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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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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