How to Form an Eating Plan for Weight Lifting (2023)

How to Form an Eating Plan for Weight Lifting (1)

Add up your daily meals, divide them by fat, protein and carbohydrate percentages, multiply them by your daily caloric needs and what do you have? Likely, confusion.

Sometimes it seems that forming an eating plan for weightlifting is more suitable for mathletes than athletes. To complicate matters, there are numerous areas of disagreement in the fitness profession. While there are a few dietary tips for weightlifting in which there's a consensus -- like increasing your hydration, for example -- there are plenty more where the guidelines represent differing opinions among professionals.

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Take the consumption of fat, protein and carbohydrates for example. The dietary strategies involving the ideal daily intake of these compounds are as varied as the nutritionists who recommend them.

Fortunately, the differences in opinion related to a weightlifter's nutrition are seldom wildly incompatible. For instance, you're not going to find one nutritionist who recommends changing your diet to 90 percent protein while another suggests 90 percent carbs. The differences in approach are subtle, and that's good news for you. It means that if your current eating plan isn't working well for you, a few tweaks may be all that's necessary to get it on track.

So, if you're weightlifting and wanting to start a complementary eating plan, start with our guidelines on the following pages. You can then consult with a nutritionist and physical trainer to gain a more detailed evaluation of how the diet is working for you.

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Nutritional Information for Weightlifting

The goals of a weightlifting diet should be to lose fat, increase muscle mass and increase energy. Of course, as we discussed on the previous page, coming up with the right nutritional formula for achieving these goals can be challenging. The following categories, however, can simplify the process -- helping you figure out what to eat, and when.

Meals per day: Weightlifters should eat throughout the day -- every two to three hours, adding up to around six to eight small, consistently sized meals. This ensures you have a constant supply of energy and aren't tempted to binge. Be sure you eat about 60 minutes before a workout and then within one to two hours following one. It's acceptable to consume calories through bars or shakes during a long workout. It's also helpful to eat a small meal right before bed.

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Determining the makeup of your meals: Generally speaking, low-fat meals are ideal for weightlifters. How low the fat should be is up for debate. Some trainers and nutritionists believe a meal's fat content should be as low as 10 percent; others believe more fat -- up to 30 percent of a meal -- can be consumed. Both protein and carbohydrates are critical. Protein can make up around 20 to 30 percent of a meal, whereas carbohydrates can round it out at roughly 40 to 60 percent. Some trainers even recommend that beginners consume 1 to 1.5 grams of protein and 2 to 3 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight in determining a range of how much food you should consume each day [source: Stoppani, et. al].

Determining your daily caloric goals: To build muscle mass, you want to consume more calories than you burn. If you are currently physically active, you can multiply each pound of bodyweight you have by 20 to come up with a fairly reliable indicator of how many calories you should consume in a day [source: Stoppani, et. al].

Snacking wisely: There are many snack bars available for weightlifters. To choose the right one, look for a carbohydrate to protein ratio of between 2:1 and 4:1. Also make sure its total calories are under 200.

Hydrating yourself well: Proper hydration is important for a number of reasons, including replenishing your fluids and keeping the cartilage in your joints hydrated [sources: Robbins]. Water is always a great option, but sports drinks can be beneficial as well -- particularly during or right after a workout -- because they can temporarily raise glucose levels, providing the body with extra energy. Make sure you're drinking eight 8-ounce (227 milliliter) glasses of water per day in addition to what you drink during your workouts.

Other tips: There are a lot of rules and formulas involved with weightlifting-related eating plans. Such constraints can make it hard to stick with a diet. To avoid this pitfall, consider taking a cheat day once a week.

If you're wondering which specific foods you should choose, we've got that information waiting for you on the next page.

Eating on Non-weightlifting Days

For the days you're not lifting weights, you can consume fewer calories -- particularly carbs. Try eating only one carbohydrate per pound (0.45 kilograms) of bodyweight on your rest days [source: Men's Fitness].

