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Eat Right for Resistance Training

Dumbells (md)

Proper nutrition is important for resistance sports including weight and strength training. Maintaining good eating habits can improve overall performance and increase muscle strength. This is true whether you lift weights once a week or multiple times a day.

Resistance athletes need a diet that provides carbohydrates for energy and moderate amounts of fat and protein. You can easily meet these needs with a nutrient-dense, well-balanced diet. A sports dietitian can assist you in developing personalized eating plans to meet the needs of your sport.


Your energy needs change based on how often and how hard you train, as well as your overall goals. Diets that are low in calories can lead to loss of body weight and loss of muscle, while diets high in energy intake can result in gains in body mass, including muscle and fat. Gaining muscle mass requires adequate energy and protein intake, resistance training and appropriate hormone levels.

When training in resistance exercise, take care to consume a diet that contains high-quality protein and adequate carbohydrate and heart-healthy fat sources. While eating enough protein is critical to building and repairing muscle, protein is used only as a minor energy source during exercise.


Carbohydrates provide energy so your body does not have to use protein as a fuel source. Getting enough carbohydrates can prevent early fatigue and injury. If you follow a well-balanced diet, a carbohydrate intake of 2.3 to 3.6 grams per pound is likely enough. Even if your focus is on body image and weight, your daily intake should not be less than 2.3 grams per pound.

Good sources include:

  • Whole grains like whole-wheat breads and pastas, brown rice and quinoa
  • Fruit
  • Dairy
  • Energy bars
  • Sports drinks


When performing a high intensity, high power resistance exercise, fat is not used as a fuel source. Even so, fat is an essential macronutrient. It aids your body in many ways, including providing energy for low- to moderate intensity exercise and insulating your organs. Aim for a diet containing 20 percent to 35 percent of energy from fat. Very low-fat diets are not recommended because they can lead to a shortage of some nutrients and can hurt your performance.

Healthy sources include:

  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Nut oils
  • Seeds
  • Vegetable oils and spreads made from a vegetable-oil base

Limit your intake of saturated fat, which comes from full-fat dairy foods such as whole milk, butter, high-fat cheese and animal fats, such as lard and highly-marbled cuts of meat. However, since dairy and meat contribute energy and nutrients to your diet, opt for leaner choices, including low-fat or fat-free milk, low-fat cheeses and lean, trimmed meats. These options provide protein and other nutrients with much less saturated fat. Minimize consumption of foods that contain trans fats such as hydrogenated oils.


Resistance training requires muscle strength and power. Protein plays an important role in building and maintaining muscle. It also promotes healthy immune function. While the protein needs of athletes are highly debated, most researchers agree resistance-trained athletes need more protein than the general population.

The amount of protein needed depends upon where you are in your training. As training becomes regular, your protein needs may decrease.

As an example of daily protein requirements, a 150-pound individual needs approximately 81 to 116 grams of protein per day. A typical day that includes three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy plus three servings of protein foods (such as lean meat, poultry, fish or beans) will provide quality sources of protein to help reach that goal. Grains, especially whole grains, also provide some protein.

The following foods provide a total of 90 grams of protein:

  • 2 cups fat-free milk = 16 grams
  • 8 ounces plain low-fat yogurt = 12 grams
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter = 7 grams
  • 3 ounces baked chicken = 26 grams
  • 3 ounces grilled salmon = 21 grams
  • 1 cup quinoa = 8 grams

Good sources of protein also include:

  • Lean meat, poultry and fish
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Eggs
  • Legumes (lentils, black beans, pinto beans, dried peas)
  • Soy products

Reviewed December 2013