Diet Strategies For Powerlifters
Diet and powerlifter are two words that are seldom uttered in the same breath. In all fairness though, it’s not a big surprise. If you put a high level powerlifter next to a high level bodybuilder and asked someone who knows nothing about either sport, “Which do you think has the better diet?” the bodybuilder would be the obvious choice. However, the dietary needs of a powerlifter can be every bit as demanding as a bodybuilder.
If you ask any elite lifter, he will tell you that nutrition is the base of all strength gains. You can work hard in the gym but if you aren’t fueling your body correctly, then the work you are putting in isn’t being optimally utilized. As with bodybuilding, there are times when powerlifters need to eat to gain weight and there are times that they need to diet down for a meet. The main difference between a bodybuilding diet and the average powerlifting diet is the length of the bulk period. Bodybuilders may diet for a show up to 14 weeks out. Powerlifters generally diet for a meet about a week out.
In a powerlifter’s diet, you don’t need to be concerned with appearance. The only thing that matters is the number. Dieting too quickly for a bodybuilder means a flat look. This doesn’t matter to the powerlifter. So a quick cut to make weight is widely utilized in powerlifting. Most powerlifters eat like crazy leading up to the meet and then in the last few days, they begin overloading their body with fluids.
Here’s an example. A powerlifter might eat normally until 5 days before the meet. At this time, he might drink a gallon of water; 4 days out it becomes 2 gallons; 3 days out he downs 3 gallons and cuts out most solid foods. At 2 days out, he might fast almost completely and won’t take in any fluids. The body will continue cycling the water at an accelerated rate due to the 3 days of fluid loading.
Finally, the day before the meet, the powerlifter might use a sauna or other heating method to sweat out as much fluid as possible before weigh ins. Afterwards, he’ll eat and drink like crazy to get the weight back to where it was. Using this method I have seen lifters compete the next day up to 20 pounds heavier than they weighed in.
Personally I don’t subscribe to the “gain at all costs, and then cut quick” method for my meets; I am off the bandwagon with most powerlifters. So if you want to learn more about that technique, you’ll probably find this article disappointing. The truth is, I don’t eat like a typical powerlifter where often times, the quality of the calories is sacrificed for the quantity. I try to eat clean all the time, taking in a balance of solid food and nutritional supplementation. I focus on energy-dense foods that supply me with enough nutrients to get through the type of training that breaks down the body fast as you constantly test its limits with maximum loads and grueling, low rep focus.
I have always been a firm believer that you get out of your body what you put into it. If I load up on empty calories and junk, my workouts become junk. Instead I focus on supplying my body with enough energy to get me through the workout and then enough to recover quickly afterwards without becoming sluggish and unable to function at the level that my training style demands. With this as my main objective, there is only room for quality in my diet plan.
I tend to cycle the caloric intake of my diet based off of the workout that I’ll be performing on that day. I generally follow a 5 day split that looks something like this:
Monday: Deadlift/deadlift accessories
Tuesday: Maximum effort bench press and triceps focus
Thursday: Squats and deadlift lockout work
Friday: Overhead press, close grip bench press and shoulder focus
Saturday: Back and grip work
So based on this, I’ll assign a general eating strategy for each day (e.g., the workouts that require the most energy as the highest calorie days). For me, this means taking in the highest amount of calories on Mondays and Thursdays. I’ll take in a moderate amount of calories on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. On my rest days (Sunday and Wednesday), I eat fewer calories. Further, on rest days a greater percentage of my calories will come from protein to help enhance tissue repair and fluid regulation. The result from cycling in this fashion is that I get the required energy for the day’s workout without a messy spillover that pushes my body fat levels higher than I would like.
I feel it is important to not let the fat get out of hand, even as a powerlifter. My ability to train effectively is hindered when I’m carrying around too much body fat. I can’t perform specific exercises that I feel are crucial to excelling in my personal strength goals–pull-ups, high box jumps, and core work. I also like being able to walk up a flight of stairs and not have to rest at the top.
As a student, meeting my dietary needs can be challenging at times. Here’s a sample meal and supplement plan that I might follow for one of my lower body days:
Meal 1 (upon waking): 2 scoops Universal Ultra Whey Pro and 16 oz. fat free milk, Animal Pak
Meal 2 (on the way to class an hour later): 2 of my Animal cookies (1 cup oats, 2 tbl of peanut butter, 1 tbl of Nutella)
Meal 3 (lunch, two hours later): 4 eggs, 1 cup hash browns, 2 sausage patties, 1 ½ cups of cottage cheese, Animal Flex
Meal 4* (after class, two hours after lunch): repeat meal #3
Meal 5 (90 minutes before training): 3.5 scoops of Universal Real Gains w/ 16 oz. of fat free milk
Workout: Universal Shock Therapy (pre), Universal Intra Aid (during) and Universal Torrent + SportPharma Carb Max (post)
Meal 6 (45 min. after training): 2 scoops Universal Ultra Whey Pro w/16 oz. fat free milk
Meal 7* (dinner): 2 grilled chicken and Swiss barbeque burgers (from the student grill) on wheat buns
Meal 8 (late night, between 8-10pm): ham and mushroom scramble at the student grill
Meal 9 (before bed): 2 scoops of Universal Ultra Whey Pro an hour before bed
Bedtime: Animal PM 30 minute before hitting the sack
NOTE: * On a bench focused training day I would probably cut out meal 4, drop a chicken burger from meal 7, and possible cut out the late night omelet.
The training is important in whatever strength sport one chooses to undertake. But regardless of whether you’re a bodybuilder, strongman, or a powerlifter, you can only push your body to its limits when you are willing to put in the work to fuel it during, and repair it after words with a solid nutrition plan, and an good understanding behind it.