| June 3, 2021

Nutrition for powerlifters

When starting your wellness journey, or even when you’re already far into one, there are many terms in the world of fitness, nutrition, health etc. that you come across.

By Steven Fitzpatrick

Read time: 5 min.

A big factor that is commonly overlooked, and often done without balance, is nutrition for the athlete being involved in powerlifting. It's actually quite common that a lot of powerlifters eat at very sporadic times and use the sport as an excuse to neglect positive eating patterns, namely sugar. YES our bodies do run on glucose and glycogen, especially in those heavy stretched out bouts of training, but just how much of this glucose is being stored versus the amount that is being utilized for an intense session as well as recovery?

A good analogy to refer to would be thinking about your system for fuel as a fire: imagine you have a small flame being kindled, you want to slowly but effectively stoke this fire so that it can consistently burn bright, if you add too much wood, or in this case, calories, your fire is going to douse or burn out, you will smother it. However, if you do not add enough fuel to it, you are left with a fire that burns very dim below its threshold, or potential. 

A very good place to start, for those athletes who have been training for a while in the sport, those who may feel in a way fatigued, or feel they have a bulletproof training method, would be to track your calories. 

You can use any tracking method, however my personal favorite is myfitnesspal" as it has a massive database, can scan barcodes and the information is thorough enough for you to see what you need, the best part of it is that it is free with in-app purchases if you would like more information. 

Scan or track all of your calories for a week. It is essential you don’t try to eat “clean” or foods that you otherwise would not be restricting or significantly changing from your norm-the idea here is to see your natural trend. The tracking should be done from Sunday morning to Saturday evening. 

You will now see an average spread of how many carbohydrates, fats and protein you are taking each day and from it, it’s very common to see some of the following:

  • Lack of protein
  • Less calories than you need
  • More calories than you need
  • Excessive carbohydrate intake in comparison to other macros
  • Sporadic influx of fat throughout the week

After you have this information, you will then be able to see the percentages you are taking in on a daily basis. Here are a few ideas in each category that may help you to reach your goals in each of them:

Remember, thermodynamics: calories in versus out is key here. For those of you who are trying to gain weight you must be in a SURPLUS. This word does NOT mean eat whatever you want and binge on any food you want; this means eat foods that carry nutritional density and are digested faster with a higher caloric count. For those who are trying to lose weight, while training strength and power, you must still fuel the system while maintaining a caloric deficit, this does NOT mean that you starve yourself and over train. This is a sure way to not make strength improvements and rather increase stress hormones that will make you lose hard earned muscle. Protein must be high for these athletes in particular.

Once you have this information, you must make appropriate changes according to your goals. Whether that be to apply a small surplus or deficit, the option is yours, but always start gradually so that your body may adjust and adapt to the changes that you make, please DO NOT weigh yourself on a daily basis when acquiring this method, the scale will trick you into believing that you are doing something incorrect, add up your accumulative calories for that said week and scale your deficit or surplus from that number instead. Follow this day to day and make sure that you maintain energy balance, this is of the utmost importance. If you do feel obligated, I would strongly suggest only checking the scale on a month basis, that is unless you are stepping on the stage or platform, personally, the only reason I have ever purchased a scale was to be sure that I make weight for weigh-ins, I would never however, use it for a measure of worth, validation, or work effort. These parameters should be measured through other means such as tape measure, or reviewing before and after pictures in that said time. 

When trying to gain or lose weight remember, your food choices can be the same, however you must always respect the law of energy in, versus energy out, so your portion sizes according to your goals must be very closely monitored. You do not have to hate your day to day nutrition, in fact, the longevity and consistency that follows enjoying your day to day intake is what will carry you best to your long term goal. This does not endorse the idea to go and eat fattening food every day. “Takeout” food, or otherwise convenience meals, should be treated as a reward system, it gives the brain something to look forward to. When you give into your cravings every single time, it is a sure way to cavalcade into bad eating patterns and the cravings become worse, when on the contrary, restricting the good tasting foods 24/7 increases the potential of “yo-yo” dieting, meaning that with extended periods of restriction, the likelihood of throwing it all out the window as soon as you touch one thing that is not considered “clean” that you will have a massive time of binge, then go back to super clean eating. You can see how up and down this is, and where the body is trying to maintain a balanced internal state of energy, you are giving it the last thing it needs, and that “flame” will never burn consistently hot. And consistency is key.

At the end of the day, we NEED to eat if we want to grow, if you want to be successful at getting stronger, stop looking at every single small program detail and questioning that portion so much. Do these two things: 1) spend more time under the bar and 2) be patient; figure out exactly how you can make your energy systems work better in regards to nutrition.

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