Evidence-Based Nutrition Advice for Strength Athletes
Getting you stronger faster
Powerlifting is an incredibly demanding sport that requires a lot of physical and mental energy. When you push your body to its limits, it's crucial to prioritize muscle recovery to prevent injuries and ensure optimal performance in the long run. Proper nutrition is one of the most effective ways to aid muscle recovery. Setting up a powerlifting muscle recovery nutrition plan can be difficult, especially if you're new to it.
Grab our Free pre/post-training meals guide to quickly improve your training outcomes.
However, with proper guidance, you can do it on your own quite comfortably. This article will walk you through tips for setting up and monitoring your recovery nutrition. You will also learn how to adjust your diet if your recovery phase declines. So, let's dig further!
How to Set Up Your Nutrition for Good Recovery?
Powerlifters and other strength athletes put their bodies under much physical stress throughout the training. Therefore, as a powerlifter, you need good recovery nutrition to ensure an energetic training session and to strengthen your immune system.
Moreover, being charged up for the next training session keeps your muscle proteins from breakdown, supports the immune system, and helps you recover better. So, you must follow proper ways to improve your strength and take good recovery nutrition. Let's discuss a few common nutrition you should consider during your post-training session:
Protein is a crucial macronutrient that your body needs for muscle repair and recovery. When you exercise, you cause micro-tears in your muscles, which must be repaired. This repairing process will utilize a lot of protein throughout the day, so you should take enough protein to have a positive protein balance and gain muscle. However, the quantity of protein you need depends on your body weight, activity level, and fitness goals.
For powerlifters, taking 1.4 to 2.0 g of protein/ kg of body weight is ideal for building and maintaining muscles. Additionally, the timing of protein intake is also critical as women recover differently from men. So, women should ensure the recovery process starts quickly; taking protein within 30 minutes of post-training is best, and men should aim to intake protein within 60 minutes post-training
2. Eat Sufficient Calories
Inadequate caloric intake can slow muscle repair and even lead to muscle loss. Powerlifters should calculate their daily caloric requirement based on their activity level and consume enough calories to support workouts and recovery. You can also use the Katch Mcardle formula to determine the total amount of calories you need in a day, this formula is ideal for lifters as it takes into account lean body mass.
The Katch-McArdle formula is as below:
BMR = 370 + (21.6 * Lean Body Mass [kg])
If you were supposed to eat around 2400 calories, but you are maintaining your weight at 1800 calories, you can gradually add calories into your diet without gaining weight. A good way to do it is by adding 100 to 200 calories daily. This will allow your body to utilize the calories in a good way without affecting your muscle strength and body weight.
Carbohydrates are another nutrient from the muscle recovery nutrition list and a primary energy source for the body during exercise. Consuming carbohydrates after exercise replenishes glycogen stores, which helps with muscle recovery. However, you must be very careful about the pre/post-training carbs quantity.
You should consume 5 to 10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight for good muscle recovery. A few good carbohydrate foods for muscle recovery include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and sports drinks.
How to Monitor Your Recovery?
Now that you are aware of the nutrition for improved recovery program and its importance let's discuss how you can monitor your recovery!
1. Use Recovery Metrics
There are several recovery metrics that powerlifters can use to monitor muscle recovery. These metrics include heart rate variability (HRV), mood, daily energy, and muscle soreness ratings. HRV is the variability in the time between heartbeats, which can indicate your body's readiness to handle stress. Monitoring mood and energy can be a useful way to understand your level of recovery, as both have a tendency to decline as recovery dips.
If you find any of these metrics abnormal, such as low HRV, increased irritability, decreased energy for training or life’s demands, or an increase in soreness despite a few changes to your training program, this indicates stress and poor recovery. However, high HRV, stable moods, plenty of energy for the day, and low levels of soreness indicate your recovery phase is going well.
2. Monitor Your Sleep Quality
Getting proper sleep is crucial for muscle recovery. Poor sleep quality can lead to fatigue, irritability, and decreased performance. To monitor your sleep quality, consider using a fitness tracker or smartwatch that tracks sleep metrics such as duration, quality, and REM sleep. If you consistently notice poor sleep quality or difficulty sleeping, it may be a sign that you need to adjust your recovery strategies. It’s also important to note that under-recovery can be a cause of poor sleep.