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Top Foods for Weightlifting

By now you know that a proper weightlifting diet should be somewhat lowin fat with a balance of protein and carbohydrates that slightly favors more carbs. Next, we'll show you the types of these compounds you should choose.

Fats: Generally speaking, unsaturated fats are best for any person's health. Sources of this kind of fat include avocados, nuts, olive oil, flaxseed oil and fatty fish. However, weightlifters can get by with slightly more saturated fat than most people, as a diet too low in cholesterol can lower strength levels [source: Stoppani, et. al].

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Protein: Choose proteins with a high biological value (BV) for better absorption and muscle growth [source: Evans]. Milk and eggs both have high BV. When it comes to meat, fish has a higher BV than beef and chicken. For most people, it's easy getting enough protein from these sources; vegetarians, however, may need to add supplemental protein to their diets [source: Cane, et. al].

Carbohydrates: For weightlifters, it's really important to know whether a carb is slow digesting or fast digesting. Slow-digesting carbohydrates don't cause as rapid a spike in your blood-sugar levels as their counterparts. They are often known as complex carbohydrates, and they should comprise most of your carb consumption. Buckwheat, brown rice, whole grain pasta, yams and oatmeal all qualify as slow-digesting carbohydrates. The only time you should consider fast-digesting carbs, like white breads, rices and pastas, is directly following a hard workout, when it's ideal to have a blood-sugar spike [source: Robbins].

Supplements can also be an important part of a dietary plan. Caffeine, creatine, beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB), arginine, cocoa and cinnamon have all been shown to benefit strength gaining. While a well-balanced diet should supply you with the nutrients you need, intense exercise can create deficiencies, so extra vitamins and minerals are sometimes desirable. Just keep in mind that you should only take supplements under a doctor's supervision. Some can interfere with prescription medications, while others can lead to toxicity and overdoses.

Keep reading for lots more information.

Cinnamon Can Benefit Weightlifters

Scientists believe that cinnamon can help muscle cells absorb more insulin from the bloodstream, which can increase the intake of amino acids and beneficial nutrients [source: Evans PLEASE LINK TO LMI].

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Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Weight Lifting for Women
  • Weight Lifting and Weight Control
  • Pre- and Post-exercise Eating Tips

  • Cane, Deidre Johnson; Cane, Jonathon and Joe Glickman. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training." Alpha. Dec. 6, 2005. (April 9, 2012)
  • Evans, Nick. "Men's Body Sculpting." Human Kinetics. Oct. 20, 2010. (April 9, 2012)
  • Keller, Larry and Schuler, Lou. "The Men's Health Hard Body Plan: The Ultimate 12-Week Program for Burning Fat and Building Muscle." Rodale Books. Nov. 18, 2000. (April 9, 2012)
  • Men's Fitness. "The Fit 5: Starting a Nutrition Plan." (April 9, 2012) http://www.mensfitness.com/nutrition/the-fit-5-starting-a-nutrition-plan
  • Robbins, Greg. "9 Ways to Crush Workouts Forever." Men's Fitness. (April 9, 2012) http://www.mensfitness.com/training/build-muscle/9-ways-to-crush-workouts-forever
  • Stoppani, Jim and Velazquez, Eric. "25 Ways to Improve Your Workouts." Muscle & Fitness. (April 9, 2012) http://www.muscleandfitness.com/training/25-ways-improve-your-workouts
  • Stoppani, Jim and Wuebben, Joe. "Basic Nutrition." Muscle & Fitness. (April 9, 2012) http://www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/basic-nutrition
  • Wuebben, Joe. "Eating While You Lift." Muscle & Fitness. (April 9, 2012)http://www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/other/eating-while-you-lift

FAQs

How do I create a meal plan for weight training? ›

Foods to Focus On

Meats, poultry, and fish: Sirloin steak, ground beef, pork tenderloin, venison, chicken breast, salmon, tilapia, and cod. Dairy: Yogurt, cottage cheese, low fat milk, and cheese. Grains: Bread, cereal, crackers, oatmeal, quinoa, popcorn, and rice.

