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Nutrition Therapy for Training Issues

As you progress through your workout program, there are going to be times when you run into problems and aren’t entirely sure what you’re doing wrong.  You’ve looked over your program and you’re making sure you take at least one full day of rest each week along with a few lighter days off, you’re not doing an extreme volume of isolation work that would cause you to over train, and you’re focusing on compound lifts that produce the best types of results.

But, you still aren’t making progress.  If you find yourself in this situation, you might want to turn the focus away from your training and look at your diet.  Oftentimes, it’s dietary factors coming into play that are hindering the progress you are making with your workout, and until you get those changed, you aren’t going to start seeing the results you’re looking for.

Here are some of the big training issues that might occur and some of the nutritional strategies you can use to solve them.

Lack of Endurance
Feeling as though you have no endurance is a frustrating thing when trying to get through your workouts.  This situation can happen both with strength training workouts (you are finding you can’t reach the rep level you’d like to be) or with your cardio training, particularly if you are training for some type of endurance related event such as a half or full marathon.

The first thing to look at nutritionally when this problem occurs is how many calories you’re taking in.  The problem is much more likely to become an issue when you’re consuming a hypo-calorie diet and trying to lose weight, since you’re asking the body to turn to stored energy as fuel. The process of breaking this stored energy into a usable form of fuel takes time and often it cannot be completed to keep up with the demands of the activity you’re trying to do. This is what causes fatigue to set in.

To help combat this problem, either take in more calories total each day (this is preferable, however if you’re trying to lose weight it may not be possible), or instead try and shuffle more of the calories you are taking in throughout the day to around the workout period so the glucose is present in the bloodstream while you are performing your workout.

Note that increasing your fat intake around the workout isn’t going to make nearly the same difference as increasing your carbohydrate intake, so carbohydrates are really what you want to focus on the most.

Lowered Strength Output

Another problem that you may start noticing as you progress is a lowered strength output.  Classically this would be a very good sign that you are overtraining and need to either take a week off or back off on the total volume of your workouts.

If you have checked over your workout though and you are certain you aren’t overtraining, then there is a good chance it is diet related.  Since carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for higher intensity activities such as weight lifting, if you have been using a lower carb diet approach lately, or have just not been eating as many carbs as normal, this is likely your problem.

Ideally, you want to always be getting in at least 100 grams of carbohydrates a day in addition to those around training needs.  Your training needs for carbohydrates will vary depending on the intensity and duration of the workout, but a good practical guide is five grams of carbohydrates taken in for every 2 working sets.  Note that working sets of squats will demand more out of you compared with working sets of bicep curls for example, so that’s something to also keep in mind.

Another factor that can impact strength performance as well is your sodium intake.  You should try and keep sodium on the lower side for overall health sake, but when sodium intake is too low blood pressure drops and this can factor in to you being able to perform proper muscular contractions.   If you are on a reduced sodium diet and are seeing strength levels dropping, you might want to evaluate whether you are taking low-sodium just a little too far.

Muscle Mass Loss
Muscle mass loss is something you always want to avoid because muscle is what will keep your metabolism running higher and enable you to stay lean in the long run. It also gives the body a much more aesthetically pleasing look, so again, something that you don’t want to risk losing.

When we diet, the chances of muscle mass loss do go up significantly due to the fact that with less incoming fuel, the body may start to turn to muscle tissue for energy, burning it along with body fat up in the process. Luckily if you are doing things correctly with your diet, much of this can be prevented.

First, you will want to make sure you’re getting enough protein, taking in somewhere between 1.2-1.5 grams per pound of body weight. Use the lower end of the scale if your overall calorie intake is slightly higher and the higher end of protein intake if your calories are lower. This helps further ensure that if the body does turn to incoming protein for fuel, you still have plenty left over to support all the other functions it’s used for (muscle maintenance, immune system, synthesizing hormones, etc).

The second thing you should do is implement period days of much higher calorie eating into your diet, primarily focusing on carbohydrate intake.  This will help to reset many of the hormones that are associated with dieting and muscle mass loss, as well as give you a nice break from the intense low calorie eating.

Being sure to do both of these things, as well as monitoring your training to be sure you aren’t overtraining in the first place will significantly reduce your chances of losing muscle mass on your diet.

Muscle Cramps
If you’ve ever been going about your workout and then started suffering from intense muscle cramps, you know how frustrating this is.  Sometimes these cramps can be so debilitating that they actually stop you from completing the workout altogether, particularly if they are occurring during cardio training.

If you find this is happening frequently, the first thing you should be doing is checking your hydration status.  Are you drinking enough water not only before and during the workout, but also during the rest of the day as well?  Dehydration is one big factor that leads to muscle cramping so that is something you need to pay close attention to. Most people really monitor their hydration around the workout, but spend the rest of the day in a dehydrated state. 

After taking care of hydration you will also want to make sure you’re getting enough calcium and potassium in the diet.  These are two micronutrients that are essential in order for proper muscular contractions to occur, so when one is short in the diet, you’re going to notice impacts on your workout performance.

Some high potassium foods to have around the workout and during your day include tuna, dried apricots, avocados, banana, dates, dried figs, kiwi, cantaloupe, almonds, molasses, white beans, green beets, and potatoes. 

High calcium foods include dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, along with salmon, tofu, rhubarb, sardines, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, white beans, and Brussels sprouts. More and more products are starting to be fortified with calcium as well such as oatmeal, cold cereals, and juice, making it easier to meet your needs on a regular basis.

So, keep these nutrition solutions in mind as you go about your training program.  It’s easy to underestimate the importance that diet can have on your workouts, and doing so will have major impacts on your overall progress.  Your diet and workout program must always work in combination to get the results you’re looking for.  Whether your aims are to build muscle or strictly just to lose body fat, there will be specific dietary adjustments that will go along with each to not only tilt the scales in the right direction but also to ensure that your workouts can be completed effectively.

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