I know it's conventional wisdom that muscle mass is dependent on food intake. If you don't eat big, you won't have big mass gains. I'm wondering, however, if the same is true for strength.

For example, if I consumed the upper-limit for the daily recommended protein intake for body-builders but did not consume a lot of calories (~2500 calories) would strength gains be impeded? I've seen skinny guys at the gym all the time lifting an incredible amount of weight, so I'm wondering the extent to which strength is attenuated due to diet restrictions.

1 Answer 1


According to Nate Winkler, yes. There are things you consume that can impair or improve your ability to perform in the gym or on the field. A short list is as follows:

  • Caffeine abuse. A dose of caffeine before training can be an effective way of being able to do more. However, if you consume so much caffeine that you are no longer sensitive to it, all it does is cause you to fatigue more quickly.
  • Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates cause your body to release seratonin, a hormone that helps you sleep, triggers IGF (insulin-like growth factor) during the night. Please see the article by Nate Winkler for more information, not all carbohydrates help improve your ability to perform.
  • Eggs. Eggs contain a healthy dose of both Tysosine and Acetylcholine, both of which improve the function of your central nervous system.

Also, at a more basic level, there are two ways your body builds muscle:

  • Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy: basically increasing the energy and support systems for the muscle. It has a direct affect on the size of the muscle.
  • Myophibrilar Hypertrophy: basically increasing the number of protein pairs that actually perform the contractions. it has a direct affect on the raw strength of the muscle.

Both of these adaptations require food to fuel the added muscular potential. Minor reductions in food, or using poor sources for food, minimize the body's ability to create new muscle.

The bigger question though, is can you get stronger while consuming enough Calories to loose weight? The short answer is yes, with a few caveats that are important to understand.

  • Too big a Calorie deficit will cause your strength to go backwards as your body starts catabolizing the muscle you do have to make up the energy needs--particularly if protein is in short supply. You can lose fat on more Calories than you probably think. The key is to use good food sources.
  • Emphasize complex carbohydrates with plenty of fiber and nutrients. The fiber helps keep you fuller on less food, as well as keep your body well regulated. The carbohydrates also keep your glycogen stores filled so you can train hard enough to get stronger.
  • Make sure you get the protein you need. Protein has all the raw materials your body needs to build muscle, or at least repair the muscle you used during exercise. That combined with the right amount of carbohydrates will fuel your recovery processes.
  • Make sure you have at least the minimum amount of fat necessary for proper hormonal functions. A good target is to aim for 30% of your calories coming from fat.
  • Minimize endurance activities. Activities such as running can help burn fat, but running long distances or long times on a treadmill will deplete the energy you need to build muscle at all. This is also not the time to try widowmakers.
  • Learn to be efficient with your training. You will have less energy, so make the most of it. Concentrate on sport specific training and compound movements.
  • Practice improving your technique. Particularly if you are a beginner or intermediate lifter, you are probably wasting energy and effort performing the exercises you have to do. The better you get at performing them, the more you can do and the more strength you can demonstrate.
  • Very good answer! Would be great if you could also elaborate on food affects the neural factors of strength. Oct 19, 2013 at 10:26

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