Real food can do more for your strength and conditioning than simply knocking back a protein shake.

No matter what they say about building muscle, there’s much more to nutrition than simply knocking back a protein shake. Here are the key nutritional factors that must be considered and consumed in order to perform and recover optimally for strength and conditioning.



Despite the emerging claims about ketones and high fat diets, your muscle and brain considers carbohydrates as the most preferred source of energy. Therefore, depriving yourself of this nutrient can lead to poor performance. However, by no means does this mean that most people require buckets of pasta each day, rather the amount specific to their activity.


Weightlifters often deem protein as the all-star nutrient due to its important role in muscle repair and maintenance. Although, many who put such a huge emphasis on protein may end up eating much more than necessary; meanwhile, they could spend said calories more wisely on nutrient-dense carbohydrate and healthy fats, which boast other qualities.

Various protein powders and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) have become popular among weight lifters, though many individuals reach their goals without such products. Supplemental protein has a time and place. The purpose of a supplement is to fill in gaps of nutrition when you cannot reach your needs through food alone.

It’s true that whey protein digests faster than others. But the average person can benefit from the same protein found in dairy products and from other animal/plant sources. In times where convenience is the most important factor, such as going straight from training to work, it warrants supplements. However, when one has the luxury of access to a full recovery meal, then it should be considered.

Currently, research shows no benefit in supplementing BCAAs when compared to eating adequate protein from food. Individuals, such as vegetarians, vegans, and the elderly, with lower than average protein intake noted more positive effects.


Hydration is listed after carbohydrate and protein because, chances are, you’d probably pass on reading this if we started the conversation about water. True, water may sound like the least sexy topic in nutrition but it’s hands down the most important. Without adequate hydration we all may experience reduced muscle strength, endurance, and cognition; keep in mind the brain is responsible for muscle control and ensuring correct movement.


Another nutrition topic in strength training overlooked is one which may optimize recovery time, similar to what endurance athletes experience. Oxidative stress, inflammation, and soreness occur in our bodies as a result of strength training. Foods which combat these effects are all the colorful fruits and veggies which many of us lack in our diets. The faster you recover, the sooner you’ll be back full strength in the gym ready to build more strength and muscle.  

Here are 3 ways to easily integrate everyday foods into your strength and conditioning regimen that don’t require blending up a protein shake:

1. If you haven’t had a balanced meal 4-6 hours before training, then you may need to shoot for a snack with both carbohydrate and protein 1-2 hours prior.

Try a smoothie with banana, blueberries, non-fat milk/Greek yogurt. Recommended non-fat dairy products limit saturated fat given its potential (and highly debated) effect on cardiovascular disease.

2. I also like coffee as the caffeine may provide positive effects for strength and conditioning.  Added bonus: coffee also has antioxidants.

Coffee is a safer bet when compared to non-regulated pre-workout supplements that often contain more caffeine than necessary and other ingredients not scientifically proven to provide any benefits.

3. A post-workout meal should be similar to the pre-workout snack mentioned above regarding carbohydrate and protein.

Depending on the individual, a ratio of 1:1 to 3:1 carbohydrate to protein in grams may be necessary. Here’s an example of a complete meal:

  • Lean protein such as pork loin.
  • A carbohydrate source like sweet potatoes, potatoes, pasta, or rice, and whole grains.
  • Piles of vegetables. I love spinach sauteed with garlic in olive oil.
  • Berries with Greek yogurt may pair off as a great dessert.

Nick Biase, RDN is a San Diego-based registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in sports nutrition and wellness. Nick is a Marine veteran, fitness enthusiast, home brewer, and a firm believer that you can keep both 6-packs. To develop your nutrition game plan with Nick, make a visit to Nutrition Cadre.