It takes more than a gym membership and a desire to finally be in shape to actually do so. The right attitude is crucial to your long term success, but finding what makes your workouts efficient on a daily basis is just as important. Each component and each facet of your daily workout routine, as small as they may individually be, are part of a whole, and that’s on what your success will be built. In the same way that you would not leave on a 1,000 mile journey with a gas tank only half full, making sure that your body not only has the nutrients it needs to maintain itself, but to grow, is essential.

Entire libraries of books have been written on the topic of sports nutrition; it is a vast topic that deserves your attention if you wish your workouts to be as effective as their potential indicates, but having an understanding of where to start can be just as important as understanding the nitty-gritty details.

Sports and performance nutrition are divided into two general areas: carbohydrates and proteins. Carbohydrates represent the fuel that powers your muscle cells, allowing them to reach maximum contraction levels, and giving them the staying power to keep working throughout your workouts. Proteins, on the other hand, are composed of peptide-bonded amino acids, broken down by stomach enzyme that are used to repair and rebuild your muscle cells after exercise, allowing them to regenerate and if possible, to grow bigger and stronger.

Carbohydrates are, on a biological level, sugar. They are divided into two groups, complex and simple. Simple carbohydrates are very easy to digest and will give an immediate energy boost – the so-called ‘sugar rush’ or ‘sugar high’. Examples of simple carbohydrates include fudge, ice cream and white bread, as well as all refined sugars. Simple carbohydrates are broken down almost immediately and hit the bloodstream right away, but their effects are short lived.

Complex carbohydrates include whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, brown rice and potatoes, to name only a few. They take more time to break down, and will thus release their energy over a longer period of time, avoiding the ‘sugar high’ and its accompanying ‘crash’, and providing muscles with a longer-term energy supply.

Composed of peptide-bonded chains of amino acids – the building blocks of life, proteins are required to repair muscle cells and allow for their growth. Getting proteins through dietary sources is ideal, but to maximize the growth of lean muscle mass, it is recommended to take protein supplements as soon as possible before and/or after a workout, to insure a complete amino acid saturation of the skeletal muscle cells. They are available in several forms and flavors; the most popular and convenient, however, is protein powder, derived from whey, soy or casein.

Achieving an understanding of the complex interactions between muscle cells, the carbohydrate fuel and protein structural building blocks does not happen overnight, but is worth pursuing, as understanding will allow you to bypass months if not years of trial and error. A balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and lean cuts of meat, and containing between 15% and 35% of proteins as a percentage of total calories is the base upon which everything is build. Never neglect a balanced diet in favor of supplements, no matter how good they are; your body needs more than carbohydrates and proteins to operate properly!