The science behind proper eating principles for the powerlifter has really come full circle over the last few years. Let's be honest for a minute. Before I came onto the scene to help guide the powerlifting masses, the nutrition void in our sport resembled a black hole. The science behind "Power Nutrition" has gained the interest of tens of thousands of powerlifters all over the globe and for good reason. It works!
I have worked with world champion athletes from all over the world. I have nutrition clients from all parts of the United States, Canada, England, South Africa, Israel, Australia, Bahamas, Germany, Barbados, Russia, Italy, Greece, Kuwait, India and I am just getting started. One thing that is for sure is that fads don't last long in our sport. So making sure the proof is in the pudding so to speak is of the greatest concern for the hardcore lifter.
12 Basic Steps To A Bigger Total
In this article I am going to cover some of the basic yet fundamental aspects of Power Nutrition. It is from this base that you can then seek more advanced knowledge to take your performance to unseen heights. Here I will focus on the tried and true basics that will make you a believer in what a proper nutrition plan can do for your powerlifting success.
1. Feed The Machine
This has been my trademark slogan over the years and it has many meanings. First off this refers to eating enough total calories per day. The hardcore powerlifter needs to make sure that he is eating enough calories to sustain his lean tissue, maintain his strength, keep his energy level high, and to help him recover from his intense training sessions.
Consider calories as the first layer of the base because without this part fulfilled then all else will fail. The second meaning of my slogan here is to make sure you are "Feeding the Machine" with foods that are "Fueling the Machine". This refers to quality food and quality calories.
If you are just loading in all types of empty calories with little or no nutritional value then believe me you are just going to turn into a fat ass fast and your performance will backslide faster then you can imagine.
2. Eat Enough Protein
I have said this time and time again because it is another very fundamental part of your nutrition plan. Your body needs optimal amounts of protein so that basically all your hard work in the gym isn't a big waste of time. I see lifters who weigh more than 300 pounds and yet they are lucky if they take in 70 grams of total protein for the day.
I can't believe my ears when I hear some of the things that come out of lifter's mouths. Yet it is these same guys that are fine tweaking their bench shirts ten times before a show to make sure that it is dialed in just right. It is the same guys that are "chemically enhanced" yet they don't realize that if they ate a proper nutrition plan customized around their pharmaceutical program, their results would be through the roof.
The results that an "enhanced" powerlifter can get by following a scientifically designed customized nutrition plan with a well constructed pharmaceutical program will produce results that you can't imagine.
Those that are leaving their nutrition to an "I will eat what ever comes my way today" attitude are basically getting 10-20% of the results they should be from their pharmaceutical program. This is a major waste to say the least.
Many of my "enhanced lifters" who work with me hit PR's in all their lifts while they are even off their "enhancement program". For those in the know, this is impossible to imagine so you can now understand how their faith in the nutritional sciences all of a sudden took top priority. Of course it would when you consider that they are hitting numbers clean that they haven't hit while on their cycle.
Protein is essential to making progress in the gym so I cannot over emphasize taking enough in per day. You should be taking in a minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Any less then this for the hardcore lifter and in my opinion you are throwing a lot of your progress right out the window.
3. Consume Low GI Complex Carbs
Carbohydrates are another very important part of your plan. They have many purposes in your nutrition plan but correctly implementing them is a little more complicated than with protein. The first problem I see with most powerlifters is that they eat way too many refined carbs. This refers to any source that has been processed to leach away the nutritional value. This leaves them with the nutritional value of sugar.
So instead of referring to the Glycemic Index rating of different carbohydrate sources I will simplify things. When choosing a carbohydrate source try and opt for those that are in their natural state. The closer they are to their natural state the healthier they will be for you. Try your best to avoid the processed and manufactured versions of carbohydrates as they will play havoc with your performance and even more importantly your health. I am going to break this down super simple.
When choosing your carbs go with the brown ones. Choose foods like the following:
- Brown Rice
- Whole-wheat Pasta
- Flax Or 12 Grain Breads
- Large Flaked Steel Cut Oats
- Sweet Potatoes
- Bran Cereals
Stay away from the white ones. These include the following:
- White Bread
- White Rice
- Processed Sugar Laden Oatmeal
- White Pasta
- French Fries
- Numerous other processed carbs that stock the shelves of the supermarket like a plague looking to take down your powerlifting success.
Remember these simple words brown-good, white-bad. That is about as basic as I can put it so that even those without any nutritional background can reap the benefits of choosing the right carbohydrate sources.
