Skip to main content

Becoming a powerlifter - Feeding the strength

I don't often write about my personal "fitness journey" - I'm pretty sure that's the term we use nowadays to talk about what we eat, how we train and where it gets us - because I don't think such specific navel gazing is particularly helpful for other individuals.

That said, if you really do want to know more about the intricacies of my dinners and workouts, you should totally follow me on Instagram.


But I did promise to take you on my powerlifting adventures with me, so it's only fair we talk about my favourite bit of training - fuelling it.

Prepare for a nerd-out


My maintenance diet


Before I started meet preparation in earnest, I was working with a slight calorie deficit (200 calories - ish) as I was still working on adjusting my body composition - for less fat, more muscle - on a slow and steady basis.

Working on a weight loss goal at the same time as training for strength requires some serious protein, so I have been tracking my macros at about 30% of calories from protein, for me that works out at between 120g and 210g of protein daily (my energy expenditure varies vastly between training days and rest days because of my particular needs for recovery) I cap my protein at 210g (3g/kg bodyweight for me) because if my calorie expenditure gets any higher than that (over about 2500 for the day) I'm going to need more carb based calories for fuel. If I'm struggling to hit my protein target on food I might take 20-40g of protein in shakes.

I generally split the rest of my calories as 30% fat, 40% carbs, because I'm a carb driven beast and that works well for me, but I'm not hugely worried about this split so long as my fats don't get below 25%.

I eat mostly whole, minimally processed foods, but I have an 80/20 rule - I can eat up to 20% of my calories as processed foods, which leaves space for some cake or the odd ready meal, because life needs that stuff.

I take a daily multivitamin with B complex and magnesium. I also take glucosamine and chondroitin for my joints.

On the whole may maintenance diet is your basic nutrition castle - appropriate calorie balance, whole food based, protein, veggies, water, a bit of fun and consistency. And that in essence is a plan that will suit the majority of people, even athletes, just fine.

Moving into competition preparation, I decided to take the opportunity to play with some extras, and see what that did to my performance.


My meet prep diet


It's all about small steps, little tweaks here and there. The basic framework I was previously consistent with would be fine for an athlete, just as it would be for your average person, but I'm a scientist and experimenting is fun....

Calories, weight and all that nonsense


My current weight sits at about 1-2kg below the upper limit for my competitive weight class. This is great because it means I don't need to lose weight to compete, but I do need to not gain any, whilst also gaining muscle mass - so I'm going to be shifting a little fat, hopefully. My calories are now set at a maintenance ratio - calories in = calories out.

It's really important for me to eat enough at the moment. I don't want to risk fasting where my body might start to fuel itself by breaking down hard-earned muscle, and I want to make sure that the training I do gets turned into muscle gains by having the fuel and building blocks available. This is actually one of the hardest things - some days I'll burn my way through about 3500 calories, that's a lot to eat in unprocessed food! Previously I wouldn't have worried about under-eating for the day, but now that's a no-no.

If I did end up putting on a little weight, I could always do a small water cut before weigh in - this is where an athlete dehydrates themselves using a systematic protocol, to lose weight, then carefully rehydrates after weighing and before competing. I would generally rather avoid this though as it puts extra stress on the body and I want to enter my first competition at my absolute best, without any extra hassle.

Tracking my weight regularly allows me to make slight adjustments, if I see it creeping up, I can make a tiny cut in my caloric intake to set things on the right track, rather than having to make a big loss in a short while and compromise lifting performance.

My macros (protein, carbs, fat) are much the same as before, but I am playing a little with timings and cycling....

Carb cycles and pre/post workout meals


Most of the time I don't worry too hard about when I eat. I eat when I am hungry, and I use my hunger cues to decide how much to eat, it's simple. But right now I am trying to squeeze a bit more efficacy out of my nutrition and that means thinking a bit more about when I eat.

I usually train in the mornings, and right now, the hardest thing is eating enough at breakfast to fuel my training. I can burn through 1500 calories by 11.30 so I need to get in a hearty breakfast that I might not have the stomach for. At breakfast I focus on getting a good portion of protein with some carbs and fats to fuel my workout.

I walk to the gym (about 20 minutes), lift for an hour or so, then walk back.

My lunch is usually my post-workout meal, and that will also contain a good portion or two of protein, plus a decent portion of carbs to take advantage of my post-workout glycogenesis window (we store carbs as glycogen in our liver and muscles for later use, we do this a bit better in the couple of hours post-workout, so this is a good time to stock up ready for the next workout). If I am training post-lunch, I might have a protein bar with a good carb content as I leave the gym.

Training days tend to represent my greatest calorie output, and I take those "extra" calories in as carbohydrates.

On rest days, I keep my protein intake up for recovery, but my carb levels drop, I reverse the macros on my fats and carbs to take in more fats as fuel than carbs. Fats make good fuel for low level activity, like the long walks I tend to take to "walk off" any muscle stiffness or DOMS. What this might look like in practice is things like dropping from 2 slices of toast to one, and adding in an extra egg or some avocado.

Creatine for extra strength


I've started supplementing creatine. Creatine is a key component in the anaerobic creatine phosphate system which releases energy for short bursts of work - that's sprinting and heavy lifting. Supplementing creatine is known to improve strength performance. I wouldn't usually bother with this as it is just a case of increasing the numbers on the bar - but if I'm aiming to set new best lifts, and already eating and training at my optimum level, it seems reasonable to supplement. I use Creatine Extreme (!) from The Protein Works. It's a decent blend that contains suitable complementary supplements like taurine (that needs to be kept in balance with creatine levels) and beta-alanine (which is useful for delaying anaerobic fatigue - or "the burn").

