When it comes to building strength, it’s easy to zero in on what you’re doing at the gym. But what happens outside the gym is key too—especially in terms of what you eat. If you want your workouts to be consistently strong, fueling your body properly is key.
One mistake that personal trainer and registered dietitian Kylie Churnetski, RD, NBC-HWC, CPT, RYT, says she sees people making is not eating enough. “People I work with tend to undereat. You have to eat for muscle growth,” she says. In fact, there are specific foods that can work in your favor, helping to make your workouts stronger and helping to build strength.
General Tips To Keep In Mind if You Want To Get Stronger
If you want to get stronger, Churnetski says that it’s important to incorporate weight training exercises into your workouts. “Stereotypically weight lifting is a great option, but there are many classes that incorporate weight training as well, such as CrossFit, Pilates, barre and strength classes,” she says.
Personal trainer, health coach and nutritionist at My Body GX, Katie Epps, CPT, says she recommends resistance training to anyone who has a health goal of building strength. She says that bodyweight exercises, using resistance bands or using gym equipment can all be used as part of resistance training. “The goal is to continue to build on the starting place and increase the resistance incrementally over time,” Epps explains.
By incorporating strength training into your workout routine, Epps says that you’ll not only get stronger, but the ligaments surrounding muscles and bones will also become stronger, which helps prevent injury.
In order to do all of this, proper nutrition is key. “It’s important to fuel your muscles when focusing on strength,” says registered dietitian, director of worldwide health education and training at Herbalife, and Living With Vitality founder Michelle Ricker, RDN. To do this, Ricker says to focus on eating foods high in protein and carbs both before and after working out. In terms of how much protein to get a day, Epps recommends eating 75 percent of your body weight in grams of protein. “For example, if you weigh 100 pounds, you would consume 75 grams of protein between plant, fish and animal sources,” she says.
All three dietitians say that it’s also important not to nix carbs from your life—you need them! “Carbohydrates are [a source of] energy and they are necessary for getting in a great workout as well as recovering from it,” Epps says.
The Best Foods for Building Strength and Making Workouts Stronger
There’s one protein-rich food in particular that all three experts recommend to anyone wanting to build strength and it’s one you might not expect. The answer? Beef. “Red meat is one of the richest sources of creatine, and contains an impressive amount of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals,” Ricker says.
Epps adds to this, suggesting meat prepared on the bone. “When meat is cooked on the bone, the cellular breakdown of collagen melts into the meat. When you consume it, you are getting the greatest absorbability of glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen, magnesium, calcium, and other nutrients needed to build and recover muscle and support joint and bone health,” she says. Epps adds that the meat can be baked, grilled or even boiled into soups and stocks.
While beef is a great source of protein and other nutrients, it’s also important to keep your individual health needs in mind. If you have high cholesterol, heart disease or a family history of cardiovascular problems, it’s best to keep red meat consumption at a minimum. Additionally, some people may not want to eat beef for ethical reasons. All three trainers say that’s 100 percent a-okay; beef is not the only high-protein food that can be beneficial for building strength.
“For those that eat a plant-based diet, amino acid sources such as pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, nuts, sesame seeds and cooked quinoa seeds will help their bodies produce more creatine, naturally,” Ricker says. Additionally, all three experts say it’s important to prioritize whole foods rich in protein, carbohydrates and fiber instead of relying solely on protein bars or other processed foods.
It bears repeating that what you do outside of the gym is just as important for building strength as what you do inside it. If you don’t fuel your body properly, you won’t have the energy for your workouts.
One could say that when it comes to what to eat for building strength, beef is a strong option. So if you needed an excuse to have steak for dinner tonight, consider this your sign.
Kylie Churnetski, RD, NBC-HWC, CPT, RYT, certified personal trainer and registered dietitian