How do you eat enough when lifting weights? ›

While carbohydrates supply energy, protein facilitates muscle building and recovery. Eating a carbohydrate food paired with protein can maximize muscle strength and size. Aim to consume a snack with protein and carbohydrates 30 minutes after exercise, followed by a full meal two hours later.

How many calories should I be eating if I am lifting weights? ›

According to a study published in a 2010 edition of the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,” strength-trained athletes participating in intense training should consume 50 to 80 calories per kilogram of body weight, or about 22.7 to 36.4 calories per pound of body weight each day.

How do I create a meal plan? ›

Here are six steps to making a meal plan:
  1. Give yourself time to plan. Set aside time each week to make a meal plan. ...
  2. Check what you have. Check what ingredients you already have in your cupboard, fridge or freezer. ...
  3. Include some of your favourite meals. ...
  4. Use up your leftovers. ...
  5. Cook in bulk. ...
  6. Make your ingredients work.

What are the 7 steps to creating a workout plan? ›

Starting Your Fitness Plan
  1. Step 1: Ease into it. ...
  2. Step 2: You don't have to do it all at once. ...
  3. Step 3: Start with something low impact. ...
  4. Step 4: Manage your expectations. ...
  5. Step 5: Schedule physical activity into your daily plan. ...
  6. Step 6: Track your progress. ...
  7. Step 7: Set a reasonable goal.
11 Nov 2017

What to eat before and after lifting weights? ›

The four things to remember are: 1) choose complex carbohydrates that are lower on the Glycemic Index before your workout, 2) eat protein before your workout, 3) remember to restore glycogen post workout by consuming carbohydrates and 4) don't forget to eat protein after your workout to repair and build muscle.

How can I eat enough? ›

I am never hungry – how can I eat enough?
  1. Choose high-calorie, high-protein foods often. ...
  2. Keep foods and snacks where you can see them as a reminder to eat. ...
  3. Eat small meals and snacks every two to three hours. ...
  4. Eat your favorite foods at any time of the day. ...
  5. Go for a walk before meals to increase your appetite.

What do bodybuilders eat before morning workout? ›

Before your morning workout, fuel your body with whole, minimally processed carbohydrate and protein foods such as:
  • oatmeal.
  • whole grain toast.
  • fruit.
  • beef jerky.
  • eggs.
  • milk.
8 Jul 2021

Why do bodybuilders avoid dairy? ›

The protein type in milk is 20% whey and 80% casein. You may have heard of whey since its the main ingredient in many muscle drinks and supplements. However, when whey is processed, like in protein powder, research has shown that it may contain toxins and cause digestive distress (gas, upset stomach).

What is the 40 30 30 meal plan? ›

A 40/30/30 plan is one in which 40% of your daily calories come for carbohydrate sources, 30% of your daily calories come from protein sources, and, you guessed it, 30% of your daily calories come from fat sources.

What happens if I lift weights but don't eat enough calories? ›

Lifting and doing strength training without adequate nutrition, especially without enough protein, can actually lead to loss of muscle tissue. Furthermore, if you aren't eating right you won't have the energy to do the workouts that lead to muscle gain.

What should I not eat when building muscle? ›

5 foods to avoid when building muscle
  • 1) Alcohol. ...
  • 2) Sugary drinks and foods. ...
  • 3) Refined carbohydrates. ...
  • 4) Fried foods. ...
  • 5) Branched-chain amino acid supplements. ...
  • 1) Dairy products. ...
  • 2) Lean protein. ...
  • 3) Vegetables of all kinds.
13 Sept 2022

What should you drink while lifting weights? ›

Have a sports drink or water with an electrolyte tablet. There are many types of sugar-free, low-calorie electrolyte tablets, which dissolve quickly in water and help replenish electrolytes. You might also try vegetable juice, which is a good source of sodium.