3. Track Soreness
Muscle soreness is a common symptom of muscle damage that occurs during exercise. While some soreness is normal, excessive soreness can signify muscle fatigue or injury. Assessing your muscle soreness can help determine if you need to take a break or adjust your muscle recovery nutrition.
Additionally, you can assess your muscle soreness by performing a simple self-evaluation. Rate your muscle soreness on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being no soreness and 5 being severe soreness. If your soreness level is consistently above a 2, it may be a sign that you need to focus on your nutrients for muscle recovery.
How to Make Change in Your Muscle Recovery Nutrition If you See a Decline in Recovery?
If you are seeing a decline in your recovery, you can easily manage it by adjusting your muscle recovery nutrition. For instance, you can add 100 grams of carbohydrates to your diet for one day. Carbs improve your sleep quality, and you feel more energetic, but they also provide the needed energy for the repair processes inside your body. If you see no change, then add additional carbohydrates to your daily muscle recovery nutrition for athletes again until recovery metrics improve.
If the issue arises several times over the course of one to two months, then this is a sign you need to increase your caloric intake. For instance, you can add some 50 to 100 calories extra to your daily recovery nutrition. If there's no change, you should consult a professional nutritionist or coach to identify the issue.
Setting up proper muscle recovery nutrition for strength athletes, like powerlifters, is very important as it dictates your recovery period. You should go with good protein, caloric, and carbohydrate sources during the recovery phase to strengthen your muscles.
Also, monitor your recovery, such as watching your sleeping quality, soreness level, and much more. Lastly, if your recovery is declining, turn towards high caloric or carbs content. If you still see poor recovery, it's best to contact a nutritionist or coach before making any further changes in your diet.
Take your training to the next level and grab our Free pre/post-training meals guide to quickly improve your training outcomes.
By Dr. Kristin Lander, DC, CISSN
Grab our Free pre/post-training meals guide to quickly improve your training outcomes.
Powerlifters require a lot of physical strength and endurance to achieve their goals. However, it is not just about training hard and lifting heavy weights. It is also about caring for your body and providing it with the necessary nutrients and rest. One of the critical aspects of powerlifting is understanding the difference between rest day vs training day caloric needs.
This article will discuss the importance of rest days in powerlifting and how they affect your caloric needs. We will also explore the caloric needs for training days and how you can adjust your diet accordingly.
Why are Rest Days Important?
Rest days are a critical part of any fitness routine, especially powerlifting, as they allow your lean tissues to grow. When you lift weights, your body undergoes a catabolic activity in which molecules break down to produce energy, along with inducing tiny tears in your muscles. These tears need time to heal and rebuild, known as the anabolic state, where rest days come in.
During rest days, your body repairs and strengthens your muscles, allowing them to grow and adapt to the stress of powerlifting. Moreover, you also experience new cell growth and increased bone density, which helps you in your next workout session. The recovery procedure lasts between 48 hours to 72 hours, and without proper rest, you are at risk of an injury, which can set you back in your progress.
Why are Training Days Important?
Training days are equally crucial in powerlifting because lifting weights creates a stimulus that encourages your body to adapt and grow. The stress of powerlifting breaks down your muscle fibers; when they rebuild, they come back more robust and substantial. You become physically more strong and healthy, along with being confident.
Caloric Needs for Rest Day vs Training Day
Now that we understand the importance of rest and training days, let's explore how to adjust your rest day vs training day caloric needs to maximize your progress.
On Rest Days
While considering rest day vs training day caloric needs, many people assume that our body requires fewer calories on rest days than on training days since we are not using as much energy. However, it's not entirely true, as you need substantial caloric content on rest days to ensure proper and quick muscle recovery.
In fact, we have worked with many athletes who, just by increasing their calories on rest days, saw substantial improvements in training performance and strength. For this purpose, you should find the right balance of caloric intake to give your body the nutrients it needs to recover. This will give your body the fuel to continue building muscle and recovering.
On Training Days
Your body requires calories on training days to fuel and optimize training. So, consume enough calories to support your body's demands without overeating and sabotaging your progress. You can easily do this by finding the right balance of macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats that cater to your body's energy needs.