Interesting story. A side effect of beta-alanine is that it can cause pins and needles type sensations as a side effect. I found this particularly unnerving when it first happened: First my ears, then my forehead and finally my cheeks and hands felt very weird for about 20 minutes. It's also really not helpful when training (and it is recommended by many that creatine is taken pre-workout) as I find it hard to deadlift when my hands feel funny and my ears itch. Thankfully I discovered that if I take 4, rather than the recommended 5 scoops of supplement, I don't have these symptoms and I am still within the effective dose of 3-5g of creatine daily.

So now you know!


There you go! That's your little insight into the geekery of my current nutrition plan. I want to make it really clear that this is not at all how I would expect the vast majority of my clients to eat - or how I intend to continue post-meet - I'll be back to palming portions and eating to hunger and generally being pretty chill about things. The best diet for any individual in general is almost never the optimal diet for athletic performance and this level of attention to detail in nutrition isn't psychologically healthy in the long term, it's a short term measure. It's also the "turrets and flags" of the nutrition castle - useless without a firm foundation of consistency in healthy eating.

Balancing nutrition and training!
Excellent!

Once upon a time, if you wanted to know how to train and what to eat, you would go and ask the biggest dude in the gym, because he's probably doing OK. This usually led to excessive protein shakes. Nowadays however you can hire me as your nutrition coach, you can even hire me as your online (or in person) personal trainer. You should look into that!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Managing Fibromyalgia flares

I've written before about living with EDS and Fibromyalgia,  much of my personal fitness and health practices are geared around managing those conditions and keeping me as well as I can be.

When managing a chronic health condition, particularly one that involves fatigue and potential flare ups, pacing, good nutrition, good sleep and generally taking care of yourself is always the first priority. Ideally we want to have as few flares as possible. But sometimes they still happen, and when they do, it's good to have a strategy in place.

And I'm going to be talking in fairly general terms, because while EDS and Fibro are my personal experience, there is so little understanding of the mechanisms behind these conditions, that most strategies are going to be applicable to a number of conditions where crashes of exhaustion and pain are a feature.


So what is a flare?
A flare is a period where someone with chronic illness suffers increased symptoms for a short while. The symptoms can…

What's the deal with yoga and hypermobility?

I wanted to address a question today that keeps coming up on various hypermobility and EDS forums that I frequent. It comes up so often in fact that I feel like I have to write this all up in one place, to save me 1000s of key strokes of individual responses and distil some of my opinions and thought processes on the matter.

It always goes like this. Someone asks a question like "I've just been diagnosed with hypermobility, I've been told I can't do yoga anymore..."

The responses are always a mixture of "yes, my doctor/physio told me yoga was the worst thing I could do for my hypermobility" and "I do yoga and it's been the best thing for my hypermobility".

So what gives?

Well, I'm firmly in the "yoga is useful" camp, and I have to disclose that. I'm a yoga practitioner of around 20 years and a perinatal yoga teacher, as well as a personal trainer and bendy person.

While I have the deepest respect for the medical professio…

Step away from the scale. Why weigh ins and weight loss don't match.

I have a persistant bugbear when it comes to health coaching, and it's this issue of "weight".

People are often talking about "losing weight", the number on the scale becomes a focus. "If only I could just get under 65kg" they say. Or worse I see advertised "buy this supplement and you can lose 20kg in a fortnight".

I've found myself frequently sitting with a weight-focussed client and asking "if you were 2 dress sizes smaller, fit and toned, but you weighed the same as you do now, could you be happy with that?"

You might be surprised how challenging a question that can be. For many people, particularly those who have struggled with weight loss, that number is the absolute key. They can wake up, feeling energised and full of life, slip into those jeans that used to live hopefully in the bottom of the drawer, check themselves in the mirror and love what they see... then they step on the scales, see the number is half a kilo grea…

How staring at your phone could be causing your weak ankles.

Our bodies are incredible.
They are mad feats of improbable engineering with bone, muscle and connective tissue working in balance to move smoothly and with accuracy.

We have pretty much the same bones as a llama, a bat or a seal. Variations the lengths, tension and kinematics mean that we move and function completely differently. That's awesome.

I've been fascinated by movement since I was a teenager. I remember being a precocious 17 year old at my university interview. I had taken a trip out to the Equine Sports Medicine Centre to look at the high speed treadmill. It's an amazing (and very expensive) bit of tech that allows a horse to gallop while being relatively stationary, so accessible for all kinds of diagnostics. My interviewer asked what I thought of it. I said it was pretty impressive but I wasn't sold on how the horse moved on it. They still offered me a place. I still don't like to assess movement on a treadmill, you don't see natural locomotion.

A…

Is being polite sabotaging your weight loss?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the barriers that make it hard for people to stick to healthy habits, or even take them up in the first place.
My personal training clients are a lovely bunch, and one thing I can certainly say is that none of them have come to me completely uninformed about healthy eating. Most people have done some homework before they get to the point of hiring me, and while I always go over the basics (never assume anything) I know that when I tell them stuff like this, it's not new information to them:
Eat less to lose weightEat protein with every mealEat 5 portions of fruit and veg a dayConsume high sugar and fat treats rarely and in moderate portionsDrink water with every meal or snackExercise regularly That's not rocket science, so why are so many people still struggling with it?
Is it because "the rules" are more complicated? Are they missing the "weird trick" (spoiler alert, there are no weird tricks), supplement or superf…