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Five nutrition principles all strength trainers should follow

Athletes serious about improving their physique and strength-training performance will do anything they can to achieve success. But, according to Susan Kleiner, a registered dietitian and creator of the widely popular Power Eating program, advice given to strength trainers is often a confusing mix of fact and fiction. In the new edition of her book, Power Eating, Kleiner separates fact from fiction by sharing five principles that all strength trainers can follow to get in shape and achieve their personal best in performance.

  1. Eat enough calories. “A key to feeling energized is to eat the right amount of calories to power your body for hard training,” Kleiner says. “A lack of calories will definitely make you feel like a wet dishrag by the end of your workout.” Very low-calorie diets followed for longer than two weeks can be hazardous to an athlete's health, and they don't provide the dietary reference intakes (DRIs) of enough of the nutrients needed for basic health. Studies have shown that athletes in particular may have to exceed the DRI of many nutrients. Some competitive bodybuilders have estimated their caloric intake to be greater than 6,000 calories a day during the off-season—roughly three times the DRI for the average person (2,000 calories a day for women and 2,700 calories a day for men). “How much you need of each nutrient depends on a number of factors, including your age and sex, how hard you train, and whether you are a competitive or recreational strength trainer,” Kleiner explains.
  2. Eat the carbohydrate you need. “Most athletes don't eat enough carbohydrate, the primary fuel for the body,” Kleiner says. “They often follow diets in which only half of the total daily calories come from carbohydrate, but 6 to 7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight are required daily.” A majority of bodybuilders practice low-carbohydrate dieting because they believe it promotes faster weight loss. But these diets deplete glycogen, the body's storage form of carbohydrate. Once glycogen stores are emptied, the body starts burning protein from tissues, including muscle tissue, to meet energy demands. Many fitness-minded people think carbs will make them fat—a myth that is partially responsible for unbalanced strength-training diets, which are typically too high in protein,” Kleiner says. “The real story on carbohydrate for weight control and muscle building is that you should select whole-food carbohydrate—natural, complex carbohydrate as close to its natural state as possible—instead of refined, processed carbohydrate.”
  3. Vary your diet. “Bodybuilding diets, especially precontest diets, tend to be monotonous; the same foods show up on the plate day after day,” Kleiner says. “The problem with such a diet is that it lacks variety, and without a variety of foods, you miss out on nutrients essential for peak health.” Most bodybuilders don't eat much fruit, dairy products, and red meat. Fruit is packed with health-building antioxidants, and dairy products supply important nutrients such as bone-building calcium and bioactive proteins that promote lean muscle growth. Red meat is also an important source of vital minerals such as iron and zinc. “When people limit or eliminate such foods from their diets, potentially serious deficiencies begin to show up,” Kleiner explains. “In studies conducted by me and others, the most common deficiencies observed are those of calcium and zinc, particularly during the precompetition season. Deficits of these minerals can harm health and performance.”
  4. Time and combine your food and nutrients. “To achieve superb physique and maximum performance, forgo the usual approach of three meals a day,” Kleiner says. “Active people must fuel themselves throughout the day, eating small meals and snacks every two to three hours, preferably timed around their workout schedules.” When eating multiple meals, combine protein with carbohydrate and fat. By including small amounts of protein in meals and snacks, athletes can control appetite, feed muscles more efficiently, and maintain muscle when they're trying to lose fat. “The bottom line is that eating small, frequent meals throughout the day is the best fat-burning, muscle-building strategy you can integrate into your lifestyle,” Kleiner says.
  5. Use a food plan. “Any nutrition program aimed at losing body fat and building muscle should be based on a food plan that emphasizes lean protein, natural carbohydrate, and good fat,” Kleiner says. “It should also include sample menus and recipes as well as information on making healthy selections that are personalized to an athlete's lifestyle.” Kleiner adds that a food plan should be neither so restrictive that it invites failure nor so unstructured as to be confusing. “You have to be exact about what you eat, and you need to make the right choices. Each calorie that you put into your mouth has to be results oriented,” Kleiner explains.

These are the same principles Kleiner has advocated for world-class athletes, Olympic contenders, and recreational strength trainers for more than 25 years.

More than 100,000 people have turned to Power Eating and its proven nutrition strategies for gaining power, reducing body fat, building muscle, and enhancing training results. The new fourth edition offers a scientific blueprint for helping strength and power athletes achieve superior performance.