Is Your Diet Sabotaging Your Gains?

Jan 01, 2019

Do you want to feel stronger, fitter and faster? Do you want to feel better, recover quicker, and perform better in sport, and in life? If you're training hard, well done! But, you're only half way there...

Nutrition is arguably the most important aspect of your training; along with hydration, rest/recovery, and of course the training quality itself. When you train hard, what do you think happens to your body? Your muscles break down, hormones change (e.g. stress hormone cortisol rises), among many other things. Guess what? The food you put in your body has a major impact on how quickly your body and mind will recover from the stress of hard training.

Quick Food Choices - read below for why these are best!


Intense Interval Training

Heavy Strength/Weight Training

Endurance Training


Sample breakdown per meal: 60% Carbs, 25%  Fat, 15% Protein

Sample breakdown per meal: 60% Carbs, 25%  Fat, 15% Protein

Sample breakdown per meal: 50% Carbs, 35%  Fat, 15% Protein


Whole Grain Pasta, brown/wild rice, whole grain bread, whole grain bagel, quinoa, steel cut oats, sweet potato, raw vegetables (broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, spinach and other greens, brussel sprouts, asparagus), fruits (apple, banana, orange, melons, pineapple, pomegranate)


Grilled/baked chicken or fish, lean cuts of beef, legumes, nuts and nut butters, hemp seed


Avocado, coconut oil, nuts and nut butters (almond, pistachio, cashew, peanuts, fish and fish oil, chia seed, flax seed,

NOTE: ALWAYS eat according to your allergy situation

A Suggestion: hemp, chia and flax seeds are all great ways to add protein, fat, and fiber to your meals (e.g. adding them on top of salads, or sprinkling them on toast with nut butters). One of my favorite things to eat (my daily breakfast), is toast with a nut butter, cut up slices of banana, and chia seeds on top! Delicious and nutritious!

Energy Metabolism: Basic Science^

Your training activities (the intensity, duration and frequency) determine how your body generates energy. Your body has 3 major energy pathways, one of which uses oxygen to generate energy (i.e. the aerobic pathway), while two do not use oxygen (i.e. they are anaerobic pathways).

Also, the human body basically generates energy by breaking down chemical bonds and storing that energy as ATP (or adenosine triphosphate). "ATP is the only chemical form of energy the body can use to perform work"^.

You may be asking why it's important to know this. The reason is because the dominant energy system used in your training activities should play a role in the type of food and supplements (if any) you consume!

The three pathways^:

  Oxygen Used (Y/N) Fuel Source When It Is Used
ATP-CP N Phosphocreatine (PCr) - creating supplementation can help performance First 8-10 seconds of activity
Anaerobic Glycolytic N Primarily carbohydrate (glucose/glycogen) First few minutes of exercise, and again if exercise if above 60% of V02 max (i.e. maximal aerobic capacity)
Aerobic Y Primarily fat, then carbohydrate (and protein) During low to moderate intensity (under 60% V02 max), and after the beginning stages of exercise


Important Relationship:

  1. As exercise intensity increases, exercise duration decreases.
    • Remember, exercise intensity determines your fuel source (carbs, fat, protein) preference. What you eat impacts how long you can exercise for without crashing!

Note that as your fitness levels increase, your body adapts by using more fat as a fuel source than it did at a lower fitness level.

Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat and Hydration:

At its most basic level, when you lift a lot of weights, your muscles break down, and protein is the major building block that repairs muscle. So, before exercise, ingesting some protein is a good idea.

A lot of people think that protein is the main thing they need since they're breaking down muscle, but guess what, carbohydrates (carbs) are really, really important since they are often our primary fuel source! Now a days every ‘fitness expert’ and new diet push 'zero carbs'. Well, if you’re training with any intensity, carbs are essential to give you the energy you need (as described above in detail!).