4. Jack Up The Fat
Now when I say to increase the fat in your diet I don't want you to go and eat 3 Big Mac's, a large fries, and wash it down with an apple pie. Let's not forget to throw in about 15-20 tablespoons of sugar that is included as a side bonus that is known as your soft drink. Sorry but that's not going to help your performance or your health in that matter.
What I am referring to here is your essential fats. These include your Omega 3-6-9 fats. These healthy fats have many purposes and they will make a big difference in your training performance and health. One way to do this is start eating fish several times per week. I know a lot of powerlifters are not into the fish thing but this should change because there are way too many benefits from consuming them.
I personally eat fish at least once per day. Since I am eating 6-8 meals per day having one that includes fish is pretty easy. Fatty fish like salmon, herring, trout, sea bass and mackerel are all good sources of Omega 3 fats. To get some healthy Omega 9 fats in your plan start using extra virgin olive oil on your salads and vegetables.
Avocados, olives, and nuts also good sources to make sure that you are getting enough of this "Heart Helper" in your plan. For those of you that can't eat fish then supplement with fish oil to make sure that you are going to get the health and power benefits that this wonder fat has to offer. The one that my athletes and I use is called Ascenta Nutra Sea. This formula is made from Herring oil and it is my personal favorite on the market right now.
It is pharmaceutical grade fish oil with impurities and the fish taste taken out so that it is easy to get down. It has a nice lemon and thyme flavoring so even those who don't like fish can handle taking it on a daily basis. It provides the lifter with an excellent source of Omega 3 fats and even more importantly the best types. These are your EPA and DHA sources that you should be most concerned about since they have the most to offer the lifter.
Once you start consuming a proper dose of Omega 3's in your daily meal plan you can look forward to bigger lifts, less joint and tendon pain, an increased testosterone level, an improved insulin sensitivity level, lower body fat percentage and most of all a healthier heart and cardiovascular profile.
5. Eat 5-6 Times Per Day
If you want to be strong then you better eat. This sport is just as much about eating as it is lifting and fine-tuning your gear. Many lifters hate that I have put so much emphasis on the nutritional science end of our sport. This is usually the lazy lifter that is afraid to open his mind to the truth and likes living in the past.
This is the same for a lot of lifters that don't like the advancements in gear as well. As powerlifters we have to look to every angle to improve our performance. Let's face reality for a minute here. The advancement in powerlifting gear technology, the improved pharmaceutical application, and the nutritional sciences has made lifts that most thought would never happen.
So whether you are for or against gear, pharmaceuticals or the nutritional sciences, the reality is that by combining them properly they will give you totals unheard of in the past. This is the reality of powerlifting today. Now before I forget what I was telling you, the point is that as a strength athlete you have to eat at least 5-6 times per day as a minimum.
I know this sounds like a lot and it may take some time to get used to. There are many tricks to make this painless so that it won't suck up your valuable time and cause a major inconvenience.
6. Drink Your Water
Water is essential for life so drinking enough in your nutrition plan is of great importance. Not drinking enough water (or any for some lifters) is another folly that a lot of powerlifters ignore. When I say drink water I mean water, not soda, juice, coffee or sports drinks. The body does not process them the same way and the above are usually loaded down with tons of sugar and other chemicals that are not beneficial for a bigger total.
The powerlifter should be getting in at least 3 liters per day, no less. This is irrelevant of what your weight or gender is. In reality you should be taking in 4-8 liters per day depending on your goals, weight, health conditions, protein intake and your pharmaceutical enhancement program.
Water will help you eliminate toxins from the body, prevent many different health conditions, help in cell volumization, and help reduce body fat levels among others. As you can see water is a very important part of the powerlifter's nutritional plan so make sure that you are getting in enough water to benefit your training program.
7. Take A Multivitamin
Taking a multivitamin/mineral formula is important for the powerlifter. These nutrients are known as micronutrients as the body needs them in small amounts usually in milligram dosages. Unlike protein, fats and carbs which are known as macronutrients and are calculated in gram portions.
Micronutrients play a major role in many different functions in the body. These include such things as protein absorption, regulation of your heartbeat, hormone production, regulation of your immune system and much more. I recommend for all powerlifters to take a proper formula for many reasons.
First off most powerlifters do not eat a perfect diet. Hell that's an understatement if I have ever heard one! There are cockroaches in New York that consume a better nutrient spectrum than some of the lifters I have witnessed. Since this is the norm among a lot of powerlifters this is leaving them with what are known as micronutrient deficiencies.
This is not something you want when you are training to be at your best. This can also have negative health-related problems as well. When choosing a good multivitamin/mineral formula you have to make sure that it is designed for strength athletes.
Don't just take some generic formula intended for sedentary individuals, as it will not have enough of key ingredients. Powerlifters will need more of certain vitamins and minerals over a couch potato so having the proper formula is essential.
8. Cut Down On The Junk
This is one that most powerlifters don't want to hear coming from my mouth. I hate to say this but sometimes I think the powerlifting community is what keeps the fast food and junk food industries alive. If powerlifters were to boycott the above we would see the stocks of these companies plummet. Now to be serious here for a minute, the fact remains that powerlifters do eat way too much junk in their diet.
This includes fast food, candy bars, potato chips, ice cream, cookies, desserts, pie, fatty cuts of processed meats and enough sugar to put a mountain gorilla into a diabetic coma. Don't think that I am trying to preach that powerlifters live off grains and grass.
Don't get me wrong here if you have talked with any of my elite clientele they will tell you that I feed them a power packed nutrition plan but the key to it is that it is of clean nutrient dense foods. These are foods that are going to increase your strength, pack on pounds of muscle, melt away fat and improve your energy.
They are not just a bunch of foods that are full of empty calories that will do nothing but make your waist line thicker and make you a heart attack just waiting to happen. There are too many powerlifters that just eat to fill their stomachs and this is the wrong attitude to have not only for improving your performance but for your health and longevity as well.
I don't want you to think that I want you to never have a piece of your mother's awesome apple pie, or you can never have a bowl of ice cream after your dinner. The problem with many powerlifters is that piece of pie turns into the whole pie and that bowl of ice cream turns into the whole container.
Second I always recommend cheat meals for my athletes because this gives you a mental break from your plan and gives you something to look forward to. The problem with most powerlifters is that everyday is a cheat day, and every meal in that cheat day is a cheat meal. Are you starting to see my point?
9. Increase Your Fiber Intake
Fiber...the word that most powerlifters don't like to hear. Yes just like all the other important nutrients out there, powerlifters are also deficient in fiber as well. Fiber has many benefits for the powerlifter. Yes I know fiber really doesn't taste that good. It doesn't taste like a piece of banana cream cheese cake that's for sure.
But the fact remains that if you want to stay a healthy lifter you need to get in a proper dose of fiber in your nutrition plan. I will be dead honest here, most of the powerlifters that I work with don't like the taste of high fiber foods. The oatmeal, the bran flakes, the broccoli, the salad all don't sit that well with a lot of lifters. Well guess what ... too bad!
If you don't want the arteries in your heart clogging like a New York freeway at rush hour or desire that the cells in your colon start mutating into some form of carcinoma, then I suggest you start getting in the fiber.
Powerlifters should get in a minimum of 30 grams of fiber per day. The optimal for colon and heart health would be around 50 grams per day.
But try telling a lifter who lives at the local Pizza Hut that he needs 50 grams of fiber per day when for the last 10 years he is lucky if he consumed that much fiber in a month.
With fiber start off slow and then increase. Just by adding a cup of dried oats to your breakfast a few times a week, adding some vegetables to your meal plan a couple times a day, and throwing in a piece of fruit with your snacks can really make a difference in getting this fiber train started.
10. Use A Protein Supplement
Let's face facts for a minute here. Most of us are working at least 9 hours per day. Throw in commute time and we are looking at anywhere from a 10-12 hour total workday. Then there is the wife and kids and every other responsibility that has to be taken care of on a daily basis. The reality of eating 6 full food meals per day for most is impossible. But at the same time we can't let our performance go down the drain because of life's daily chores.
One very easy way to get in all your protein requirements is to take in 2-4 protein shakes per day. This way you are still just eating your breakfast, lunch and dinner like the rest of the free world. See its not so hard now is it? The next thing to address is the type of formula that you are going to use. Protein isn't just protein so don't let the geek at the local health food store tell you any different because he is lying to increase his commission check.
First off you have to get a high quality supplement from a reputable brand that has the right spectrum breakdown needed for your personal needs and compliments the goals that you are trying to accomplish. Don't just grab what's on sale or some no name brand because remember...you get what you pay for. Next you need to know how to incorporate your protein formula according to what your current goals are. If you are trying to up or down a weight class your needs will be different so it will make a difference in what you should be drinking.
