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5 Strength Nutrition Lessons I Wish I Learned a Decade Ago

When I look back at all of the unknowns or mistakes I made when I started lifting way back in 2010, it makes me shutter. My goal is to help you avoid those mistakes and provide you with the tools and information necessary to help you achieve your goals while also fueling yourself smarter, getting stronger, building muscle, and performing better.

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Key Takeaways

If You Want To Start Developing Better Nutrition Habits for Your Strength Training, You Should:

  1. Make sure you are fueling enough for your activity level
  2. Remember that carbs and protein are your longevity friend
  3. Adjust your strength and nutrition plan to serve your personal goals

Hindsight is 20/20; As They Say

I see many common mistakes in my community and my listeners, and I only wish I could turn back time and have hindsight on my side. While I can’t do that for myself, it is my pleasure to be able to do that for you. Falling into the same pitfalls that I did when I was fresh at lifting is something that I want to help you avoid, which is why I choose to point out the common mistakes I see to help you be as successful in your body as possible.

Setting Your Body up for Success

If you have stepped up your activity level but continue to fuel your body the same, there is a good chance that your body is not happy. By shifting your mindset around what you are actively doing and how much fuel your body needs to accomplish that, you will avoid Low Energy Availability and improve your Basal Metabolic needs. 

By troubleshooting and changing how you are thinking about fueling your body in relativity to your activity,  you will find the answers you are looking for to get out of these frustrating circumstances when it comes to strength training and nutrition.

Are you ready to fuel smarter in order to build strength, energy, muscle, and perform better? Let me know what you want to hear next in the comments below.

In This Episode

  • The first thing that I wish I knew about fueling my body for strength training (3:51)
  • Discover the problem with the mantra ‘eat less move more’ (8:40)
  • Why you should be mindful of getting enough protein intake when strength training (15:01)
  • How coffee could be sabotaging your energy, especially if it takes the place of your breakfast most mornings (18:55)
  • Why some nutrition tools may not be well suited to the strength and nutrition goals that you have (22:30)


“I was eating, of course, but I really wasn’t mindful of how much energy I was expending through my training. Which was a lot.” (5:22)

“You sort of have to understand how these things can morph and then when supported by the community at large, especially when there is not a lot of context involved.” (12:07)

“Once women are in the menopause transition, and there is lower estrogen, it is harder to build muscle for a variety of reasons and if we are not eating enough food overall… one of the things that happen is we start to lose muscle tissue.” (15:34)

“You are going to perform a lot better in your training if you put more in your system than just coffee.” (21:24)

“Not every tool is a good idea for you, and this is where being discerning is really, really important.” (26:20)

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5 Strength Nutrition Lessons I Wish I Learned a Decade Ago

Steph Gaudreau
They say that Hindsight is 2020. When you can look back on an experience in life, all of the lessons become very, very clear. Well today on the podcast, I’m going to be sharing with you five things I wish I knew about nutrition for strength training, when I first started lifting way back in 2010, if I could hop in the time machine, and go back, these are five mistakes that I wish I didn’t make. And I’m going to be passing on these lessons to you so that you can feel yourself smarter, get stronger, build muscle and perform better. The next evolution of harder to kill radio is here. Welcome to the listen to your body podcast. In this show, we’ll explore the intersection of body, mind, and soul health, and help you reclaim your abilities to eat and move more intuitively. Hear your body’s signals, and trust yourself more deeply. I’m Steph Gaudreau, a certified intuitive eating counselor, nutritional therapy practitioner, and strength coach. On this podcast, you can expect to hear expert guest interviews and solo chats that will help you deepen your trust with food movement, and your body. Remember to hit the subscribe button and share this podcast with your friends and loved ones. Now, onto the show.

Steph Gaudreau
Welcome back to the podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today, this is gonna be a juicy one because we are going through my dirty laundry. Five things I wish I knew about nutrition first strength training when I first started lifting if I could turn back time, you know, give me a little share. If I could turn back time if I could go back in a time machine, or the DeLorean, or whatever and reverse the script and rewind. These are five things I would definitely do differently. They’re very common mistakes that I see in my community and my listeners in the folks who come to work with me in my programs. And you know, we don’t know what we don’t know. And so you’re here today to learn about some of these mistakes and to hopefully not fall into the same pitfalls that I did as a fresh-faced lifting for the first time eager to get the stronger athlete back in 2010. Before we dive into a couple of things, first, Strength Nutrition Unlocked is open.

