The food that you eat, which fuels your exercise and aids your recovery, is every bit as important as the training routine you execute. As well as being just as important, the subject is just as big. The advice I give on food, however, will be limited just to this single post.
Eat 1-2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight per day when strength training. Some say 1g per kg, some say 1g per lb (pound). Regardless of how much you eat, most people who aren’t used to building muscle do not typically eat enough protein. There are many reasons why progressive weight lifting training programmes fail but one of the most common is a lack of protein. Not all protein is equal. Gram for gram, some types of protein are absorbed more easily than others e.g. protein from prawns (shrimp) is more easily absorbed by the body than same amount of protein from beans or other pulses.
Avoid processed foods. Microwave meals, preservatives, E-numbers, MSG, transfats… basically anything out of a packet. Make more of your meals from scratch. This is not to say that the convenience of processed foods isn’t useful. I always have a cupboard full of Ember biltong – tasty and easy to get protein quickly. I also rely on whey protein shakes which is definitely not naturally occurring. As you get heavier, you can easily be looking to get 100 grams of quality protein a day and it can get tricky. Be strict on yourself about ‘protein’ chocolate bars though ― that’s still basically a candy bar with appropriate price markup for the marketing. Also note that food you make yourself is better if you use less oil; grill rather than fry; steam rather than boil.
Make a meal plan. Counting calories is tough and absolutely a pain in the ass, so it’s not for everyone. But having a clue about what you’re going to eat on any given day will help make food as much a part of your routine as exercise, to compliment your training routine. At the very least, knowing what options you have at home will mean you don’t end up substituting a meal which should contain protein, vitamins, and minerals with tortilla chips and ice cream, or takeout.
There is so much misinformation about diet more than anything else so I leave you with two pieces of advice. Dietitian is a protected title that requires an individual using it to have a medical qualification; any yahoo can call themselves a nutritionist after reading the diet sections of glossy magazines or quack food bloggers. Listen to people who are prepared to backup their advice with scientific references. For my above claims I am going to pass the buck and move to my second piece of advice. Read Lean Gains by Martin Berkhan. It is framed as a workout / fitness regime book, but it covers much more ground than that. In addition to a mini-autobiography of Martin, it gives deep insight into the properties of different foods, how to prepare a meal plan, and the benefits of 16/8 fasting i.e. fasting for 16 hours, eating over 8 hours. For the information about food and diet alone it’s worth the read. And unlike me, Martin backs up his claims with numerous quality references to scientific research.