This month we delve into the world of strength training. We reached out to a local personal trainer, nutritionist and fitness enthusiast to help us get a better understanding of the benefits of lifting weights, the differences between men and women in the gym and the recommendations for both genders when it comes to how much.

Let’s meet our trainer.

Jodi Brindisi has been a certified personal trainer for over six years. Her Pilates, spin and TRX classes have always had large followings, but it’s her competitive edge that really makes Brindisi a serious athlete. She participates in many local racing events, but her most recent passion is triathlons. Last year she competed in her first Olympic Triathlon, finished first in her division and is currently training for a Half Ironman this fall.

What are the benefits of weight training and building more lean body mass?

In general people who are active typically have a higher metabolism, meaning they expend more energy thus using more calories even at rest. Body composition improves shifting toward lean mass instead of fat mass, which is necessary for weight control and improved athletic performance. Consistent, diverse and challenging strength training will optimize your short- and long-term health. Athletes who are looking for an edge often find huge benefits in cross training with a strength program.

How do men and women differ when it comes to weight training?

Both genders will see the health benefits noted above including weight management, increased bone density, increased strength, more desirable body composition, higher metabolism, improved mental health and risk reduction for many chronic disease.

Men and women should both include strength training into their routines 3-5 times per week working all major muscle groups. A good rule of thumb is to complete five different exercises in one workout using a variety of modalities – free weights, machines and resistance training that uses your own body weight.

Men typically look to build muscle mass and strength and should be lifting heavier weight completing fewer repetitions. Women are not usually interested in building mass so they use lighter weight with more repetitions. For women I recommend doing 15-20 repetitions of the same exercise three times before moving to the next exercise.

Are protein shakes, powders and bars necessary? Does protein trump carbohydrates in the gym?

Carbohydrates are vitally important, necessary and are our primary fuel source and found in practically every major food group – grains, vegetables, fruits, proteins and dairy. This does not mean ginormous bagels made with processed grain flours, doughnuts and chips should be our go-to fuel sources. Including high-quality carbohydrates such as vegetables, whole grains, beans and fruit at each meal builds a healthy base. Pre-workout, carbohydrates help to fuel your body and post-workout they replace lost muscle glycogen. Refueling your body after a workout is critical for recovery and building muscle mass.

Protein is an essential nutrient that we must consume through our diet. Proteins and their building blocks, amino acids, are not only needed for our muscle tissue, but necessary for the production of hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, antibodies and thousands of other compounds in our body.

Protein should be included at every meal and in pre- and post-workout snacks. Ten percent to 35 percent of our total calories should come from protein. People who are very active and strength train regularly should aim for the middle to high end of the range. For those who want to build muscle mass a diet with 30 percent to 35 percent of total calories from protein will be desired. Excess protein has not been shown to provide any further advantage. If you do not provide sufficient carbs and fat then protein is used for energy.

Catherine Wallace, MSH, RD, LD/N is a local Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She works as a Clinical Pediatric Dietitian at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and teaches Nutrition and Food Science at the University of North Florida.