What is Powerlifting Nutrition?
By Anthony Ricciuto
When I say the words “Powerlifting Nutrition”, I mostly get funny stares. “Did you just say powerlifting nutrition,” is the reply? “Is there such a thing?” Now, this is bad when it comes from someone outside the sport, but it’s even worse when it’s one of us. The fact is a large majority of powerlifters are leaving pounds on the platform simply because they are not nutritionally fulfilling their needs to help them accomplish their goals. My mission in writing the sports nutrition section for Powerlifting USA is to change the above type mentality. Like it or not, your nutritional plan plays a major role in your performance in the gym and on the platform. I have seen average lifters become excellent lifters by altering their nutritional regimens. The purpose of this article is to give you a little insight into what powerlifting nutrition is, and what it can do for you.
What Is It?
Powerlifting nutrition is specific nutritional protocols that are customized for the strength athlete. No, it’s not the same thing as bodybuilding nutrition. Powerlifting nutrition also isn’t mainstream “look good in 30 days” type dieting either. Nor is it a diet plan geared at helping the chronically obese. Powerlifters need specific nutrients at specific times and in specific amounts to reach their optimal performance. During my time here with Powerlifting USA magazine, I have received hundreds of emails from powerlifters looking to improve their nutritional plan. One thing that I have realized with many powerlifters is that their meal planning is their weakest link. And as they say, “You are only as strong as your weakest link!” I hate to say this but the majority of the powerlifters writing in don’t follow any set pattern of eating or have any idea what types or amounts of macronutrients to consume. If this is you, don’t worry because I am here to help you. These individuals basically eat what they want, when they want, and as much as they want. If today you feel like having sausage and ice cream for breakfast then that’s what it will be. If you feel like having a greasy cheeseburger with curly fries covered in gravy and wash it down with a double banana split and a nice “Diet Cola” to even things out, then that’s “Powerlifting Nutrition” for that day. By the way, it has to be a diet cola because there are way too many calories in regular soda. Ha Ha! I know this may sound funny, but if you could only see some of the powerlifting nutritional diaries that I have worked with, you would be surprised. Believe me, I am not recommending bodybuilding or marathon runner nutritional regimens. And believe it or not, I can fully understand when it’s time to have a cheat day… it’s going to be a cheat day for sure. The problem with many powerlifters is, every day is a cheat day and this will do nothing but hinder your performance.
Meal Prep is Critical for Powerlifting Success!
We as powerlifters must get out of the mentality that the nutritional aspect of our sport is a joke. I have heard this several times from lifters. Some actually believe that if you eat a boatload of junk or you eat a serious power nutritional plan, the results would be the same. It is this type of misinformation that will hold back your progress. It is these same lifters that have that bench shirt tweaked just right several times before their contest, or they are the ones getting that pair of briefs taken in that little extra in the hips to get the most out of their squat. It is these same individuals that can be seen on contest day eating candy bars and drinking sugar-loaded soda. And I am not talking about a post-victory treat. I am talking about during their attempts and between lifts!
Bodybuilders and many other performance athletes have a good understanding of how nutrition affects the way they look and how it will affect their performance. The majority of powerlifters, on the other hand, don’t have the understanding of how a serious nutritional plan can take their performance to new heights. This is in part due to the fact that there isn’t a lot of information about powerlifting nutrition, and the general powerlifting mentality that nutrition is only important to bodybuilders and not powerlifters. I have found that with a large population of powerlifters, they know everything there is to know about training. They understand and can draw graphs about how Soviet training theories are better than American theories. They know which material will give you the best bang for your buck to get the most from your bench press shirt. They know and use the latest gadget to get their knee wraps on tighter. Yet they don’t have a clue what they should be eating on a daily basis. This is putting the carriage before the horse since nutrition plays a significant role in your powerlifting progress. Powerlifters have ignored their nutritional planning for too long, but it’s not too late.
What Many Considered Powerlifting Nutrition Before My Column in PL USA!
Major Nutritional Mistakes
Contest day nutrition is one of the most important aspects of your performance. Your nutritional program for that day will make you or break you! The fact that most lifters don’t use the right fuels on the most important day of the year is something that could be easily avoided. Just remember, if you are leaving your competition day nutritional plan to the “I’ll grab something at the meet” mentality, then you better be ready to take second best.
