One of the questions that I get asked very often concerning nutritional planning for powerlifters is, what are the main mistakes that will decrease the powerlifters performance the most. Now this is a very complex question. It’s not like I can just say eat your vegetables and take your vitamins and everything will be ok. One thing that a lot of powerlifters don’t realize is how complex sports nutrition is for the strength athlete. The main thing that I try to do with my column here at Powerlifting USA is take advanced scientific nutritional knowledge and put it into layman’s terms that not only can be understood by everyone, but also in a manner that will have the most benefit for the powerlifter. I could sit here all day quoting this study or that study but not only will you find it extremely boring; you won’t be able to apply it to your nutritional program. With this in mind I am going to go over the main nutritional mistakes that powerlifters should avoid in their nutritional program. This is the first part in a 4 part series to help educate you on what you should not do if you want to have optimal performance in the gym and on the platform.
Eating Too Much at One Meal
Now I can just see the look on all the faces of the guilty as they ready this. “Oh I don’t eat too much at each meal. I just have to unbutton my jeans after dinner because I had a long hard day at work and I am trying to relax.” Sure… and those five pieces of pizza along with the two loaves of garlic bread that you just inhaled wasn’t the cause of your massive stomach bloat and abdominal distension. This is a major problem that I see with powerlifters. Now don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy a good buffet at times, but the way powerlifters do this on a daily basis is actually a problem. Continually eating too much at each meal will cause a slew of problems for you. If you suffer from indigestion or acid reflux problems look to the total food volume that you are taking in at any one time. This is a major cause of this condition and can be fixed by reducing the amount of food you consume. Another problem with eating too much at one serving is that your body has a hard time to properly digest the meal. It will cause stomach bloating and something your wife won’t appreciate- excessive gas! If this is you, and your wife and children have threatened to leave you on several occasions then take a hint and eat less at each meal. And you wondered where all the romance went. Your stomach won’t be so bloated and maybe your kids and wife will start to like you again. Another problem associated with overeating at one meal is that is will cause you to increase your body fat stores. This is a promise. If you eat too much at each of your meals you will store more body fat then someone who eats the same amount of food but divides it into several meals. So instead of intoxicating yourself into a Roman style gorging feast, eat more meals spaced out through the day. So look at the benefits, you will lose body fat, will have less bloating, will feel healthier and your dog won’t run out of the house trying to bury himself from the foul stench that has been your trademark.
Don’t Skip Meals
Now you must be looking at this and may be wondering why these two mistakes are together. The reason is for those individuals that do skip meals; it leads them to usually over eat at their next meal. If you don’t skip meals, you are less likely to gorge yourself into an oblivion like “Mr. Stinky Pants” mentioned above. Now if you don’t know the physiological effects of skipping meals then I will let you in on what it does to your body. First off skipping meals will cause you to get low blood sugar which is also known as hypoglycemia. This will shoot your performance right out the window along with your hopes of hitting a personal record. Next it will cause your metabolism to slow down. With a lowered metabolic rate you can enjoy the wonderful life of eating less food but you will continually get fatter and fatter. Now this sounds sweet doesn’t it? To make this deal even sweeter, skipping meals will also cause your body to go in catabolic state leading to that hard earned valuable muscle tissue to be broken down and used as an energy source. So all that hard work in the gym to build up your lean tissue so that you look as strong as you are, will be slowly taken away from you. What you will be left with is a fat, flabby body void of any real muscle tissue. You can have all this even while not eating a lot of food. I think you get the point-Don’t skip meals!
Watch the Soda Intake
It blows my mind to see how many powerlifters and strength athletes consume soda on a daily basis. This is actually one of my biggest pet peeves as you won’t see athletes from other sports following this practice. There is absolutely no nutritional value to drinking soda and the way that some powerlifters drink it you would think that they found the “Elixir of Youth” inside that 2 liter bottle. One very popular soda has 13 tablespoons of sugar per can. Isn’t that crazy? Now this may not be you but I know of several lifters that rarely drink any water at all and almost all their fluid intake comes from soda. I know lifters that even drink soda throughout a competition. Many of these lifters drink as much as 2 liters of soda a day. If you calculate how much sugar they are consuming it will blow your mind. This is about 104 tablespoons of sugar a day just from their soda. This is enough sugar to put a polar bear into a diabetic coma so what do you think it is doing to your body? Now that you know that it is having a negative effect on your health, what do you think it will do for your performance? Well you can sure bet that its isn’t going to take your squat to new heights. Sugar is not the only ingredient contained in soda that isn’t good for your health either. I am not going to go into all of them here as I could do a complete article on this topic. Get rid of the soda as it has no positive benefit on your health or performance.