If your training intensity is low to moderate, then it’s really good to train your body to use fat as its primary fuel source. In this case, you can definitely eat fewer carbs and more fat (along with protein depending on what your workout was like). This point actually leads to another trendy topic - intermittent fasting. I am currently writing an e-book on this subject as well, but I will say that if you are completing low to moderate intensity training (especially in the morning, after a 12-16 hour fast since the previous night's dinner), you can actually train your body to utilize fat as its primary energy source quite effectively. 

How about hydration? Have you ever heard that the human body is 70% water? Well our cells, muscles etc. have a lot of fluid in them. Being adequately hydrated is essential for performance because a lot of signals that move through our body move faster and more powerfully when there is adequate fluid to transmit them. This results in better performance! As a general rule of thumb, take your body weight (in pounds), divide it in half, and drink that number in ounces of water. E.g. 150lb person would drink 75 ounces of water daily. If you exercise vigorously and sweat a lot, you should drink more than this minimum requirement! I drink between 4-6L (or 135 to 200 ounces) of water daily!

Energy Supply and Energy Demand:

Research^ shows the following:

  1. Carbohydrate: "Current recommendations for carbohydrate intake vary based on training duration and intensity and are 5–7 g/kg/d for moderate duration/low intensity, 7–12 g/kg/day for moderate to heavy endurance training, and 10–12 g/kg/day for an extreme exercise program."^ Most athletes fall short of these recommendations/
  2. Protein: "The current recommendation of protein intake is 0.8 g/kg/day for healthy adults...For strength athletes it was recommended that 1.33 g/kg/day represents a “safe” top level endurance training, needs may increase to 1.6 g/kg/day."
  3. Interestingly research that I have reviewed does not specify a specific target for daily fat intake. A lot has been published on high fat trials (comparing fat to carbohydrate) and subsequent performance, but limited information is available for day to day fat consumption levels. I will share more on this in another post in the future.

Gender Differences and Environmental Factors^:

Research has also shown that on average, due to differences in hormones, "at any given relative exercise intensity, men oxidize more carbohydrate and less fat than do women."

Training and excess heat, cold, and at altitude (specifically in men) causes our bodies to use more carbohydrate relative to training at moderate temperatures and at sea level.

Okay, so now you have a really solid understanding of things, so let’s talk about some specific examples!

Interval Training: make sure you eat a high percentage of slow digesting carbohydrates 2-4 hours before your training session with a smaller percentage coming from fat and protein (e.g. 60%, 25%, 15% respectively). If doing longer, continuous cardiovascular (endurance) exercise, more fat and fewer carbs will work just fine! You'll actually train your body to use fat as a fuel source more effectively this way! E.g. 50% Carbs, 35% Fat, 15% Protein

Note: Slow digesting carbs are are low on the glycemic index (approximately ranked 55 or less). Check out this handy graphic for sample foods.

Weight training: When lifting heavy weights (5-6 RM or less), carbs are important to top up your body because you will be working in the anaerobic zone. When doing circuit training at a high intensity (i.e. your heart rate rises and you can't have a conversation easily while exercising), carbs are once again very important pre (and post) training.

Endurance training: When doing any form of training with more reps at lower intensities (and HR doesn't get past 70-75% of your maximum heart rate, a diet relatively high in fat, with slightly lower carbs is recommended. Again, this is because you will train your body to rely on its fat stores for energy. For instance, research has shown that a 50% carbohydrate, 35% fat and 15% protein diet maintains intramuscular triglyceride levels (i.e. fat content) at an optimal level for endurance exercise*.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you are training for, as well as your goals! If the question of "how much should I eat" comes to your mind - eat until you feel satiated, but not stuffed! Over eating leads to lethargy (because digestion takes a lot of energy), and that's definitely not the path to optimal performance. It's a tough balance to strike, but we all (including me!) need to learn to trust our bodies. The key is to be kind to yourself - i.e. don't beat yourself up if you "mess up" the schedule or protocol here and there. That's part of life and learning! Keep applying sustained effort, and you WILL improve and find yourself a changed person!

Leave your comments and questions below. Happy Training!


Sport Nutrition: Energy Metabolism and Exercise, CH 1, published by Taylor and Francis Group, 2008
- Energy Metabolism Graph from: