woman powerlifter at squat rack

Diet and nutrition aren’t popular topics in the powerlifting world. The thinking is usually along the lines of this:

“Hey, this isn’t a figure competition, it’s a strength competition. So I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want.”

If this is what you’re thinking, then you’re really selling yourself short in the strength department. Better nutrition came improve your lifts in a matter of days!

If you’re not feeling well rested and energized for your workouts, how do you expect to perform at your best?

Have no fear. In this article, I’ll examine some common diet mistakes amongst powerlifters and give you some tips to prepare your own nutrition plan guaranteed to improve not just your workouts, but your overall health and wellness!

Diet Mistakes That Powerlifters Make

I’ve seen lots of mistakes made by my fellow lifters, and believe me, I’ve made these mistakes myself! If you do any of these, try to stop.

Trying to lose weight the week leading up to the competition.
Losing weight, especially too much at once, tends to leave one tired and lacking energy. If you’re trying to stay in a certain weight class, it’s better to lose fat gradually, so work on that 8-12 weeks out from the meet.

Eating candy bars and drinking soda during a meet.
Didn’t your mom teach you anything? This stuff just gives you a sugar rush followed by a dramatic crash. You might get one good squat in if you’re lucky, but your bench and deadlift will suffer when you come crashing down.

Eating junk at night because “I deserve to treat myself after working hard in the gym.”
This just offsets any gains you made in the gym. If you’re gaining strength but also getting fat around the middle, you’re a ticking time bomb.

Eating too much at one meal.
Typically what happens here is you try to fit multiple meals into one, and you’ll feel lethargic.

Skipping meals.
It’s important to eat regularly because the better you feel and more energy you have, the more you can train and lift. Plus, you need calories to build extra muscle.

Not planning ahead.
You plan your workouts ahead of time, so why not your meals? When you don’t plan ahead, you end up eating processed junk or fast food for each meal because you don’t know what else to do.

Following someone else’s nutrition plan.
Don’t just take some diet plan you see posted on the forums and use it yourself verbatim. Everyone has their own specific needs.

Ignoring fruits and vegetables.
A good diet is more than just protein!

Eating the Right Foods

The good news is, powerlifters don’t need super low body fat. So you can eat lots of food with less worry of getting too chubby. But you should still follow a personalized diet in order to perform your best (and stay healthy).

Mainly this is about eating the right foods, and I’ll give you examples below. Chicken breast and broccoli are great, but there are more options for you to choose from!

The “food groups” I’ll discuss next are:

  • Carbs
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Supplements
  • Sports Drinks

Carbs

You need energy to complete your workout and energy to build muscle afterward, and that energy comes from carbohydrates.

The main source of carbs, at least here in the USA, is grains. Popular grains include oats, rice, and wheat. Some grains gaining popularity include quinoa and amaranth.

Next, there are other starchy carbs, such as potatoes and corn, that are high on energy. Both regular and sweet potatoes are excellent choices.

But most important are fruits and vegetables! They are a good source of carbs, plus many vitamins and minerals and other stuff that’s vital to good health. So make sure you’re getting leafy greens in your salads, some broccoli and cauliflower, spinach, peppers and onions, apples, oranges, mangos, pineapple, and more!

Carbs get a bad rap because it’s so easy to overeat the processed, sugary stuff. But if you eat the natural stuff like brown rice and oatmeal and get plenty of veggies, you’ll be alright. Plus, you’re an athlete, so you are burning the calories and not just storing them as fat.

Protein

For protein, you need about 1g per pound of bodyweight, daily. Some people do fine with less, others take in ridiculously high quantities. Use that as a starting point and see what works best for you.

Popular options include poultry, fish, red meat, eggs, and dairy. Generally these animal-derived proteins are complete proteins, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids. That’s a good thing!

Nuts and legumes provide some protein, too.

When it comes to dairy, I’m not talking skim milk. Rather, think about cottage cheese – it has 30g protein per serving and is low in carbs.

Fat

Fat is not evil! Make sure you eat fatty fish, eggs, and use oils like coconut oil and olive oil whenever possible.

Nuts are also great for fat, with walnuts and macadamia nuts being my favorites. Peanut butter and almond butter are convenient options.

Supplements?

I think most of them are junk. You shouldn’t need anything other than a protein powder and creatine (the basics). If it makes you sleep soundly at night, go ahead and take a multivitamin, but make sure that’s in addition to your vegetables.

One supplement that comes in handy is fish oil, for the essential fatty acids. Especially if you don’t eat much fatty fish in your diet. (Looking for a quality fish oil? This comparison chart will help.)

But pretty much anything designed to enhance your workout and pump you up is garbage. I doubt that stuff even helps bodybuilders who aren’t particularly concerned with strength gains.

Sports Drinks For Energy

Should you use sports drinks during workouts and during meets?

That’s up to you. But if you do, make sure you pick a good one.

For starters, skip the soda. A bottle of Coca Cola is a bad choice! You can skip Gatorade, because that will just be a sugar rush, too.

Instead, check out a true sports drink that’s made from complex carbs, not just simple sugars.

Some lifters recommend Cytomax, which is alright, but I prefer Hammer Nutrition’s line (which is not as well-known amongst the powerlifting crowd, but is insanely popular in the mountain bike and triathlon worlds, and is much healthier than Cytomax).

Preparing Your Own Custom Diet and Nutrition Plan

Now what? Well, take my recommendations and make a list of foods you want to eat. Then organize it into meals for each day of the week, just like you do with your training log.

Doing it yourself is a lot of trial and error, so I’ll point you to a couple resources.

First is a product from the powerlifting community. It’s called Nutrition XP3. This is actually a full-fledged nutrition plan just for strength athletes like you, but it’s not cheap. Last I checked it cost more than $600!

Next is something I use myself. It’s a guide to creating your own personalized nutrition plan no matter what your body type or goals. Over the years, I’ve found Precision Nutrition to be the best “off the shelf” nutrition course around for athletes, whether you’re a powerlifter or bodybuilder. It’s only $97 for the package (it even includes a cookbook,) which is a steal compared to a custom plan.

(If you need assistance though, Precision Nutrition offers a monthly coaching service called Lean Eating.)

 

If you have any nutrition questions, just post them in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Greg Westfall

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2 Comments
  1. I have been known to ignore my diet and eat whatever I see that looks like it will give me energy. I guess I should rethink my strategy! Thanks for the tips. Other sites made it sound so complicated but I can do this.

  2. Great article. It is just extremely hard to train as a powerlifting without pigging out sometimes. After a workout your body is just begging for food.

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