The best diet to support calisthenics workouts

In calisthenics, what you eat is just as important as exercise itself. So what is the best diet to support calisthenics?

With the 9-5 combined with sedentary lifestyles leftover from the COVID-19 pandemic, many people’s daily exercise routine consists of moving from the desk to the sofa. While the call of exercise may be easy to ignore, the effect of not doing enough of it on health and longevity is less so. According to the WHO, a sedentary lifestyle doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity [1]. This is where calisthenics comes in – a form of exercise that borrows from strength training, cardio and even acrobatics, to improve health and fitness, what you eat is just as important as exercise itself. So what is the best diet to support calisthenics?

What is calisthenics?

First developed by ancient Greek armies, calisthenics remains popular with modern-day soldiers for staying in peak physical condition. It combines different movements including pull-ups, push ups, squats, skipping and stretching. The main appeal of calisthenics is that you use your own body weight and minimal equipment, meaning you can perform it just about anywhere. Even better, calisthenics can be completed in as little as 20-minute sessions, so not having enough time or money to go to the gym no longer applies. It’s also beneficial to health and longevity; a study found that calisthenics improved strength, posture, cardiovascular health, and fat loss, even in beginners [2].

First developed by ancient Greek armies, calisthenics remains popular with modern-day soldiers for staying in peak physical condition

Best foods for calisthenic workouts

The purpose of calisthenics is to build muscle mass for strength and fitness purposes – as well as for aesthetic appreciation. To achieve this, you need to supply your body with the right fuel.

Protein is the building block that forms our bodies and is especially concentrated in muscles. During training, your muscles undergo eustress that forms tiny tears in their muscle fabric. During recovery, these are repaired by satellite cells that synthesise protein and build back your muscles stronger to anticipate further exercise.

It therefore makes sense that consuming more protein will build bigger muscles, and it’s an essential ingredient in a calisthenics diet. Luckily, high-quality protein sources are also great for health. Getting around 30% of your calories from protein, or roughly one gram of protein per pound of body weight is usually enough to promote muscle growth. Generally, guidelines suggest men should aim for 55g of protein per day, and women 45g [3]. This provides your body with the natural fuel it needs to build muscles. The following sources all count:

  • Eggs. A breakfast staple, these contain around 7g of protein per egg.
  • Lean meat. A major source of protein. White meat, like chicken and turkey, is generally considered better than red meats.
  • Fish. One tin of tuna can contain up to 30g of protein!
  • Full fat Greek yogurt. Starting your day with 100g of yogurt for breakfast counts as around 6g of protein.
  • Soy protein or tofu. Contrary to opinion, vegetarian and vegan diets can provide plenty of protein. For example, 100g of tofu equals around 8g of protein.
  • Lentils, pulses and beans. 100g of boiled lentils contains around 9g of protein. Even a humble tin of baked beans counts but stick to low-sugar and salt varieties.
  • Nuts and seeds. A quick handful will boost energy and protein intake.

Try incorporating different sources of protein into every meal. Oven-roasting, pan-frying, or air-frying protein sources is a healthier option than deep-frying. Protein is particularly important post-workout to repair and build muscle. Specifically, a 20g protein portion within 30 minutes of exercise is recommended. Try drinking milk, eating yogurt topped with nuts and seeds, or tuna on toast.

Consuming carbohydrates, of the complex variety, is also a requirement in a calisthenics diet. Carbs are necessary fuel for your body, providing energy and replenishing depleted glycogen stores used up during exercise. However, not all carbs are created equal and are divided into complex or simple. The former is a ‘healthy’ source of carbohydrates that includes whole-grain cereals, bread and pasta, starchy vegetables, and legumes. These are also a good source of fibre.

On the other shoulder sits simple carbs like white bread, rice, pasta, cake and sweets, which, while tempting, offer little to no nutritional value. In fact, consuming too much can lead to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease. Complex carbs should therefore make up around 50% of your daily calorie intake, as they balance blood sugar levels, aid digestion and even speed up muscle recovery.

We all should be eating more fruit and veg, especially when following a calisthenics exercise programme. Fruit and veg live up to their super food title, as not only do they provide fibre, they also contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They can also improve muscle strength.

Despite this glowing report card, it is a surprise that only 10% of Americans eat enough fruit and veg! Fulfil your five-a-day by including raw and cooked fruit and veg in meals and as snacks throughout the day. Quick fixes include adding berries and chopped fruit to your breakfast cereal or yogurt in the morning, slurping vegetable soup at lunch, or serving salads and roasted veg with main meals. Having a fruit bowl close at hand keeps fruit readily available as well as acting as a visual reminder to eat!

Food to avoid on the calisthenics diet

  • Protein powders. Many gym-goers are turning to powdered forms of protein for an extra fix. However, as well as protein, many varieties also contain fillers, preservatives and thickeners. The bulk of your intake should instead come from natural, high-quality protein sources. Protein powders are best left within the toxically masculine realm of shakes and steroids.
  • Simple carbs like white bread, rice and pasta should be swapped for complex carbs. Try wholegrain versions, or healthy innovations like spiralised ‘courgetti’. Although sometimes slightly less appetising, they will provide more fuel for your calisthenics workout.
  • Calisthenic diets are also great for health and longevity, as they limit the consumption of highly processed food (HPF). Foods typically begin as whole foods, before being processed for consumption. As a general rule, the more processed food is, the fewer nutrients it contains. Avoid the usual suspects like processed meats, ready-meals, and noodle pots. Eating whole foods harvested from the ground, trees or animals goes back to the simple diet that humans have eaten for thousands of years. Stick to products with 5 ingredients or less as a guide.  



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