How do I create a healthy eating plan? ›

A healthy eating plan:
  1. Emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  2. Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
  3. Limits saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars.
  4. Controls portion sizes.

What are the 5 rules in planning meals? ›

There are five factors you'll want to take into consideration when making your meal plan.
  • Available Time to Cook. Take a look at your week and determine how much time you have to cook. ...
  • Seasonal Food Availability. ...
  • Variety of Foods. ...
  • Special Occasions. ...
  • Financial Resources.

What are 5 tips for meal planning? ›

5 Tips For Healthy Meal Planning
  1. Start Small.
  2. Create Your Plate.
  3. Make to Last.
  4. Don't Skimp on Snacks.
  5. Make It a Family Affair.

How do I create a complete workout plan? ›

2. Design your fitness program
  1. Consider your fitness goals. ...
  2. Create a balanced routine. ...
  3. Start low and progress slowly. ...
  4. Build activity into your daily routine. ...
  5. Plan to include different activities. ...
  6. Try high-interval intensity training. ...
  7. Allow time for recovery. ...
  8. Put it on paper.

How do you structure a perfect workout? ›

Here's how to structure a gym workout
  1. Start with dynamic stretching. The first thing to do is warm up. ...
  2. Choose your target areas. Picking some parts to focus on helps give you better direction in your routine. ...
  3. Decide on the numbers. ...
  4. End on the cardio. ...
  5. Cooldown and do some developmental stretches.
1 Apr 2021

What is the correct order of a workout? ›

So, if strength is your goal: Warm up, do your strength workout, then finish with longer cardio bouts if you want to bake cardio into the equation. However, if you're training for a race or looking to build cardio endurance, start with cardio-just be careful when you get to the weights.

What foods to avoid after lifting weights? ›

1: “Avoid pure protein right after the workout, because your body will just use it as energy again,” says Collingwood. Also, steer clear of foods that are mostly sugar (cookies, candy and the like) or mostly fat like a handful of nuts (without yogurt or fruit to balance the fat) or fried foods.

Should I eat immediately after workout? ›

Most dietitians recommend eating something within 30 minutes after a workout. Your body, after using up its available energy, needs to be refueled, specifically with carbs and protein, for energy and to repair the microdamage that exercise does to your muscles.

How do I know if I'm eating enough? ›

Here are nine signs that you're not eating enough.
  1. Low Energy Levels. Calories are units of energy your body uses to function. ...
  2. Constant Hunger. ...
  3. Problems Trying to Get Pregnant. ...
  4. Sleep Issues. ...
  5. Feeling Cold All the Time. ...
  6. Constipation. ...
  7. Anxiety.

How do I make sure I'm eating enough protein? ›

14 Easy Ways to Increase Your Protein Intake
  1. Eat your protein first. ...
  2. Snack on cheese. ...
  3. Replace cereal with eggs. ...
  4. Top your food with chopped almonds. ...
  5. Choose Greek yogurt. ...
  6. Have a protein shake for breakfast. ...
  7. Include a high protein food with every meal. ...
  8. Choose leaner, slightly larger cuts of meat.

How do you solve not eating enough? ›

Low Appetite? Tips to Stay Nourished
  1. Eat Small Amounts of Food Frequently. ...
  2. Make Every Bite or Sip Count. ...
  3. Sip on Soups and Smoothies. ...
  4. Have Easy-to-Prepare Foods Available. ...
  5. Keep Ready-to-Eat Snacks on Hand. ...
  6. Limit Drinks During Meals. ...
  7. Accept Help When Offered. ...
  8. Create a Pleasant Mealtime Atmosphere.
10 Jun 2020

What is the best drink during workout? ›

Water is truly the best choice for most types of day-to-day workouts. It will be absorbed quickly and provide the fluid needed to keep your blood pumping, and it will replace fluid losses from sweat during exercise.