Steph Gaudreau
So if you are looking for some strategy, evidence-based information, you are feeling stuck because you are lifting you are training you’re putting in the work but you’re really not seeing the payoff with strength, muscle energy and performance. If you want to turn that around, then strength nutrition unlocked is here for you. It’s eight weeks are going to dive into the strength nutrition unlocked framework called fuel your strength. This is where we’re looking at fueling, lifting and recovery so that you can really get the most out of your training and get the results that you want. So if you want more information about that, then head over to learn more at Steph gaudreau.com/strong. And I hope to see you inside the program. Let’s go ahead and dive in. Okay, the first thing I wish I knew is that I had to really focus on fueling my activity level. Now, this might seem like kind of a dull moment. But truly when I look back, I was not thinking about fueling my body. And I’m going to give you some backstory as to why that is. So I came from many, many years competing in sports since I was a child right before I joined a strength training gym and started lifting. I was racing bikes for eight years. And the sport of cycling, especially at that time was highly preoccupied with athletes being lean and light and power-weight ratio. And that’s still a hallmark of the community.

Steph Gaudreau
Although I think some things are changing and I have friends like Marissa Axel, who was on a recent podcast episode who are trying to change that narrative, especially women over 40 in cycling. But needless to say, when I was cycling I had a very different mindset about my body and the things that I would try to do to basically squeeze the most training out of very little fuel. And I was eating, of course, but I really wasn’t mindful of how much energy I was actually expending through my training, which was a lot. So when it came to lifting, I didn’t have a very good sense of how I needed to shift what I was doing, and really how much food I had to eat in order to fuel my activity level. Not only that, but because I was coming from a very kind of like, long, endurance-based mountain biking, I was not aware of, you know, I was, there’s a lot of talk about the aerobic system. And you know, that kind of activity, you can go for miles and that sort of thing. But when I came to lifting and to CrossFit, those are very different energy systems in the body, and I had no idea. So this is very, very important because it also dovetails with a concept that we talk about a lot on this podcast, which is called low energy availability. And there have been several studies both with athletes and non-athletes, recreational exercisers who don’t compete, and competitors, looking at the prevalence of low energy availability in women who are active and athletic.

Steph Gaudreau
There was a 2016 study done where 45% of the participants in the study who were recreational exercisers were at risk for low energy availability. Now, here’s why this is important. The majority of our energy needs in a given day, usually fall into what’s called the basal metabolic rate. This is the amount of energy that we need to keep our body running if we were lying completely horizontally and not moving. So these are our basic bodily functions. Basal Metabolic Rate eats up a very large portion of our daily energy needs. And when we don’t get enough energy to support that, we start to steal energy, because we’re going to go out and move. And then we’re going to go out and exercise and train, we’re essentially stealing energy away from our baseline basal metabolic needs. So this is one thing I wish I had paid a lot more attention to. And by time in 2012, I sought out a nutritionist to help me figure out why I was having a hard time recovering, I was having I was exhausted, I was skipping workouts, I was sore, all the time is so sore all the time, I couldn’t figure out why my moods were really low, I was really hungry. I mean, this should be obvious, right?

Steph Gaudreau
But I was so hungry, thinking about food all the time. And when we ran the numbers, I got the email back. And he basically wrote, you know, you’re eating very little compared to the amount of training that you’re doing. And that really kind of shocked me because I had no idea I just had carried some of my habits from my cycling days into my lifting days and was still competing, even at this time. So I had to really change how I was thinking about this. And here’s also why this is difficult because universally, there is a mantra called Eat less, move more, eat less, move more, and it gets repeated everywhere. And yes, this may be true for some people. And of course, there are some people who are very sedentary. And we’re not going to pass any kind of moral judgment on that we’re just stating this very factually. But not everybody is sedentary and not everybody needs to universally eat less. Athletes especially. So there has to be some discernment. If you are athletic. Whether you compete or not, you’re training you’re going out there, you’re working out quite hard or challenging your body. You really need to shift that and that’s one thing I wish I knew.

Steph Gaudreau
Now, women athletes have different needs, of course, and we get far into that in Strength Nutrition Unlocked. But also, you know, when we take a look at on at a baseline, how many calories does a woman athlete need to really perform optimally? We’re looking in the range of between usually 40 and 45 calories. It’s called kilocalories but we in common terms, say calories. So 40 to 45 calories per kilogram of fat-free mass per day. At 30 and below is where we really start to see some impairment to our female hormones, especially in terms of our menstrual cycle. So it’s well known that low energy availability in women is correlated and really goes hand in hand with things like menstrual cycle disruption. So that’s just a little bit of an aside. Okay, so lesson one fuels for your activity level, I know this is tricky. And I know that there is such a discussion and a push for weight loss, weight loss, weight loss, but not everybody needs to be taking in Far, far less energy, we really need to be discerning about that.

Steph Gaudreau
Alright, Lesson two, carbs are your friends. Carbs are energy. And carbs come in a variety of lovely options. So I think the thing that I would go back and tell myself are the things I wish I knew back when I started lifting, really was kind of unfortunate timing because I in 2009, read the Paleo diet for athletes. And about nine months later, I started lifting. And I think what I, what I took from that book, this is not what The Book says. But what I took from that book was, again, a cyclist’s mindset of getting as lean as possible. And what I took from that was, if eating lower carbs is good then eating even lower than that is better. And the book, I believe, does go into something like certain fruits are better than others. But what I heard was, again, what I took from it was, that fruit is not really that great for you, which is not what it says. But you sort of has to understand how these things can morph. And then when supported by the community at large, in which there’s often not a lot of context being discussed. That’s how I took it to mean, and I’ve talked about this story a lot going into the gym, and giving away a watermelon out of my CSA box, because I was like, Ooh, watermelon, sugar, bad, right. And I think the thing that I had to come to terms with again, was that I was not eating enough carbohydrates to support especially support high-intensity training, good grief. That plus, of course, heavy lifting.

Steph Gaudreau
Yes, lifting a one rep max or any kind of effort less than 10 seconds is typically going to be really dependent on our ATP creatine phosphate system. But you know, we’re doing a lot more repetitions than a 10 Second time domain. So we’re still going to be dipping into that need for carbohydrate that stored like stored glycogen that’s in our muscle tissue. So when I talked to my nutritionist back in 2012, and I saw, again, the numbers in front of me, this was one that I really had to work on, including more carbohydrate in my training. And once I started to do that, I started to perform a lot better because go figure I had enough energy. Now of course, if you’re someone who is sedentary and not training at all, you’re not exercising, and you’re living a very sedentary lifestyle, you may not need as many carbohydrates. I think sometimes also, we confuse carbohydrates, like cake and donuts with things like oatmeal and fruit. And the difference being, you know, we tend to lump those into good and bad categories. But there are people who think oatmeal and fruit are bad for you. And that cake and donuts are bad for you. And then when we take a look at well, cake and donuts tend to be also high in fat. And if someone’s really trying to balance their energy intake, then they may want to stick to lower fat versions of carbohydrates, right?

Steph Gaudreau
Not the hyper-palatable baked goods and things like that, that contain a lot of carbohydrates, but also a lot of fat along with that carbohydrate, which raises the energy content. Another example would be ice cream, right? So I’m not saying here that one is good and one is bad, and you should never eat one but you should always eat the other. But I think we have to be a bit more discerning again, about carbohydrates, what their role is, especially if we are somebody who’s training and as women again, we are more sensitive to things like carbohydrate restriction, because of the interplay between our brain and our hormones and the way that our brain wants to make sure that our fertility is protected. So that’s an important point in point number two. Alright, point number three. The third thing I wish I knew about nutrition for strength training when I started lifting was being mindful of getting enough protein intake This one again is one that I get a lot of pushback on when I share what a protein range is for someone who is active and trying to build muscle and getting stronger.

Steph Gaudreau
And also PSA, once women are in the menopause transition especially and there’s lower estrogen, it is harder to build muscle for a variety of reasons. And if we are not eating enough food overall, going back to point one, one of the things that happen is we start to lose muscle tissue, as our amino acids are being used to generate energy for our body. Okay, so that’s like a double whammy right there is that we’re losing muscle mass. And so we have to be mindful of getting enough protein. Am I saying that this is easy? No. Am I saying that you need to jump to the highest end of the range? In one fell swoop? Of course not. And if you’re curious what that range is, and this is again, cited and supported by the international society, for sports, nutrition, you know, some really smart people, the range is 1.6 to two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. I’m not pulling that out of my ass. That comes from the ISSN. And they have a lot of very smart people looking at a lot of research and coming up with these position statements and stands. And that is a fairly standard number. But whenever I talk about this, I get a lot of people who are worried they’re concerned. They’re like, how am I supposed to get that much? And I’m thinking, why do we have to jump to the highest end of the range immediately? Why can’t we start working up a little bit at a time, just work out workup a little bit at a time, right.

Steph Gaudreau
And the other thing is that since protein is so satiating, it really behooves you to spread it out across the day, in 20 to 40-gram servings across your meals, right, because if you try to get a very large chunk of lean protein in a very compressed time window, you’re going to find it very difficult because protein is very satiating, it is the most satiating macronutrient. So again, I would be mindful of getting enough protein, trying to at least hit that low end of the range, you know, because, again, we want to see that we have enough substrate to support our muscle recovery, and build new muscle tissue. So if you want to actually add muscle, and I’m using air quotes, tone, you want to add muscle mass, you need a source of a substrate, you need to provide your body with something to actually build that losing muscle mass, of course, contributes to the condition called sarcopenia, which is not what we want to experience. And as we age, we are naturally starting to lose some of our muscle mass over the age of 30, we can counteract a good part of that with appropriately loaded strength training, resistance training, and has to be, quote-unquote heavy enough to actually provide the stimulus.

Steph Gaudreau
And then of course, as we are heading into our 40s, and menopause and the menopause transition, it’s going to be even more challenging to build that muscle, we have to work at it, we have to lift heavy enough and we have to provide the protein intake in order to do that. So related, but sort of on the other end of the spectrum in the luteal phase of menstruating individuals. In that luteal phase, there is more protein breakdown. So if there’s one time of your month, you do not want to skimp on protein intake it is in the second half of the cycle, the luteal phase number four. The fourth thing I wish I knew back in 2010 when I started lifting is that coffee is delicious, but it is not a complete meal. And I would say enjoy it, but pair it with food and pair it with your meal not instead of an I started this actually way before I started lifting where I would just drink coffee for breakfast, I would go to the 711 or the Circle K and I would get a big giant coffee and that would be my breakfast. And then I would go out and ride my bike after work and eat a very sparse lunch and really no breakfast.

Steph Gaudreau
So this is the classic example of low energy availability, especially in someone who’s athletic and training, and is also an example of within-day energy deficiency because I was training on this sort of big period of time where I wasn’t eating any food really. I was eating very little and I was saving a lot of my food till the evening time. So I know that This is tough because a lot of people love coffee I do as well. I’m not telling you, you have to stop drinking it. So don’t shoot the messenger. Caffeine is a well-documented ergogenic performance-enhancing aid, of course, a supplement. And it can have benefits for your training, absolutely. But what coffee does not have is, by itself, any calories or any actual energy, it has stimulant energy, but not actual energy, not caloric energy to support your body, and it does not have any again before not adding anything to it any carbohydrates, it does not have any protein. Now, you do what you do you are, but you could probably add some protein powder, if that’s your thing to your coffee, I tend to I just don’t like it. But you could add some things to your morning coffee on your way to the gym. If this is like your saying, you know over my dead body, I am not giving up my coffee before training.

Steph Gaudreau
All I’m saying is please eat something afterward. And if you can sneak in a little bit of protein and carbohydrate to that, especially if you’re on your way to go lift heavy or do hit or go out and do some endurance training, you’re going to perform a lot better in your training if you put more in your system than just coffee. Okay, so there’s obviously some nuance here, your mileage may vary. And if you want help, kind of getting to the nitty-gritty of your fueling, schedule, and when you are training and when you can eat and all those things. That’s what we dive way deep into in strength nutrition unlocked. I get a lot of questions on Instagram about this stuff. And it’s frankly, just too much conversation for us to have back and forth in the comments. And it’s really the kind of troubleshooting and tinkering that we do a lot better with if we can get you on a coaching call really hear what your schedule is like, what are your challenges? What are the parameters we’re dealing with, and get you started in a particular direction? Okay, and then lastly, number five.