Another major mistake I see with lifters is the way they try to lose weight for a contest. First off, the majority of lifters that I have had contact with, wait until the last 48 hours to get the job done. WHY? From a performance standpoint, don’t you think that it would be better to try to lose those last 10 pounds starting 8 weeks before the show instead of trying to sweat them all off for hours in a sauna the morning of the meet? The fact that the majority of what will be lost will be water, muscle, and valuable electrolytes and not fat, should make you think about how it will affect your performance in the coming hours. Powerlifting nutrition shouldn’t be a hit and miss game. Your performance on the platform is too important and precious to just guess and hope that you did the right thing. Just think of all those endless hours of blood and sweat in the gym. Think of all the sacrifices you made, avoiding all those late nights out with the boys. Calculate all the money that you have invested in your contest entry forms, organization memberships, supplements, endless amounts of powerlifting gear… bench shirts, wrist and knee wraps, suits, chalk, squat shoes, singlets, deadlift slippers, and on and on. What about the airfare, hotel accommodations, car rentals, and all the other costs that go into stepping on the platform. To throw your performance out the window just because of your nutritional miscalculation and wrong judgments in the last weeks and day of the big show, would be the biggest waste of all. Don’t let this happen to you! You have worked way to hard, sacrificed too much, and have invested way too much money into your contest preparation, only to lose it all because you were too busy to get your nutritional plan on track.
No Longer Considered a Hallmark of Eating Like a Powerlifter!
I run a private nutritional consulting practice out of Toronto, Canada. I mainly work with nationally ranked strength athletes as well as professional athletes from a variety of other sports. I have also worked with several World Champion and World Record holders in powerlifting. I will give you a story about one of my experiences working with one of my powerlifters. One day sitting in my office, I get a call from a gentleman in regards to my nutritional consulting services. He told me he was a powerlifter and was in desperate need to get his nutritional plan on track. I told him that it would be at least a 2-week wait for him to get to see me for consulting since I have a very busy schedule. He pleaded and begged and whined until I finally gave in to see him after my normal hours. Well, I guess I did it out of the goodness of my heart, or it could be that he invited me out for a steak dinner at the best steak house in town to discuss what we could do with his program. During the consultation, he laid out his nutritional diary to me from the previous month. As I went through the pages I couldn’t believe my eyes. Could this really be what this guy eats? To put it politely, his diet was atrocious! I know that may seem a little harsh, but it really isn’t considering what I was reading. Let me lay out some of the things he had on the day of the consultation. He got up around 9 A.M. and guess what? He skipped his breakfast. Whatever happened to eating the breakfast of champions? Well, around 12:30 he decided to have his first meal of the day. Here he had 2 bologna sandwiches with extra mustard, a chocolate cupcake and washed it down with 16oz of cola. Ok, this was a nice start to fuel him for the rest of the day. Sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed meat, nitrates, preservatives, fillers, binders, caffeine, corn syrup, food coloring, sodium, and did I forget, more sugar. A beautiful start for a beautiful day. At around 6 P.M. he decided to have his next meal. Here he had a frozen dinner with another 16 oz of cola and 4 chocolate chip cookies. All this 1 hour before hitting the gym. I guess his concept of pre-workout nutrition and mine vary quite differently. In his journal, he even made a side note that he felt sluggish during his workout and slightly bloated. GO FIGURE! If I inhaled that much grease and sugar an hour before training I would be looking for the nearest emergency room to get my stomach pumped, not the closest squat rack to bang out some heavy lifts. After his workout, he devoured a pint of Double Fudge ice cream. When I asked him why he had this directly after his workout, he said because “he deserved it”, he trained hard that day. If I decided to have a pint of ice cream every time “I deserved it” I would have about 70% body fat by now. OK, here I am thinking maybe there was some scientific basis for his meal design but guess what…there wasn’t! Who am I fooling? This guy’s nutritional plan couldn’t get much worse…or could it. Before bedtime, he snacked on some pepperoni sticks and some potato chips. When I inquired about the pepperoni sticks he informed me that they are an excellent source of protein. I guess I must have missed that day in university. As he dropped a nutrition revelation upon me, I looked at him with amazement. I was taught that pepperoni was one of the lowest quality proteins available and was loaded to the brim with saturated fat, cholesterol, nitrates, and preservatives among a variety of other nice