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Nutrition to Improve Body Composition for the Strength and Conditioning Athlete

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Nutrition to Improve Body Composition for the Strength and Conditioning Athlete

If you want to build lean muscle and reduce body fat, a combination of full-body strength training, metabolic conditioning, and nutrition can help you meet your goals and improve your body composition.

When fueling your busy life and full-body strength and conditioning workouts to be ready for anything, keep these general nutrition principles in mind:

Focus on Strength-to-Weight Ratio—Not Just Weight

While often discussed more with endurance athletes than strength and conditioning or functional fitness athletes, focusing on strength-to-weight ratio remains a much better indicator of body composition than weight. Whether you’re focusing on just tacking on mass or dropping a few L. B. s, simply paying attention to the number on the scale—rather than looking at your overall strength and amount of lean muscle tissue—is detrimental to your health and your fitness level. When people focus just on weight, their first point of attention is total calories. Improving body composition is about more than cutting calories. Improving body composition is a combination of strength training and metabolic conditioning, while adding more foods that help to increase satiety and build lean muscle, while improving metabolism to reduce body fat.

The Role of Protein in Improving Body Composition

PROTEINNN. That untouchably perfect macronutrient your body uses for muscle growth and protein synthesis. As a strength and conditioning athlete, you may think that the more protein you can consume in any one sitting the better, right? Actually, you’ll build no more muscle consuming 40, 50 or 60 grams of protein at each meal or snack, than if you just ate about 20 grams of protein.1 Research has shown that optimal protein utilization occurs when protein consumption is distributed equally throughout the day—especially if you’re doing full-body resistance exercise. And it appears that consuming just 20 grams of protein at a time, every 3 to 4 hours, stimulates more protein synthesis than consuming 10 or 40 grams in one sitting.1

To give you a frame of reference, these recipes contain about 20 grams of plant-based protein per serving:

    1. Vega Sport Performance Protein Shake (mixed with water, almond milk or blended into a smoothie this has 25 grams complete plant-based protein)
    2. Chocolate Mug Cake
    3. Chia pudding
    4. Mac n’ Cheese
    5. Soba Noodle Bowl
    6. 1 cup quinoa, ½ cup chickpeas and 1 cup broccoli

Besides being a crucial part of muscle protein synthesis, repairing and rebuilding muscle, protein is also a highly satiating food. Consuming higher-protein meals will help you stay fuller for longer and help to prevent mindless snacking—both of which can help you keep your overall calorie intake in line with your body composition goals. For a complete list of high-protein plant-based foods, check out this handy-dandy plant-based protein infographic.

Role of Carbs in Improving Body Composition

When striving to improve body composition, many athletes immediately consider cutting carbohydrates. And while some carbohydrates are sources of empty calories for strength and conditioning athletes, eliminating all carbs from your diet (or eating a very low carb diet) in conjunction with rigorous workouts can prevent you from reaching peak health or seeing strength gains.  Carbohydrates provide energy to your brain and muscles, and nutrient dense carbs (found in whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables) contain essential vitamins and minerals.

Choose the right carbs to improve body composition by paying special attention to fiber. Fiber is an indigestible nutrient that not only helps you to feel fuller for longer and keeps blood sugar levels even, but also helps with regular digestion and healthy cholesterol levels. Skip the crumbly bran muffins, cardboard-flavored high-fiber diet foods, or fiber supplements that dissolve in water. The only foods you need to get fiber are good ol’ whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.

Role of Fat in Improving Body Composition

You’ve likely heard it before, but it’s worth repeating ad nauseam: eating dietary fat does not make you fat. Your body needs dietary fat to absorb vitamins and phytonutrients, and to produce essential hormones (including growth hormone). Fat is also a high satiety food—adding a little to your meals or snacks will keep you fuller than adding a little more carbohydrate. Add mostly unsaturated fats (especially essential Omega-3s) from plant-based foods, while limiting your intake of trans and saturated fats. Trans fats are only found in processed foods, and most saturated fats come from animal products.


All B vitamins are a key part of metabolism and most can be found in most grains, nuts and seeds. Zinc is another coenzyme in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein.2 You can find zinc in nuts and seeds.

Fueling High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Workouts

You may have one or more days a week where you focus primarily on HIIT workouts, or you may incorporate a shorter HIIT session within your full-body strength and conditioning days. This is a smart move on your part to improve your body composition.Compared to steady-state cardio, metabolic conditioning improves your metabolism post-workout,3 burns fat more efficiently4, and benefits your cardiovascular health.5

Nutrient Timing Before HIIT

Knowing your own body and how quickly you can do a high-intensity workout on a full stomach will determine your meal and workout spacing. It’s recommended that you wait at least 2 hours from a full meal before HIIT, if possible. Immediately (about 20 minutes) before a HIIT workout, you’ll need easily digestible carbohydrates to sustain a high-intensity level—whether you’re working out for 20 or 45 minutes. Vega Sport Pre-Workout Energizer combines caffeine from green tea and yerba maté, as well as high- and low-glycemic carbs from sprouted whole grain brown rice syrup and coconut palm nectar.

Nutrient Timing During HIIT

Mid-workout, sip on Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator to keep you well-hydrated, and able to shuttle lactic acid out of your muscle tissue as fast as possible.

Nutrient Timing After HIIT

Post-HIIT, a 4-to-1 ratio of carbs-to-protein will help to replenish muscle glycogen when consumed 20 to 30 minutes post-workout. In a traditional strength and conditioning program, this is likely one of the few workouts you do that will begin to deplete muscle glycogen due to its high-intensity. Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator provides a 4-to-1 ratio of carbs-to-protein, as well as supplements to support inflammation management, soft tissue support and rehydration. Then continue muscle tissue synthesis with a higher protein meal or snack, such as a smoothie made with Vega Sport Performance Protein.

What are YOUR strength and conditioning training goals?


1. Areta J et al. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. 591(9): 2319-2331. Accessed from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3650697/.
2. Health Canada.(2009). Natural Health Products Database: Zinc. Accessed 5/9/15 from http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=192&lang=eng
3. Perry CG, Heigenhauser GJ, Bonen A, Spriet LL. (2008). High-intensity aerobic interval training increases fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities in human skeletal muscle. Applied Physiology of Nutrient Metabolism. 33(6):1112-23.
4. Boutcher SH. (2011). High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss. Journal of Obesity. 2011:868305. Accessed 4/15/15 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991639/
5. Astorino TA, Allen RP, Roberson DW, Jurancich M. (2012). Effect of high-intensity interval training on cardiovascular function, VO2max, and muscular force. Journal of Strength and Cond Research. 26(1):138-45.


Elizabeth Jarrard

Elizabeth Jarrard is a registered dietitian in Denver, CO who specializes in medical nutrition therapy and plant-based nutrition. She educates clients and consumers on how to optimize their health through nutrition.
Elizabeth Jarrard