11. Balance Your Meals
Now, when I say balance your meals I don't mean that you should have a beer for every slice of pizza. Yes that may sound sweet to the ears of many lifters but it is not what I am referring to here. In nutritional terms balancing your meals refers to the macronutrient ratio and breakdown for each of your meals. This will in turn give a macro breakdown for the day.
Now when you get into the deep sciences of nutrition this is actually one of the more complicated aspects of customized program design. One reason behind this is because each athlete is different from another. One ratio of nutrients that works wonders on athlete A doesn't necessarily guarantee that it will produce the same results with athlete B.
So when I am designing a pre-contest nutrition plan for a powerhouse ass kicker like Dave Tate, its not going to be the same for someone who has been lifting for a couple of years. Just to give you all a heads up. Now that Dave is working with me he is going to be dialed in like never before.
Now, since this article is one that is targeted for the beginner the meaning behind balancing your meals is quite basic. Try to get an optimal balance from each of your macronutrients with each meal. Just to remind you macronutrients refers to the Big 3. No not the squat, bench and deadlift but your proteins, carbs and fats.
Make sure that there is no macronutrient ignored that way you will provide some balance to your eating plan. For example, a bowl of pasta with a half loaf of garlic bread sure as hell may be tasty, but it doesn't conform to the rule of balancing your meals. Yes we have some carbs and fat but where the hell is the protein? A better choice would be a bowl of whole-wheat pasta with a nice big grilled chicken breast, a slice of garlic bread and a big Italian salad on the side. See, now you have some protein, carbs and fat and even fiber all in the same meal.
Another bad example for breakfast would be the lifter who has a couple cups of coffee, a bagel with cream cheese and a small pastry on the side. Here again we have a lot of simple carbs, sugars, refined carbs and saturated fats but no protein whatsoever to speak of. This is not a good breakfast unless you are looking to drop your performance and welcome some daily insulin injections in the next couple of years to help control your new found friend ... type II Diabetes!
A better power breakfast would be a 3 whole egg/8 egg white omelet with low fat cheddar cheese sprinkled on top, 2 pieces of flax toast, 1 cup of low fat yogurt and an apple. This is a powerlifter's breakfast not like the "Heart Attack in a Handbag" that you saw above. Keep it simple but make sure you don't neglect the Big 3 for optimal performance and health.
12. Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables
OK, how do I say this without sounding like your mother? Well all along mom was right when she told you to finish your vegetables at dinner and to eat some fruit instead of those cookies. Fruits and vegetables are two very over looked areas in the powerlifter's diet. Many lifters do not even eat 1 piece of fruit per day.
When it comes to vegetables some lifters don't take in a single serving in an entire week. This is horrible to say the least. Both fruits and vegetables have many important benefits for the lifter.
They contain a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals that are essential for proper body functions as well as performance. They also contain fiber, which if you read above is another thing that powerlifters are deficient in. Let's not forget the all-important anti-oxidants that they provide to the lifter.
Since we train intensely, powerlifters need even more anti-oxidant protection then your everyday couch potato. This is because intense training can increase free radical production in the body. A lot of lifters will overlook this and would rather think about how to wrap their knees tighter with a new Russian technique but this is a big mistake in the least.
A body over-ridden with free radicals combined with the fact your nutritional habits resembles the greasy "Meth Junkie" that controls the Ferris wheel at your local carnival is setting you up for the Big C. For those of you who don't know what the Big C is then how about a word you may understand...Cancer! Now I have your attention don't I?
Don't think because you can bench over 600 pounds that cancer can't come in and take away all your strength as well as your life. The mistakes that you make in your youth, whether they are with your nutrition plan, pharmaceutical program or lifestyle choices will come and bite you on the ass like a rabid pitbull if you do not monitor them and take the necessary precautions and preventive measures to make sure that you stay healthy.
Ok, there you have it, 12 basic powerhouse nutrition tips that should be the base in every lifter's nutrition plan. Many of you may already be aware of what I presented above but then again there are many out there who need a basic refresher to get them back on track.
The sports nutritional sciences are complex indeed. But without a solid base then there is no point trying to induce advanced physiological actions and reactions like cell volumization, insulin manipulation, glycogen depletion and replenishment, cell supersaturating, organ cleansing and purification and much more if you don't have the basics down. You all have to start somewhere so these 12 Power Tips should be the base from where you start.
Once they are mastered which by the way is pretty damn easy, you then can start applying more advanced nutritional tactics to make your total skyrocket. So until next time lift big, eat big but clean, and most of all stay healthy.