What should you not eat before a workout? ›

Worst Things to Eat or Drink Before a Workout
  • Granola or Protein Bars. 1/12. These might seem like a good idea before you hit the gym, but there's no clear definition of what they really are. ...
  • High-Fiber Vegetables. 2/12. ...
  • High-Fat Food. 3/12. ...
  • Yogurt. 4/12. ...
  • Smoothies. 5/12. ...
  • Flaxseed. 6/12. ...
  • Fast Food. 7/12. ...
  • Energy Drinks. 8/12.
17 Dec 2020

What should I eat first thing in the morning before working out? ›

You can't go wrong with a classic bowl of warm oatmeal. Packed full of carbohydrates and fiber, oats will give you sustained energy throughout your morning workout. There are endless possibilities for mix-ins, including nuts and nut butters, dried or fresh fruit, yogurt and protein powder.

Which milk is best for muscle growth? ›

Whole milk can also enhance muscle growth by stimulating muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than skimmed milk, even when the calories are matched (4), which makes it the superior dairy milk for bulking!

How do you tell if your bulk is working? ›

How to tell if you're gaining muscle
  1. You're gaining weight. Tracking changes in your body weight is one of the easiest ways to tell if your hard work is paying off. ...
  2. Your clothes fit differently. ...
  3. Your building strength. ...
  4. You're muscles are looking “swole” ...
  5. Your body composition has changed.
27 Mar 2021

What is the 80/20 diet rule? ›

The 80/20 rule is a guide for your everyday diet—eat nutritious foods 80 percent of the time and have a serving of your favorite treat with the other 20 percent. For the “80 percent” part of the plan, focus on drinking lots of water and eating nutritious foods that include: Whole grains. Fruits and vegetables.

What does a 50 30 20 diet look like? ›

One approach to getting healthy is the so-called 50/30/20 diet. It's based on the idea that 50 percent of your daily calorie intake should come in the form of carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein and 20 percent from fat. But you can also use the 50/30/20 rule to get into better shape financially.

What is the 70/30 rule diet? ›

The 70/30 rule. Here's how it goes: weight loss is 70 percent the foods you eat, and 30 percent exercise. Therefore, it's not scientifically possible to eat everything you want and lose weight—even with a 'magic pill' in place. Lose weight the honest way—with a food and exercise plan that makes sense.

What foods is highest in protein? ›

Top 10 Protein Foods
  • Fish.
  • Seafood.
  • Skinless, white-meat poultry.
  • Lean beef (including tenderloin, sirloin, eye of round) ADVERTISEMENT.
  • Skim or low-fat milk.
  • Skim or low-fat yogurt.
  • Fat-free or low-fat cheese.
  • Eggs.

Why am I gaining weight when I'm eating less and working out? ›

You've gained muscle.

And here's an often overlooked fact: Muscle tissue is more dense than fat tissue. So as you gain more muscle and lose fat, you change your overall body composition, which can result in a higher weight, but a smaller figure and better health.

What food is full of protein? ›

Protein foods
  • lean meats – beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo.
  • poultry – chicken, turkey, duck, emu, goose, bush birds.
  • fish and seafood – fish, prawns, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops, clams.
  • eggs.
  • dairy products – milk, yoghurt (especially Greek yoghurt), cheese (especially cottage cheese)

What food builds muscle the most? ›

Muscle building foods for gaining lean muscle
  1. Eggs. Eggs contain high quality protein, healthy fats, and other important nutrients like B vitamins and choline ( 1 ). ...
  2. Salmon. Salmon is a great choice for muscle building and overall health. ...
  3. Chicken breast. ...
  4. Greek yogurt. ...
  5. Tuna. ...
  6. Lean beef. ...
  7. Shrimp. ...
  8. Soybeans.

