So you’ve conquered the final gym frontier: the weight room. It might have been intimidating at first, but you’ve probably quickly seen how it’s a great whole-body workout (and a nice change of pace, if you’re experiencing cardio class burnout). But when you change up your fitness routine to include more strength training, you also need to change up your diet to match your new habits. If you’re not getting the right nutritional sources and the right amount of calories (which depends on your age, weight and activity level — ask a trainer or dietician for advice), you definitely can’t build muscle, and might actually even experience muscle loss.

Owning this workout!

Before and After

If your routine isn’t too intense then you might not need it, but if your lifting goals are more related to performance than just weight loss or toning, it might be a good idea to grab a snack on your way to the gym. You’ll want to aim for something that’s a mix of healthy carbs and protein, with a little more emphasis on the former. Think peanut butter on toast, or paired with a banana.

After your workout, try to eat within 30 minutes or so, to help with recovery and combat muscle fatigue that prevents you from meeting your fitness goals. This should be an actual meal (or, you can swap and have your meal first, and your snack post-workout). And, of course, don’t skimp on your other meals and snacks throughout the day. It’s good to aim for three real meals and one or two snacks per day.

Get fit, get strong

Strength Staples

1. Protein, Protein, Protein: You probably already associate protein with strength, but you might need more than you think. Fitness experts recommend eating one gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you don’t eat meat, you can still get your protein from veg-friendly foods like eggs, beans, nuts, Greek yogurt, quinoa or edamame. You can also look into protein powders to stir into smoothies or oatmeal.

2. The Right Carbs: When it comes to carbs, look to fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and aim for two to three grams per pound of body weight. If you don’t get enough carbs, your body will have to break down muscle to use for energy.

3. Don’t Cut the Fat: And the whole no- and low-fat thing is out. You need healthy fats to keep your body going, and if you’re lifting, as much as 20-35 percent of your calories should come from sources of healthy monosaturated fats. You can find those in things like salmon, avocados and olive oil.

4. Get Caffeinated: As far as drinks go, obviously you always want to drink plenty of water. But some workout pros also recommend a cup of black coffee right before you hit the gym, for increased energy, workout performance and focus. Some research even shows that coffee drinkers experience less muscle pain. Drinking cherry juice is another way to reduce inflammation, so you could try drinking an ounce or two of tart cherry juice with seltzer, or pop some frozen cherries in a smoothie.

What are your favorite snacks and meals to optimize a strength workout? Tweet us your tips @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)