Steph Gaudreau
The fifth thing I wish I knew when I started lifting in 2010, was about nutrition. And I saved this one to last because I know that there’s potentially going to be some feelings about this is that some nutrition tools, though valid, or not well suited to your training and the goals that you have. That’s me talking to me, right? So here’s what I started doing. I started doing, as I mentioned earlier, I was too low carb. And then I started fasting. On top of it. I was doing high-intensity training and lifting. And I decided, hey, you know what, if I heard low carb was good. Fasting on top of that is probably even better, which by the way, the research does not bear out. But in terms of stacking these protocols together.

Steph Gaudreau
And it is also not a great match for people who are expending a lot of energy. Again, if you’re sedentary, if you’re dealing with some really big health issues, potentially something like fasting could be useful, it could be a useful tool for you. But for someone who is active and burning through a lot of energy in a day, it was just not a good match. We could get far into the research on women and fasting and training and all of that stuff. But suffice to say we’ll do that at a later date. Not in this episode. But in terms of tools. Yes, fasting is a tool. It has some validity. Yes, low carb is a tool that may work for some people and has validity. But when combined with women who are doing HIIT training, or endurance training, or lifting weights and really pushing it and going heavy, it is oftentimes not a good match, especially long term. And here’s what happened to me. The wheels started to fall off after about the third between month three and somewhere between month three in month six.

Steph Gaudreau
I don’t even think I made it to six months because this was around the time that I was working with my nutritionist. And yeah, I was finding it obviously quite difficult to eat enough food in my training window especially because I trained in the early afternoon. And I wouldn’t get home from the gym until five o’clock. So for me I would have to try to eat most of the rest of my balance of energy for the whole day in a couple of hours. which just was not working, it was not working out. Again, when you look at the benefits of, for example, fasting versus exercise, they’re basically the same benefits. So we can get similar benefits from exercise that we do from fasting. And again, lumping them together does not appear to provide any additional benefit. But we’ll probably dive into that more in a future episode, because I know that this is something that people ask me all the time, especially women, again, you know, another thing if we’re fasting in the morning, and we’re pushing that baseline cortisol higher and higher, that’s going to encourage body fat storage.

Steph Gaudreau
And in women approaching perimenopause and menopause transition, this is something that you tend to struggle with already is that sort of abdominal fat storage. So it would be my recommendation, if I could go back and talk to myself, hey, you know, eat your food throughout the day. Just because fasting is a tool that does help some people and a low carb is a tool that does help some people does not mean that as a woman who’s active and doing all of these kinds of training, that it’s a good match, not every tool is a good idea for you. And this is where being discerning again, this is probably the word of this episode being discerning is really, really important. So yes, I’ve made all of these mistakes. And I have made it my mission to really help other women avoid these mistakes as well. Or if they are realizing you are realizing that you’ve made these mistakes, or you’re in these pitfalls right now, to throw you a bit of a rope and help you climb out of these frustrating circumstances.

Steph Gaudreau
So to recap, these five things that I wish I knew if I could go back to when I first started lifting, number one was to fuel enough for your activity level and the amount of lifting that you’re doing. Number two is that carbs are your friends, carbs are energy. Number three is to get enough protein and be strategic about getting in that protein amount for the day. Number four is that coffee while delicious is not a complete meal, drink it on the side, but don’t use it as a substitute for an actual meal with actual energy. And then number five, though, some nutrition tools are valid for certain populations. But they aren’t a match for everyone’s goals, especially folks who are active athletic, challenging their bodies, and are already doing a significant amount of exercise.

Steph Gaudreau
Of course, go visit the show notes on StephGaudreau.com. If you want the show notes for this episode, you can see a full transcript and everything else that I talked about in this show. If you want some links to all of the things that I mentioned, please hit subscribe on your podcast app and share this episode with a friend it really does mean a lot when you recommend it to somebody in your life. And finally, last but not least, if you want help with fueling smarter, so that you build strength, muscle energy, and perform better come and work with us in Strength Nutrition Unlocked. It is my program that’s there to help you implement science-based strategies and keep things simple so that you’re able to get the best results possible from making the nutrition, lifting, and recovery tweaks that you need so that you actually start really feeling and enjoying all the results from your hard work and meeting your goals. Alright, thanks for being here on this episode. I will see you next time. And until then stay strong.

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Steph Gaudreau

Hi, I'm Steph Gaudreau (CISSN, NASM-CPT)!

Nutrition and fitness coach for women, Lord of the Rings nerd, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.


Purpose built for strength, fitness, and athleticism. This is a templated, app-based 12-month progressive strength program for women over 40.


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