What diet builds the most muscle? ›

8 best foods for muscle gain
  1. Lean meats. Skinless poultry, like turkey breast and chicken breast, is relatively low in fat but high in protein. ...
  2. Seafood. ...
  3. Healthy carbohydrates. ...
  4. Legumes. ...
  5. Nuts and seeds. ...
  6. Plant-based proteins. ...
  7. Eggs. ...
  8. Greek yogurt.
6 Jun 2022

Why do bodybuilders not eat bread? ›

White bread is not necessarily suitable for muscle building exercises. Indeed, it can cause weight gain and fat accumulation in the waist and stomach. White bread is in fact the richest in starch and sugars, which can increase the level of insulin in the blood.

What should you eat immediately after a workout? ›

Good post-workout food choices include:
  • Yogurt and fruit.
  • Peanut butter sandwich.
  • Low-fat chocolate milk and pretzels.
  • Post-workout recovery smoothie.
  • Turkey on whole-grain bread with vegetables.

How soon after eating can I lift weights? ›

That said, as the intensity of the exercise increases, so does the risk of side effects. While it generally takes 2–4 hours to fully digest a meal, waiting 1–2 hours after a moderate-sized meal and 30 minutes after having a snack should be sufficient before exercising to avoid side effects.

What should I eat 30 minutes before a workout? ›

Bananas with peanut butter and Greek yogurt with some fruit are good snack options to eat 30 minutes to one hour before a workout. The best things to eat 30 minutes before a workout include oats, protein shakes, bananas, whole grains, yogurt, fresh fruit, and more.

What happens if you lift weights but don't eat enough? ›

Lifting and doing strength training without adequate nutrition, especially without enough protein, can actually lead to loss of muscle tissue. Furthermore, if you aren't eating right you won't have the energy to do the workouts that lead to muscle gain.

Do you need to eat more when you start lifting weights? ›

Weight lifting and strength training are likely to leave you with a big appetite afterwards. As your muscle tissue repairs, it cries out for food to help it regain strength. And the more muscle you have, the more hungry you are. So keep your fridge filled with healthy protein rich foods to keep the beasts at bay.

Can I eat whatever I want if I lift weights? ›

While you can certainly eat whatever you want and gain weight (assuming you are in a caloric surplus), the types of foods (macronutrients) you consume can and will impact your lean muscle growth, fat gain, and performance.

Do you need to eat more when weight training? ›

If you're trying to build muscle mass you need to be eating in a calorie surplus, so you need to actually up your intake.” “When you strength train you get little tears in your muscles. When those tears heal, they grow back stronger, but the body needs fuel to do that.

How many meals should you eat before lifting? ›

The general guideline is to eat a full meal three to four hours before exercising, a higher carbohydrate snack two hours before, and/or a smaller, easy-to-digest carbohydrate right up until you start.

What foods are dirty bulking? ›

In a “dirty" bulk, the athlete consumes processed, highly palatable foods: burgers, fries, pastries, ice cream, milkshakes, fried chicken, doughnuts, candy, and other calorie-dense foods.

What is a dirty bulk? ›

A dirty bulk refers to a period of aggressive weight gain used to promote muscle and strength gains in strength sports and certain team sports.

Is it better to workout full or hungry? ›

Doing cardio workouts on an empty stomach won't help you lose weight any faster than training on a full stomach, according to research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports.

What happens if you eat enough protein but not enough calories? ›

In the presence of adequate protein but reduced calories, most individuals will lose weight, but the resulting loss comes from fat tissue, while muscle mass is spared. As time goes on, a calorie-restricted diet will only net mediocre hypertrophy gains, since both energy and recovery material will be lacking.

What happens if I workout but don't eat enough protein? ›

Your body needs protein to build and repair tissues, so if you aren't eating enough, your muscles won't have the material they need to grow. You could feel “punch drunk” after working out, your arms and other muscles might ache more than usual, and your body may even feel generally weaker.

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