As a general rule of thumb, while considering rest day vs training day caloric requirements, you should go with high carbohydrates and potentially lower fats on your training days. Moreover, you can also eat more calories on workout days if you are engaging in intense activities. You can add 50 to 100 grams of carbs per hour of intense activity!
How Many Calories to Take on Rest Days While Bulking and Cutting?
How many calories on rest days when bulking? The answer depends on how fast your metabolism works. According to the NHS, the average caloric intake for women is 2000, and for men, it's 2500.
Typically, the caloric surplus on the rest day when cutting can be anywhere from 300 kcal to 500 kcal. However, this also depends upon the type of bulking, whether you are doing lean bulking and cutting or going dirty bulking.
Typically, bulking refers to gaining body muscles or mass through the excess caloric intake. It's quite popular among powerlifters and other competitive athletes who want to strengthen their bodies before their competition. However, bulking doesn't mean you have to indulge in a speedy weight-gain process.
The faster you go towards weight gain, the more body fat you'll have, which can impact your game. So, you should gain weight slowly and focus on strengthening your body muscles. On average, most athletes gain around 0.2% to 0.3% of body weight every week. The suitable duration for bulking is around 3 to 6 months, as short bulking sessions will not let you gain the desired muscular strength.
Cutting refers to the practice of reducing your body fat while maintaining muscle mass. Powerlifters and competitive athletes usually implement cutting followed by a good bulking session to get some health benefits. These include preventing knee collapse, enhancing muscular strength, and reducing the load on your knees. However, as an athlete, you need to be very careful while practicing cutting on rest days, as faster body loss may not help you achieve the desired athletic muscle shape. So, it's suggested to practice slow weight loss as it not only aids you in losing body mass but also improves your overall athletic performance.
On average, athletes who lose 0.4% to 0.6% weight weekly see better results from cutting. Going above 0.7% weight loss per week will not allow you to preserve your muscle mass, negatively affecting the gaming session.
The ideal weight loss time ranges from 12 to 16 weeks, followed by four to eight weeks of maintenance before another weight loss session. Don't forget to get help from a qualified nutritionist to ensure you have a healthy and passive cutting routine.
Whether you are a powerlifter or someone who usually engages in fun, intense activities, your rest day vs training day caloric needs remain almost the same.
As your muscles need calories, aka energy, for proper recovery, you should take a substantial quantity of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins to ensure quick healing. Moreover, if body weight changes are your goal, make sure you follow healthy bulking (0.2% to 0.3% weight gain per week) and cutting (0.4% to 0.6% weight loss per week). This will help you stay on track and improve your overall performance!
You can get the same exact framework we use with some of the world's top lifters to improve their training performance and recovery with pre and post-training meals.
Rarely are there quick fixes to getting stronger faster, EXCEPT when you don’t have all of these dialed in.
When we start implementing change around these 4 things with our athletes, AMAZING things begin to happen.
1. Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night
If this is hard for you, take a look at your sleep hygiene:
2. Prioritize your pre and post-training meals
There's been some debate in the nutrition world about whether or not nutrient timing matters. I think those debates are missing one key element: just because something is "okay" doesn't mean it's optimal for increasing performance. Another issue that is missed in the literature is the timeframe referred to as the pre-training meal time. But that's a topic for another discussion.
3. Eat enough food
One of the biggest mistakes lifters have been making when they get to us is chronic undereating, and most of the time it's completely unintentional.
4. Manage your stress
Training is a stressor on our body. So is mental stress. Our body can't distinguish the difference. The greater the stress (physical or mental) the more your body has to overcome to recover properly. It is very common for us to see a slight decline in recovery and performance metrics when athletes are under more work or life stress.
By developing a daily stress management routine, you can mitigate a lot of the effects stress can have on your body and gym performance. These are some of our favorite techniques:
Give these a try for a month and watch your strength, energy, and recovery EXPLODE!!!
We utilize all of these methods, and more, within our nutrition coaching programs. You can fill out an application to see if we're a good fit for your goals!
Creatine: Should you use it?
We get asked about creatine supplementation on a pretty regular basis. Rightly so, it’s been a player in sports nutrition supplementation for a long time now and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Creatine monohydrate is THE most researched supplement in the world of sports nutrition, and it’s one of the few that, time and time again, has been shown to be not only safe, but rather effective, too.