Following the See Food Diet
Ah… the guilty stand before me while trying to make some type of excuse to cover up for their nutritional short comings. “No, I really do try to watch what I eat; I just find it so hard to stick to any nutritional plan.” Now if this is you then there is no better time then now to get on a proper nutritional program customized to maximize your performance. Even though you may have followed sub par or horrible nutritional practices in the past it’s not too late for you to turn things around and get your program on track. If you follow the “SEE FOOD DIET” than you are going to have ups and downs with your training and performance. From a sports nutritionist perspective the human body needs specific nutrients both macro and micro forms for you to achieve many things. These include recovery, restoration, protein synthesis, production of hormones, glycogen replenishment, endurance, anabolism, increased metabolic rate and many other physiological processes in the body. If you just eat what you want when you want do you really think you are going to hit the nutrition target on the head day in and day out? No of course not. You will be lucky if you hit it one day out ten. So out of the other nine days that you are not reaching your nutrient needs, what happens then? This is where overtraining comes in, body fat stores increase, lean muscle tissue decreases, hormone production including growth hormone; insulin and testosterone are not optimized as well as many other factors that have a direct effect on your performance. Now how do you think your performance will be when meet day rolls around? Who knows? It could be sub par, or maybe even a downright horrible performance. The main thing here to remember is it’s not worth it to throw away your hard work just because you eat like a living, walking, talking garbage disposal. As you probably already know I can’t stand when I hear lifters say that nutrition really has no place in the sport of powerlifting. I have even heard some really good lifters say that. If only you would open your mind and give things a try before you knock them I can guarantee that the only things that are waiting for you is a much healthier and longer life, but also a more successful powerlifting career.
Overdosing on Caffeine
AHH… Nothing like a nice cup of strong coffee to get you day started. To tell you the truth if you need a cup of the old java to get you out of bed and get you started in the morning then there is something wrong. Most likely it has to do with your nutritional practice. Yes having a cup of coffee to start off your day does have a lot to do with American culture, but for many it is a crutch to get them going in the morning. Now caffeine is a very complex topic and I will be doing a two part series in the near future on what it is, how it works and how to optimize its use for maximum performance. For now what I will tell you is that if you use caffeine in the right manner it can really increase your performance. But if used incorrectly, like a large majority of lifters do, then it can actually decrease your performance. The main thing to remember here is that caffeine shouldn’t be used just to get your day started. It should be saved for specific purposes in your training program as there is more than one benefit to this “eye opener.” One thing I noticed with a lot of lifters is that they drink an excessive amount of caffeine during the day. First off is their coffee intake. With the large majority of lifters that I have
worked with and others that I have critiqued, they average anywhere from 3-5 cups of coffee per day. Now many of you may say that’s not so bad, but wait there is more. This is not including their soda intake. As many of you probably already know many of the soft drinks out there contain caffeine. What many don’t know is that it’s not just the colas that contain caffeine. Even the soft drinks that you would least suspect have caffeine are loaded up with this stimulant. If you now take into consideration the combined amount, the total daily consumption is way too high. With these individuals, if you were to take away all their caffeine, they would be dragging their butts as if they were sedated with some type of horse tranquilizer. If this is you then it is time to clean up your nutritional practices and get your body working like a machine fueled by nutrients not stimulants.
Late Night Binging
Now if you are a regular reader of my column then you will probably say, “Doesn’t this guy always tell us to eat before going to sleep?” Yes, you are right and wrong. I do advocate for lifters to eat a well planned out night time meal before hitting the sack for the night, but read the above carefully. I said a “well planned out meal before bedtime” not an ice cream and cookie eating marathon. The meal that you do have before retiring for the night is very important and if you just fill your body with foods that are going to load your bloodstream with fat and sugar, there is no way you are going to help yourself on your road to powerlifting success. But, having the right meal before bed can make a huge difference in many things. These include increased recovery, stronger and bigger muscles, increased nitrogen retention and making sure you stay in an anabolic or muscle producing state instead of the catabolic or muscle wasting state most powerlifters go to bed with. The problem with many lifters that I know, when they do eat at night they eat all the wrong things. Instead of fuelling their body with nutrients that are going to help them accomplish the above, they consume foods that will increase their blood sugar rapidly, increase their fat stores, decrease their lean tissue by putting them in a catabolic state and leave them with low blood sugar come morning. Does this sound like this above scenario is going to have an effect on your training the next day? You bet it will and this why proper nutritional practices before going to bed are very important. Don’t just eat what you want at night hoping that it will give your bench the boost it needs. The only place this will happen is in your dreams!
Not Planning your Meals
Not planning out your meals in advance is another major mistake that is made by a large majority of lifters. Many just eat whatever comes there way, not worrying about what they are putting in their mouths and what effect it will have on their performance. If you are serious about your powerlifting success, your meals have to be planned out ahead of time. I always advocate for serious lifters to follow a nutritional plan that is customized to help them reach their goals. When you have a plan you already know what you are going to eat today, tomorrow and even next week. With this in mind you will now know exactly what you are going to be putting in your body. Now that you know what food you will be consuming, you can understand what will physiologically be taking place in your body, and what the outcome will be as well. If you take a look at athletes of different sports, they know what they will be eating that day. But when it comes to powerlifters, a large majority just goes with the flow and takes their meals as something to fill their stomach’s not to optimize their performance. This is the wrong mindset that will have a detrimental effect on your powerlifting success. Not planning your meals is a major mistake that will just have you guessing on what you just stuck in your mouth as well as not knowing what effect it will have on your body. Plan your meals ahead of time and this way you will make sure to get the right nutrients at the right time to help you accomplish your goals.
Here you have the first installment of what you should avoid to perform better in the gym and on the platform. Now some of the above mistakes are very simple, yet they are largely overlooked by many lifters. Even though sports nutrition is an advanced field with many facets, even basic principles can make a huge difference in your powerlifting success. If you are guilty of some of the above nutritional blunders then take a deep breath, put down that chocolate covered ice cream bar and feed yourself something that is going to take your powerlifting success to the next level!
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