Powerlifting Nutrition 101

By Phillip Wylie

 

The Average Powerlifter’s Diet

Most if not the majority of powerlifters do not eat healthy. Proper nutrition is not just for those who need to loose weight. Usually, the typical diet for powerlifters is the see food diet.  You know, “Eat everything you see.” I used to have the same eating habits. I would eat anything regardless of fat content and when I wanted to gain weight I would just eat bigger portions. That was back when I first got into powerlifting. Since then I eat healthier. I feel a lot better and I don’t feel sluggish. I have more energy and my recovery is good.

 

Diet Concepts

Proper nutrition does not have to be painful. You need a plan you can stick with. If your diet is too restrictive, you will not stick to it and eventually will quit. A good diet does not have to be too low in carbohydrates or too low fat. Low carb diets aren’t for everyone and diets too low in fat aren’t good for powerlifters. You see many diets such as these that are too extreme one way (i.e. low carb/high fat, low fat/high carb). People have had good results on either type of diet. The both have their pros and cons. Excessive fat consumed by the low carb diets can be bad long term, but one could modify the diet to be healthier by consuming healthy fats and avoid saturated fats. Low fat/high carb diets are usually too low in fat and high amounts of the wrong kinds of carbs can increase your body fat. High amounts of the wrong kinds of carbs can make you feel tired and fatigued. The low fat/high carb diet can be improved by consuming good quality complex carbs. Simple carbs like sugar and refined carbs should be avoided since they convert to sugar more quickly in the blood stream than complex carbs.

 

Dietary Building Blocks

Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are the building blocks of every diet. Diets will vary in the percentages. Each component is important, even fat. You should never eliminate any of these nutrients.  Even on a low carb diet, you should consume some carbs. The ratios of each of these nutrients can be arrange to accomplish your goals, whether, you want to loose, gain, or maintain your current body weight.

 

Fats

Fats are an important part of your diet.  For years those who want to be healthy or want to loose weight have avoided fat. Too little fat can cause dry skin, joint problems, and suppressed hormone levels. Suppressed hormone levels are not good especially for strength athletes. You should keep you fat intake at 20-30 percent of your diet. You should not go below 20 percent and keep you intake below 30 percent. Fats to avoid are saturated fats and trans fats. Trans fatty acids are in a lot of margarines. They might be low fat and still contain trans fatty acids. Make sure to closely check the label to make sure products you consume do not contain trans fats. Saturated fats as mentioned should be avoided. This is not new news for most of us. Unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good choices. It’s important to consume plenty Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). EFAs are good for you heart. EFAs provide omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Dietary fat will leave you feeling more satisfied after a meal. That is one of the reasons some people have good luck with the low carb diets due to the high amounts of fat. Some healthy foods that contain fat are; avocados, nuts, olive oil, and cold-water fish like salmon. Fats are higher in calories that carbs or protein and have 9 calories per gram compared to the 4 calories per gram that carbs and protein contain. This is why high fat meals contain so many calories.

 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates in the past few years have gained the same bad reputation that was once held by fats. Carbs are an important part of our diet and are the main energy producing nutrient. Cabs just like fats have a good type and a bad type. Bad carbs convert to sugar in the blood stream more quickly. Good carb convert to sugar slower. The quick converting carbs are also known as high glycemic carbs and the slow converting carbs are known as low glycemic. This is based on the glycemic index. The glycemic is an index that gives a value to each food based on how quickly they convert to sugar. An example of a high glycemic food would be sugar since it converts immediately. An example of a low glycemic food would be broccoli. So if one desires to loose body fat the best choices would be the low glycemic foods. A well-planned diet consisting mainly of low glycemic carbs would give you the same results as a low carb diet, but without the pains of a low carb diet. To successfully loose body fat you must keep your blood sugar levels under control. Too much sugar in the blood stream will be stored as fat if not used. If you want to eat rice, eat brown rice instead of white rice. Carbs with lots of fiber are good for your heart, digestive tract, and helps control blood sugar. When looking at total carbs you deduct fiber from you total carbs to get the total impact carbs. Depriving yourself of carbs can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Timing of carbs is something to consider. If you are trying to loose weight make sure to eat the majority earlier in the day and consider less in the evenings. When you eat carbs coordinate it with the activity you are going to do. So, if you are going to workout more carbs would be alright.  If you are going to be sitting around less carbs would be the best bet. This is totally based on whether you want to gain or loose weight. If you are trying to gain weight it is not quite as important, but would have an impact if you desire to gain lean muscle mass. Carbs as mentioned earlier contain 4 calories per gram.

