Articles about nutrition are very frequent and available nowadays on the web. This subject is getting much interest and curiosity across the sports people and coaches. I just got an online certification in Sports Nutrition (at University of FC Barcelona) because I think it is essential to complete a training plan and to get a better performance level, since we are talking about the fuel of the human machine.

I decided to involve one of my first pupils I trained for many years, Sara, that more than a very passionate and disciplined sport girl is now a successful woman who, after a degree in Pharmacy and a full time job, has started the studies in Nutrition. Soon she will become also Nutritionist Biologist.

We thought together to propose an article about the specific nutrition of a strength training, with scientific references and personal suggestions from Sara’s experience. There will be interesting strategies about how to feed depending on the time a person choose to train during the day. So, have a pleasant read!


Hello my name is Sara Di Giulio, 28 years old, I am a pharmacist, graduate of the University of Pavia in 2016 and enrolled in the master’s degree at the San Raffaele Telematic University in Rome, which I should finish in November of the current year.


I have a degree in “Nutraceutical and Nutritional Consultant” and I am also pursuing that of “Nutraceutical and Sport Consultant”, both at the CNM Italia in Padova.


I have always been a passionate sportswoman, I have practiced dance, tennis, athletics, crossfit, yoga and personalized training that I still practice; I am enrolled in Fit (Italian Tennis Federation) and Fidal (Italian Athletics Federation) for the club Motonautica Pavia. Sport and Nutrition have always been my great passion and thanks to my studies and the constant updating and experience I am increasingly acquiring the skills to specialize in the best.



The diet of the sportsman, as well as any normal subject, should be composed of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, in different percentages. In this article I will try to describe the different sports activities, with a focus on strength based training, and their impact on metabolism, giving advice on what can be nutrition and integration that I think is most correct. I say that I am a pharmacist and I am undertaking a master’s degree in nutrition (which I should finish in November) that will allow me to become a nutritionist biologist; I hope then to be able to write a new article even more detailed, also based on the experiences I will acquire with my work.

Most caloric income (55-65%) should come from carbohydrates, especially those contained in cereals, tubers and legumes and to a lesser extent, those contained in simple sugars (sugar, honey, jams, fruits, especially if not whole because it loses the share of fiber, and sugary drinks). All metabolic pathways start from carbohydrates that are the fuel of choice for muscle fibers, especially at the beginning of motor activity but also to continue to have energy during activity.

Proteins are also essential and must be present, depending on the type of motor and sports activity and the time of life (child, pregnancy or elderly), they will account for 10-20% of the total calories of the day. They should derive mainly from animal sources (meat, fish, eggs, milk, proteins with high biological value), and vegetables (legumes and cereals, medium-low biological value). The remaining 25-30% of the caloric intake must come from lipids that are used as an energy source in everyday life and physical performance, especially if it is long-lasting and low intensity.  The consumption of fibers (reducing them only in pre-training so as not to weigh down the digestion) should be strongly suggested  to promote the proper health of our intestines; and it is also essential to take fruits and vegetables, which contain them, for their important intake of vitamins and minerals that are fundamental to our body.


There are three energy systems that can intervene in support of each other during physical activity, depending on the type of effort we are making, they are not compartmentalized.  The three energy systems are the

  • anaerobic alactacid system (in which phosphocreatin is used, with maximum duration efforts of 6-8″) for short and intense efforts (such as maximum lifts, short shots)
  • anaerobic lactacid system ( anaerobic glycolysis, for efforts lasting 60″ maximum ), in which glucose is the central molecule and its lysis to give energy takes place in the absence of oxygen
  • aerobic system in which energy is produced in the presence of oxygen, for efforts that last beyond the minute

Most of our existence takes place in aerobiosis, and still in aerobiosis all long lasting and low intensity activities take place, such as long swimming, walking, slow running, cycling ecc. These activities require the heart rate to be no higher than: 220-age, multiplied by (maximum) 60-75% (cooper formula). In these activities, deposit fats are predominantly used; the Krebs cycle enhances the energy mitochondrial capabilities.  In this case we will have greater and prevalent lipid depletion, with little increase in lean mass.

In the absence of oxygen, in case of short lived and high intensity activities, such as body building, fast half-bottom, Hiit workouts, but also relatively intense and short daily activities (fast scales, move weights, shots etc.), mainly the anaerobic lactacid system is mainly used. The muscle is isolated and the sugars inside the muscle split but cannot be oxidized in the absence of oxygen, but are reduced to lactic acid, after yielding some of their energy. This allows for rapid usability, if short lived ATP. In this case, the effect will be more that of muscle toning and the increase in lean mass and you will mainly use glucose and glycogen (carbohydrates).

Even shorter and more intense, it is the anaerobic alactacid system. In this case the muscle tensions are very high (maximum) and the intense work lasts for 8-10 seconds or so. The energy spent is restored after a few minutes. There is no oxygen.  The ATP splits into ADP and loses the phosphate that determines the contraction, and soon after it will be re marked to ATP for the sale of phosphate from phosphocreatin.

