Nutrition for strength athletes such as powerlifters and strongmen is an area with a huge misconception attached to it. Gone are the days where the normal pre-workout meal would be a greasy fry up. With the knowledge available today, the dinner plates of many strength and power athletes are looking very different!
Powerlifting is a sport based upon short bursts of maximal lifting, with longer durations of rest periods between sets, explosive power is the main objective. Whilst being the heaviest end at your weight class may prove to be an advantage this doesn’t mean that carrying excess body fat is excusable when it could become a long term hindrance to your health! A healthy lifter is a lifter who can compete in the long term! Whilst the aim isn’t to be as lean as possible as say a bodybuilder pre contest, more lean muscle does become an advantage when it comes to peak performance.
The diet of many strength athletes is not too dissimilar to the diet of an offseason bodybuilder, high protein sources, complex carbs and essential good fats all play a big role. Splitting the total macros into 5 to 7 small meals is also advised, as it is proven to be the easiest method to consume a large quantity of calories, especially when the calories are from clean sources of food which can be hard to digest for some. Furthermore the benefit it has on an individual’s metabolism is well documented, and will allow the individual to consume the correct amount of nutrients without feeling lethargic and bloated.
Instead of telling you what each Macronutrient is, I will explain how and why they play a huge role when being strong as possible, is the main priority.
Protein: Often called the building blocks of the body and for a good reason, the wear and tear of sports such as strongman and powerlifting cause breakdown of muscle tissue, an adequate intake of protein in the diet can ensure a quicker rate of recovery to repair and rebuild the muscle.
Best sources: Chicken breast, lean mince beef, whole eggs, oily fish, Whey Protein (i.e PhD Pharma Whey HT+)
Carbohydrates: The main source of energy, providing the fuel required to allow the muscles to contract efficiently during training and competitions, especially as glycogen is the source used for short intense movements as seen in Powerlifting. An adequate carbohydrate intake is needed to ensure glycogen stores are full and not depleted. Furthermore Carbohydrates have an important role with Central Nervous System (CNS), which is vital in strength sports as the CNS is responsible for strength output.
Best sources: Oats, Basmati or Brown Rice, sweet potatoes, Low Gi Carb Powder (i.e. PhD Waxy Vol)
Fat: Often given a bad wrap by the media and blamed for the majority of ailments we see occurring in today’s society such as obesity and heart disease, fats such as essential fatty acids are vital as they are responsible for supporting our hormonal system. They have also been shown to have an impact on growth hormone levels within trained subjects. In addition healthy fats such as omega 3, has been shown to help aid in joint health, which in strength sports can only help as the joints are always under constant pressure from the heavy loads of weights being lifted.
Best sources: Extra virgin olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, fish oils, nuts.
Perhaps the most important aspect of nutrition with regards to the performance of a strength athlete is the timing of nutrients.
Pre-workout meal, pre-workout supplements, intra workout, post-workout supplements and post workout meal. These are some of the windows of opportunity to optimise nutrition specifically for peak performance.
I have my own “ritual” if you may wish to call it, with regards to what I eat and consume pre, intra and post training. It can be a very individual thing with regards to the macronutrients in each window, or the addition of stimulants, some people prefer stimulants (such as myself) some don’t bode well with stimulants and opt for a more traditional fast acting carbohydrate and creatine mixture.
The pre-workout meal, I always consume about 1-1.5 hours before training usually will consist of a low gi carb source such as basmati rice, lean source of protein such as chicken breast and a small addition of healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil. This provides me with all the macronutrients and prevents me from getting hunger pangs mid training, which is not very nice when it’s a max effort squat day, believe me! If I am out and about, and need a quick dense snack PhD growth factor 50 brownies are a life saver! With 50g protein per hit, they very filling and taste awesome too. For anyone with an intense work schedule or who is at University like me, these are a must!
Pre-workout, I always have a shake consumed 20mins before training, as I said this is a personal preference. Some people may wish to have a non-stimulant based pre-workout drink such as PhD Battery, mixed with Creatine, and glutamine and the addition of BCAA’s. I on the other hand am a bit of a stimulant fiend, and opt for PhD’s V-Max Pump! It tastes great (which is important, you want to finish the damn thing after all not throw it back up!) which consists of caffeine, creatine monohydrate, Nitric Oxide, Arganine, beta alanine, glutamine and BCAAs. These are all the ingredients that have been scientifically proven to enhance training performance in a 2 scoop serving, taking the fuss out of your pre-workout prep! Just 2 scoops and your good to go.
Intra-workout, again this is a personal preference and depends on the type of training session being done. If it is a long high intensity training session, such as a strongman events training session where high levels of CV are required as well as explosive power, a carbohydrate source will be required in addition to BCAA’s to prevent the wear and tear of the muscles and to replenish glycogen stores so performance does not dip. Having a serving of PhD Battery as fast acting carbohydrate tri-blend, and 5 caps of PhD BCAA’s should be sufficient in this instance. For shorter workouts that are not as intense, BCAA’s alone and adequate hydration should suffice.
Post-workout, which is taken immediately after training, and is the most important meal in my opinion of any athlete seeking maximum recovery, glycogen and amino acid replenishment. Training for strength can be very taxing on the body especially as the majority of strength athletes take 90 minutes minimum to train; a lot longer than a 45 minute hypertrophy session, thus a shake post-workout becomes very important to ensure progress is not being stalled due to poor recovery. The best post-workout shake I have encountered is PhD’s Recovery 2:1, it takes the guess work out with regards to the correct ratios needed post-workout of carbohydrates and protein. Its High speed protein synthesis consists of:
Whey protein isolate: Purest protein available and fastest way to increase protein synthesis
Micronised L-Glutamine: For complete post exercise recovery.
Micronised Creatine Monohydrate: For Maximum intra muscular super compensation and Cell Volume.
Peptide-Bonded L-glutamine: To ensure maximum glutamine assimilation.
Antioxiansts and BCAA’s: Muscle repair and immune-boost
The following is my own actual diet during off-season if I am not having to make a certain weight category. It may not appear a lot as I am a 67.5kg weight class lifter, not your typical super heavy. Having said that the choices of food should give you an understanding of what I consume as a powerlifter to fuel my own training and strength goals, I won’t put the weight of the food as we are all different and what I eat in terms of grams isn’t what you should necessarily eat.
Upon wakening: 5g micronized glutamine, fish oils and a multivitamin tablet
Meal one: PhD Pharma Whey, oatmeal, 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter stirred in a bowl with boiling water, chopped banana on top.
Meal two: PhD Pharma whey, powdered oats made into a shake, handful of mixed nuts
Meal three: chicken breast, basmati rice, 1 tablespoon of Extra virgin olive oil
Pre workout: 2 scoops of V max pump
Intra workout: Powdered BCAA’s or if it is a more intense session I add a scoop of PhD Battery
Post workout: 2 scoops of PhD Recovery 2:1
Meal four: lean mince beef, basmati rice, portion of asparagus
Meal five: PhD Pharma blend shake and handful of mixed nuts
That is a short insight of eating for strength and power, I hope it gave some useful information in how you should tailor your own diet, we are all different and my own eating regiment is by no means a cookie cutter diet plan.
Thank you to Fitmag for allowing me the opportunity to write for them, and also major thanks to PhD Nutrition for their excellent support and backing.