 

Protein

Protein is very important nutrient to support muscle tissue. If your goal is go gain muscle, consuming plenty protein is imperative for you to be successful. You should always choose lean forms of protein, especially if the protein is from an animal source. Fat content from animal sources are usually in the form of saturated fat. You should consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. If you are trying to gain weight 1.5 to 2 grams per pound would be sufficient. Try to divide you protein intake between your meals. If you eat all the protein in one or two sittings it will be too much for your body to assimilate. Make sure to get protein from food sources and not just shakes. A variety of protein is better. Protein has 4 calories per gram.

 

Putting it All Together

The combinations and rations of each of the three nutrients are dependent on your goals and what works for you. There is no hard and fast rule to nutrition and not everyone is alike. You will have to play with the ratios. All you have to remember is a couple rules:

  1. 20% - 30% fat with the majority non-saturated healthy forms of fat
  2. At least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight protein
  3. 5 – 6 meals a day
  4. Mainly low glycemic carbs

 

You want to make sure you get enough of the right nutrients to be healthy, whether you are trying to loose weight or not. Also remember, the better you eat while trying to gain weight, the leaner the muscle gain. Another thing to keep in mind when gaining weight make sure you are getting closer to the 30 percent fat in you daily caloric intake. I would recommend 30 percent even to those that want to loose fat just make sure it is healthy fats. I have been very successful loosing fat with these percentages. To keep testosterone production up, healthy fat is needed.

 

Meal Planning

One of the best ways to be successful is meal planning. If plan your meals out it will be easier to stick to a plan. If you just wing it you might not get enough or too much of a particular nutrient. If you don’t want to hassle with planning then a nutritional program for your PC or hand held computer might be the answer. I myself use this method. I track everything I eat and my last meal of the day I know to how to adjust my diet meet my goals. Make sure to eat 5 to 6 meals a day and make sure to try to eat 3 of them from food sources and not shakes. The other 2 to 3 meals can be in the form of protein shakes or replacement meals. Keeping extra shakes, bars, or replacement meals with you during the day will help you avoid missing meals. Eating several smaller meals through out the day is better than three big meals since your body can more easily assimilate the nutrients. This makes it easier to loose since you won’t feel hungry all the time and cheat on your diet. It’s also more helpful if you are trying to gain.  The weight will be leaner mass, as well as it being easier to eat more calories when it’s spread out through out the day.

 

Supplements

Supplementation is important to a healthy nutritional plan. You shouldn’t waste too much money on supplements. Most of them are a lot of hype. Here is what I recommend, as must have supplements:

  1. Multivitamin and mineral
  2. EFAs (Flax seed oil, fish oil)
  3. Antioxidants
  4. Gluscosamin and chondroitin (with or without MSM)
  5. Protein (whey and casein blend)
  6. Glutamine
  7. Creatine

 

Creatine and glutamine are optional but effective. I use them myself and they work well for me. About 5 percent of the population gets nothing out of creatine and for the other 95 percent it works well. Tribulus is a good supplement too. It helps you naturally boost your testosterone levels. ZMA (Zinc Magnesium Aspertate) is another supplement worthy of mention. The nutrients in ZMA are needed to support healthy testosterone production. If you are not deficient in any the components in ZMA you may not get anything out of it, but it’s worth trying and will help ensure healthy testosterone production.

 

Hydration

This is an important one; make sure you get enough water. By drinking plenty of water, you will prevent dehydration. Drinking plenty of water is also important when loosing weight. When you drink water you speed up your metabolism due to your body warming the liquid up to body temperature. The average person should drink 8 (8) ounce glasses of water per day. Since powerlifters are bigger than the average person they require more. I weight 238 pounds and consume at least a gallon of water per day. I would recommend at least .6 ounces of water per pound of bodyweight at least. You should avoid soft drinks since they are full of sugar. You should limit your caffeine intake. If you drink caffeine it is a good idea to drink an equal amount of water, since caffeine is a diuretic.

Tips

If your goal is to loose weight, make sure to eat several meals through out the day. Eating speeds up your metabolism and eating more often will keep you satisfied longer and will prevent you form cheating on your diet. Limiting your carbs to low glycemic carbs will control your blood sugar and cravings. Remember that drinking plenty of water will speed up your metabolism.

 

If your goal is to gain weight, eat several meals through out the day this will make it easier to consume more calories. Remember that you shouldn’t eat too much fat and eat low glycemic carbs if you want your weight gain to be lean mass.

 

Space your meals out 2 to 2 ½ hours apart. When thinking about nutrition, athletes can be compared to racecars.  You want a high quality high-octane fuel to power a racecar, why not the same for you. Powerlifters are high performance athletes and need high performance fuel.  Fuel yourself properly and you will get better performance.

 

Phillip Wylie 06/10/2004