It is clear that aerobic activity has a direct effect on metabolism, increasing it, because it uses fat as the main fuel, there will therefore be a depletion of lipid reserves, but little effect on basal metabolism. Anaerobic activity instead has the effect of muscle toning, the increase in lean mass, which leads to an indirect increase in metabolism, increasing basal metabolism.

After an anaerobic activity we will be in “oxygen debt” (EPOC) in post workout, as metabolic activity and calorie expenditure do not return to rest levels, but remain higher for a relatively long time depending on the intensity and duration of the activity.

The ideal would be in training to perform a mixed work, interspersed with an aerobic activity anaerobic activity, alternating them efficiently: even for those who love aerobic activity, it would therefore be optimal a force work to increase lean mass, improve body composition and metabolism (because it is precisely the muscle that consumes the most).

Weight training, depending on the intensity, will have a variable energy expenditure, also conditioned by an increase in protein synthesis at the end of training; in any case evaluate EPOC in a weight workout in a general way is very difficult because there are a lot of variables (training techniques such as supersets etc. generally promote a higher calorie expenditure, as well as decreased breaks or work on larger muscle groups).



Strength and mass growth are two similar characteristics, but they do not depend on each other, strength is the ability to overcome, resist and oppose a load by muscle tension, the growth of the mass is stimulated by muscle tension (given by lifting loads as weights or the body itself) until it produces an inflammation of the muscle fibers such as to result in failure (muscle exhaustion).  The increase in mass is determined by the use of a “prolonged” muscle strength until failure, so it is not said that a training aimed at strength stimulates the trofism, but nevertheless to increase the mass it is necessary to increase the strength; it will then be the structure of the training (number of repetitions, series, recoveries and loads) that determines its purpose. The muscle grows if compensated in the right way, so rest is also necessary, understood both as sleep, and as a frequency between workouts. Another very important factor is hydration, as mentioned above, which is essential for the sportsman and will allow the muscle to function in the best way, so it is essential to drink 2 to 2.5 liters of water per day. Depending on the conditions, iso/hypo tonic solutions may be introduced before activity, and hydro saline solutions with carbohydrates >5% post physical activity to supplement lost salts. The diet for a strength-based workout must necessarily be an isocaloric diet, if not high-calorie, including all energy expenses for daily activities, in fact the energy spent daily is given for about 60% by basal metabolism, to which is added the thermogenesis induced by food digestion and physical activity.  Carbohydrates should account for at least 50% of the intake, as the muscle needs glycogen, like the rest of the body and not just protein; carbohydrates are to prefer integral to give continuity with fiber to the energy intake to the muscle, and with high glycemic index in the post-workout to stimulate glycogenic refill. Proteins are essential for muscle fibers, for maintaining body turnover, for hormones and for the transport of nutrients, plus countless other functions; You don’t need an exorbitant amount, but at a level between 1.6 and 2.4 g/kg of the subject are enough even in a strength training. Fats serve to maintain mainly basal metabolism, to perform hormonal functions ecc. and especially unsaturated ones (derived from evo oil, oily and dried fruits) have important anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular functions, so it is good to insert them into snacks and to season meals.

I started from a time to mainly practice a strength-focused training, with short endurance-based workouts almost always at the end of training, using different protocols, such as AMRAP (as many rounds as you can in a given time, usually short of 10/15 minutes maximum) or EMOM (where they alternate every minute different exercises or the same exercise for a number of established repetitions) or doing a day of “conditioning”, in which I work more breath on the performance, with small weights or free body or sometimes even with the running that has always been my great passion. I really noticed how not to overdo it with workouts, even in terms of time and frequency, brings safety to benefits, in terms of swelling, especially in women, and growth of muscle mass. I learned to take two or three days of rest, in which I still make an active recovery, practicing yoga and doing nice walks or a very light run.

I believe that a mostly balanced diet, including carbohydrates, proteins, fats at every meal is the winning key; I don’t like over-processed, sweetened foods, but I think that a diet that is as balanced as possible, can provide us with all the nutrients we need.

In practice of the examples could be a breakfast with bread, cereals, muesli (without too many added sugars) with yogurt, eggs, egg white, salmon, milk, accompanied by fresh fruit or compote of fruit and dried and oily fruit or dark chocolate (as long as over 85% cocoa), while for lunch and dinner, they should be composed of carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, rice, cereals, potatoes, proteins, such as meat (red to be limited to 1/2 times a week), fish of all kinds, eggs, cheeses (also to be limited to 2/3 times a week), and fats, mainly given by olive oil and a good share of fiber given by vegetables, cooked and raw, which also serve to give vitamins and minerals. It is important that the meal before performance/training is based on low glycemic carbohydrates accompanied by a digestible protein and lipid quota and not too abundant to not weigh down digestion, while after activity the goal is to restore muscle and liver glycogen and therefore it is useful to take carbohydrates with a higher glycemic index (accompanied by proteins and fats).

