening to your body and properly fueling it with nutrients and rest, the results will come."