So what does it actually do?
According to a 2011 article published in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, creatine monohydrate:
What is the proper dosage?
Are some brands of creatine better than others?
My favorite site for comparing the quality of different brand of supplements is www.labdoor.com. I don’t get any sort of compensation for telling you that, I just really like that site and they are constantly adding new supplements to it. It’s certainly not all inclusive, but it’s a good place to start. For those that are subject to WADA drug-testing, you can also search for products that have been tested for over 200 banned substances.
To answer the initial question, should you use creatine?
Given the evidence supporting both the benefits of supplementing with creatine and the lack of side-effects, creatine appears to be a very effective way increase strength and work capacity. It should be noted that proper diet, sleep, and stress management should be in line before the addition of supplements. If you need help getting started with performance nutrition, you can apply to work with our team here or to learn more about our services, go here.
AUTHOR: DR. KRISTIN LANDER, DC, CISSN
Kristin has competed internationally in both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. She is a lover of all things barbell, nature, and nerdiness. She has helped hundreds of athletes over the last decade reach the highest level in their sport through her evidence-based performance nutrition methods, careful attention to detail, and individualized approach.
You ready for it?
Okay, I’m gonna tell you, but you’ve got to keep reading to let me explain.
What?! Ok, I know some of you just exited out and are no longer reading because that sounds insane.
"[HUSTLE CULTURE] TAKEN TO THE EXTREME CAN LEAVE YOU FEELING RUN DOWN, SICK, INJURED, AND FEELING LIKE A FAILURE FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO GRIND ALL DAY EVERY DAY."
Even my podcast co-host, 11x world powerlifting champion, Jen Thompson shared with me on a recent episode (below) that when she’s feeling burned out, or training just feels like too much, she pushes her training to another day or does less sets in training, or an entirely different workout all together.
I work with really busy athletes. They are juggling demanding careers, families, and social lives all while training at a high level.
During periods of high stress these athletes recovery starts to dwindle and shows up as:
All of the proper nutrition in the world is not going to help these athletes when things get to this point.
The answer here is to drop training volume or intensity for a little while. Training is a stressor on your body. If you can’t cut out work/school/family stress, this is the only place to reduce stress.
I’ve had great success with athletes dropping a training day and replacing it with other low intensity activities such as long walks, hiking, or biking.
Hustle culture is rampant in strength sports.
To a degree this is helpful in that it helps new athletes learn how to work hard and push themselves. But taken to the extreme it can leave you feeling run down, sick, injured, and feeling like a failure for not being able to grind all day every day.
If you're looking for an expert in sports nutrition and recovery for strength athletes to help you feel great and perform to the best of your abilities, you can apply to work with one of our coaches here.
AUTHOR: DR. KRISTIN LANDER, DC, CISSN
Kristin has competed on the international stage in both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. She is a lover of all things barbell, nature, and nerdiness. She has helped hundreds of athletes over the last decade reach the highest level in their sport through her evidence-based nutrition methods, careful attention to detail, and individualized approach.
To answer this question, we're going to look at a study published in 2011.
The aim of this study was to compare changes in :
All athletes included 4 resistance-training sessions/wk in their usual training regimen
The average amount of weight lost was 4.2kg for both groups. The fast weight loss group did it in 5.3 weeks, the slower group took 8.5 weeks.
Let's looks at some specific results now.
Changes in lean body mass:
Change in fat mass:
Changes in performance:
While both groups lost the same amount of body weight, their body composition changes were significantly different. This study suggests that slower rates of body weight reduction are better for preserving/gaining muscle mass as well as losing more body fat.
In terms of performance, we saw an increase in performance for both groups for most of the tests, as we should. These are elite athletes that are continuing to train, so improvements are expected. However, the percent increase in performance across all measures was significantly higher in the slower weight loss group.
This suggests that quick weight loss does not allow for as much athletic improvement as does slower weight loss. If your goal is to continue to improve while in a caloric deficit, you are much better off losing weight at a slower rate.
I will argue that I still think 0.7% of body weight loss per week is still a bit aggressive for most athletes, particularly strength athletes. In my experience, I start seeing a decline in performance for most people above 0.6% loss per week, and for some strength athletes, even that is too aggressive and we have to go with a more conservative 0.4% of body weight lost per week.