additives. As I was sitting there pouring over his nutritional diary, it hit me. Maybe one of the major supplement companies can take this guy’s advice and come out with a 100% Pepperoni Protein powder. Now, that sounds delicious, NOT! So as I looked at his journal entry with disgust on my face, he looks up at me and says, “I need a little fine-tuning with my plan eh?” I shake my head and tell him that his plan needs a lot more than a little fine-tuning, it needs a TOTAL RECONSTRUCTION!!! Now get this, he looked a little shocked that I said that. Did he actually think he was eating like a superstar? After some time discussing his mistakes and numerous shortcomings, we decided he needed some serious help to get his plan on track. We set up another appointment, but it was only after one stipulation. He had to follow exactly what I prescribed, and he promised that he wouldn’t waste my time. He was dead serious about getting his nutritional plan optimized and I would be the guy to get the job done! After the initial consultation, I saw this gentleman once a week to monitor his progress and to make sure he was sticking with the plan. We did a complete assessment with him before we started the nutritional program. I measured his body fat and lean tissue percentages. We also took before and after photos. We took his maxes on all three of his powerlifts and other major assistance exercises. He had a blood test done by his doctor so we could monitor his cholesterol, blood pressure, thyroid function, as well as his blood sugar level. Since he had a case of borderline high blood pressure, this was one major consideration for his nutritional program.
Isn’t It Time to Clean Up Your Diet?
After one month of following my plan, we did another assessment to see his progress. First, let’s take a look at the most important thing…his strength on the powerlifts. In the one month period, the weights he was using for 3×2 now miraculously became the same weight he was now using for 5×5 in all three of the powerlifts. I looked at him with shock on my face. I asked him if he was using any different equipment, supplements, or other goodies that may have caused such a remarkable increase in his strength in such a short period of time. He listened to my instructions and didn’t change any other variable except for his new nutritional plan. Next, we measured his body fat percentage and his lean to fat ratio. As he took off his shirt I could see a noticeable difference in his body fat level since the last time I did the assessment one month prior. He measured in at 16% down from 22%. I know we are not bodybuilders, but almost all lifters like to look leaner while being stronger. He also had some positive results with his blood sugar level and his blood pressure rating as well. I now had a believer in him. He now understood how proper nutritional planning can not only make a big difference in your overall health but your strength and performance level on the platform! This would be just the beginning in a long career of success. This gentleman’s performance was taken to new heights. During his time under my nutritional guidance, he has won 4 World Championships and 2 National titles as well. Before this time he competed mainly at the state level. The progress he has made under my guidance has been spectacular. He has even set several Drug Free World Records in the masters’ division. This client not only became one of my star clientele but a close friend as well. The purpose of this example is not to make fun of his past nutritional habits, but to show you that you can make a huge difference in your performance when you follow the right nutritional plan!
Proper Nutrition Planning is Critical for Optimal Performance!
What is the Future of Powerlifting Nutrition?
The main purpose of my writings in Powerlifting USA is that I want to educate you on how to eat like a true strength athlete. I have reviewed the diet plans of some nationally ranked powerlifters and after digesting their nutritional diaries, I can only imagine what they could be accomplishing and what their totals would be if they optimized their nutritional plan. After fine-tuning my athlete’s meal plan, the results that they see are incredible. The lean muscle tissue starts to increase. Their body fat level, no matter their weight class, begins to decrease. Their strength steadily increases, and their recovery between their workouts is shortened. Their overall energy level is drastically improved and their endurance and volume workload in the gym takes a huge step forward. There are so many areas in powerlifting that can be affected by your nutritional plan. If you have neglected your power meal plan, it is now time to throw down those Twinkies and pepperoni sticks, and start treating your body like a powerful machine that will be fuelled for strength and power like never before. There is no time better than now to take powerlifting nutrition into the millennium, and take our totals to a new level! If ignoring your nutritional plan was something you have been guilty of in the past, it’s not too late to change. Get your powerlifting nutritional plan on track and watch your total soar!
The Legend, Garry Frank Knew the Importance of Customized Power Nutrition!
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