As they always say … “you can’t out-train a bad diet”.
And, as much as we all wish it weren’t – it’s absolutely true.
Whilst the 5x5x5 workout is guaranteed to pack on muscle and strength for anyone, it’s difficult to achieve a toned and fit physique if all your muscles are covered in fat.
And so, nutrition is just as important to overall body ‘fitness’ as exercise.
I could go on forever about what you should and shouldn’t eat, when you should and shouldn’t eat, why you should and shouldn’t eat … and so on. But for the sake of simplicity and brevity, here are my key ‘must-do’ nutrition tips to follow in conjunction with the 5x5x5 program:
Never skip breakfast: always eat at least 30 grams of carbs, 30 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat every day – and more if you work out in the morning.
This will set you up for the day and prevent those annoying energy crashes that often hamper fitness gains.
Eat at least 1.5 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight every day – and up to 2.5 grams if you can. Protein is an essential building block for muscle and strength gain, and without it you simply won’t perform, recover and improve nearly as efficiently.
It doesn’t really matter when you eat your protein (though in the 2 hours after training, it’s always helpful to consume around 50 grams of protein) – just get it in between waking up and going to sleep each day! Meat, eggs, spinach and greek yoghurt are great options, and supplements like protein powders are brilliant for making up the extra grams you don’t get from your food.
Carbs are also highly important – so many fad diets focus on restricting carbs to help weight loss. That’s usually fine for people simply looking to lose weight – but 5x5x5ers shouldn’t just be looking to lose weight, but instead to lose fat and gain muscle. There’s a big difference!
Try to consume around 2 grams of carbs per kilo of bodyweight, and make the large majority of them complex carbs (rice, wholemeal pasta, sweet potato, vegetables and ‘whole’ foods). A bit of sugar (simple carbs) is good every now and then to satiate cravings, but try to limit treats to just once or twice a week.
Count your macros – which are: carbs, protein and fat – and your calories to match your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) needs and overall body goals. A great calculator for this is found on Mike Matthews’ Muscle for Life website here.
Generally, you want to keep your macros around 50% protein, 35% carbs and 15% fat while following the 5x5x5 program, to ensure adequate growth, repair and energy levels. As for your calories and TDEE, that depends on your goals. If you’re trying to strip fat, you need to be in a 10-20% deficit (that is, eating less calories than you burn). But if you’re trying to clean bulk by adding muscle but little to no fat, try a calorie surplus of about 10%.
Again, definitely use Mike’s excellent calculator to work out your needs versus your goals.
- Cheat Days versus Cheat Meals:
It’s the age old question: I can have a cheat meal right, but can I have a cheat day?
Well, for maximum results when following the 5x5x5 program, I’d suggest not.
The odd burger, pizza, milkshake, fries, etc is fine, but stop it at one serving or meal. Your body can generally handle this OK when you’re exercising a lot, but doubling or tripling cheat meals in one day leads to a total calorie blow out and a massive imbalance of macronutrients.
The result: weight gain, slower recovery, strain on your digestive system and more.
- What to Eat Before and After a 5x5x5 Workout:
As you’ve probably guessed already if you’ve read through the 5x5x5 workout program, it’s a heavy load based training regime that is designed to break your body down in order to force it to rebuild bigger and stronger.
As a result, good quality energy is required both during the exercise performance itself, and also afterwards during the recovery and rebuild period (which generally lasts 48-72 hours).
Before completing a 5x5x5 workout, consume around 40g of high quality carbs (like rice, sweet potatoes, wholemeal pasta and/or vegetables) along with 30g of protein (like chicken, meat or a supplement shake) around 2 hours before starting the workout. This will ensure you have maximum energy stores in your system ready to lift big.
During the workout, it can be useful to consume a drink containing creatine, protein powder or BCAAs, one serving of electrolyte energy drink like Gatorade, and/or caffeine. Each of these have proven effects on improving performance and output during a workout, but I wouldn’t consider them essential for success proven you have eaten prior to the workout as per above.
After the workout, carbs and protein are required once again – 50g of each within an hour of finishing your workout is my recommended requirement. This quantity of both carbs and protein ensures maximum glycogen replenishment and protein resynthesis occurs within your muscles, without the being too much excess (or any at all) of either macro left over to be stored as fat.
All in all, a well-formed and disciplined diet is extremely important to seeing maximum success when following the 5x5x5 program. And, when it comes to forming a well-rounded diet tuned to your specific needs, macronutrient calculation in tandem with calorie counting is quite simply fundamental. Give your body too much and it’ll store the excess as fat, and don’t give your body enough and you won’t see any muscle or strength gains. It’s that simple.
As mentioned above, click here to use Mike Matthews’ brilliant macro and calorie calculator which will certainly give you a clear nutritional path to follow on your way to fitness greatness!
Then, once you’ve got your nutritional plan all sorted, get stuck into the 5x5x5 workout and achieve results you never thought possible!