What have your experiences been with weight loss as an athlete? Have you seen a decrease in strength and performance?
At FFN we specialize in managing weight cuts for athletes to preserve their strength (and usually gain strength during the process). If you want expert help with your next weight cut, you can work with us here!
Author: Dr. Kristin Lander
A lifelong athlete, Kristin has competed at the international level in both weightlifting and powerlifting. She specializes in helping strength athletes reach their full potential through evidence-based nutrition methods.
Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite thing: CARBS!!!! We work with athletes to help them improve their performance in the gym as well as improve their physique (usually either fat loss or muscle gain, often both). To do both of these things at the same time we have to implement a whole lot of science; and guess what?!?! SCIENCE WORKS!!!!! We're a huge fans of giving our athletes ALL the carbs, and lucky for them, there’s a lot of evidence to support doing so. It has to be done at the appropriate times for it to be favorable for performance as well as body composition.
If you follow me us Instagram, you might know that I ask all my athletes to strive for 30% of their allotted carb intake in the 1-2 hours prior to training, and another 30% starting during training (if needed) and up to 2 hours after training. This means that 60% of your carbs will be surrounding your workouts. I call this the 30-30 rule. This is where the science comes in. Sugar is your muscles’ preferred energy source. We all know that carbs are broken down into SUGAR, hence why everyone freaked out in the 90’s and 2000’s and went on crazy low carb diets. This was favorable for body composition for the average person, but it greatly hindered athletic performance. As I was saying, your muscles prefer to use sugar as energy, especially quickly digestible sugars so that your body can do little to no digesting and use all that energy to making you a badass during training.
Ok, so that’s why I want 30% of my carbs before I train. But why on earth would I want that AFTER I train?!?!? Are you trying to make me fat?! Unused sugar gets stored as fat, according to bro-science,” I know that’s what you are thinking right now!
Short answer: NO! I mean, unless you don’t care about your recovery or if you perform as well as a wet noodle during tomorrow’s training session.
A la, this guy:
If that’s what you want, then yes, please skip the post-training carbs.
Oh what’s that? You are trying to IMPROVE your sports performance? Well yeah, then you need to learn about this sneaky substance called cortisol that your body likes to produce when it’s under stress. Even though training is good for your body, it still sees it as a stressor and loves to release cortisol at that time. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal cortex (the outer portion of the adrenal gland which is situated on top of the kidneys) in response to physical and emotional stress. For athletes, this happens during training which is AWESOME because it stimulates the making of new glucose in the liver (gluconeogenisis) AND the breakdown of glycogen stored in muscle cells (glycogenolysis). On top of which, cortisol causes all the sugar that has just been created or released to be free floating in the bloodstream for easy use, due to the way cortisol inhibits insulin from bringing the glucose into the cells. Basically, this means that cortisol released during training directly provides you with more energy to train hard! Pretty awesome, right?!
The downside, is that chronically elevated cortisol lowers immune function, limits muscle recovery, decreases bone density, raises blood pressure, and causes you to retain water. Not to mention that long-term effects can cause reproductive problems, decreased testosterone, and adrenal fatigue. So, we definitely want to minimize cortisol IMMEDIATELY following training. How do we so that? By eating simple sugars (carbs) immediately following training. You also want to replenish glycogen supplies (stored sugar in your muscles) following training so that you can live to fight another day.
Here’s an example of pre and post training meals using the 30-30 rule:
Notice these are all high-glycemic carbs. Eating these away from training doesn’t go a long ways to stabilizing your blood sugar and keeping you full, but that is not the point of peri-training carbs! One last note: you want the meals surrounding your training to be low in fat to maximize uptake of the carbs and protein.
[This post contains an affiliate link. This means that when you click through to buy the product, a portion of the sale goes to me. I never recommend products I don’t use and love!]
Author: Dr. Kristin Lander
Kristin is head sports nutritionist at Fiercely Fueled and has been coaching athletes on proper nutrition for a decade, she is also an accomplished Olympic weightlifter and elite powerlifter.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Using the most current nutrition research and years of experience as athletes ourselves, FFN coaches will give you the tools you need to succeed and never feel held back by your nutrition or recovery again.
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