It may also be very useful to include snacks both to not get hungry to the next meal, not to get completely fasting to training and especially to replenish carbohydrates and proteins to the muscle if there is a long time between training and the next meal, especially with regard to strength training. I believe that snacks should also always be balanced like normal meals, so as not to create an insulin peak and give a sense of prolonged satiety.

In a hypothetical case of a strength-based workout in which the goal is to increase performance and mass, rather than weight loss, it is important that the pre-workout snack is composed mainly of carbohydrates, better if low glycemic index, which could be accompanied by nuts and/or a light protein source depending on how long after the performance will come to not get too heavy from the meal.  An example would be whole meal bread with dried fruit butter or a few slices of bresaola; obviously if the training will take place a few hours after breakfast, it will be useless to also make the pre-workout snack, but a full breakfast will suffice as in the examples I mentioned earlier. As for the post-workout meal, it is very important because after the activity takes place the protein synthesis and recovery of glycogen by the muscle, and therefore will have to be complete in all macronutrients (carbohydrates even high glycemic index, proteins and fats), always if the goal is to increase performance. Recruitment timing is also important, as it is preferable to consume it within an hour of the end of training to promote increased muscle absorption.  If after training the next meal is lunch or dinner, I would make a rich and complete meal of all the macronutrients as described above. If, for example, training takes place in the morning shortly after breakfast or in the early afternoon, as a post-workout snack I would always make a complete “meal”, such as bread with avocado and an egg or egg white or bresaola (although I personally do not very much love ham but sometimes they can be very practical) or Greek yogurt with oat flakes, fresh fruit and dried fruit or bread with serum ricotta and walnuts. If you want to take protein powder, post-workout is the ideal time to do so, as whey proteins ensure rapid absorption and have high biological power, for the completeness of the amino acid trim; however, whey (isolated whey proteins) are preferred, with no additional aromas or sweeteners.  They are often hired and can be recommended for convenience after training, if away from meals, or if there is a high frequency of training, as is the case for professional athletes who may have multiple daily sessions, for faster recovery and absorption.  Often you see “bodybuilders” on social media taking shakers or protein bars, which are mostly rich in sweeteners, which are only likely to irritate our intestines; remember, however, that taking more protein than your needs does not promote a further increase in protein synthesis but is potentially harmful to your health.  Always regarding integration, I think for example it is useful to take branched amino acids if you do morning fasting training (unless the workout is a light walk or a non-intense yoga session) to avoid muscle catabolism, especially if the goal is weight loss (in which I should not impoverish lean mass to improve body composition) or if the training turns out intense. If you prefer to perform training in the morning fasting I think there is no contraindication, it is more a matter of habit (of course I remember that the running practiced in the morning fasting will lead to depletion of the fat mass); in this case, it could be useful, in addition to branched amino acids, the so-called “pre nap”, eating a snack a little before bed, for example with yogurt, fruit and dried fruit or dark chocolate (above 85% cocoa) or an oat porridge with dried fruit or chocolate.

Another good integration that can be done by athletes and not, maybe in cycles, are probiotics, which promote proper health of the gut bacterial flora and omega 3 (good quality) since they help to increase HDL levels and therefore help to have a proper lipid trim and have general anti-inflammatory action. Vitamin D is also very important for its countless functions, including skeletal growth and bone tissue maintenance; since this vitamin is mostly produced by the skin with the sun and comes little from the diet, an integration could be useful, especially if the levels are low; in such a case I would recommend a daily supplement of 1000/2000 U.I. rather than a massive dose once or twice a month as often happens, to favor a more correct absorption.

Integrations with intra-workout solutions based on hypo/isotonic and/or maltodestrine-based solutions that are very useful especially in intense and prolonged practices and/or in the case of very high temperatures that could lead to excessive sweating; I think, however, in general that in normal conditions, with a well-structured and natural diet you can achieve the correct needs of the sportsman.

I also think it is of fundamental importance to read labels when going to the supermarket, not just focusing on the caloric intake of food, but looking mostly at the least that foods are as elaborate as possible and with few added sugars; a striking example are yogurts, especially lean and fruit yogurt that are often added to sweeteners in various forms, greatly raising the share of sugars, or gluten free products that are often full of hydrogenated fats and added sugars.



Mariani Costantini, Cannella, Tomassi. Alimentazione e nutrizione umana

 William D. McArdle, Franck I. Katch, Victor L. Katch. Alimentazione nello sport.

Foulds, S. J., Hoffmann, S. M., Hinck, K., & Carson, F. (2019). The coach-athlete relationship in strength and conditioning: High performance athletes’ perceptions. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 7(12), 10.3390/sports7120244. “nutrition specialist”

P.Gargiulio quaderno scientifico “metabolismo nell’attività motoria upgrade su dieta ed integrazione”


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