Eat Better, Perform Better: Nutrition for Strength Athletes


Dmitry Klokov of Russia competes in the men's 105kg weightlifting competition during the World Weightlifting Championships at Disney Village in Marne-la-Vallee outside Paris

I may receive some hate-mail from power lifters after this basic nutrition guide but I promise it’s just tough love. I truly believe most people under appreciate the value of sound nutrition in terms of performance and health. It’s time to kick the old school mentality that carrying tons of excess body fat is acceptable or just a necessary evil of being strong.

But isn’t all that extra weight and fat helpful when trying to put up big numbers? I could rattle off tons of strong bodybuiders and powerlifters that maintain low levels of body fat, like Stan Efferding, so there goes that excuse. Fat doesn’t produce force, muscle does. And an unhealthy, excessively overweight body isn’t prepared to perform or recover at full capacity. The ultimate goal of this plan is to amplify your adaptation to intense, purpose-driven strength training by activating specific anabolic pathways through proper diet and supplementation.

As I’ve written in previous articles for Elitefts (Here), excessively high body fat leads to a host of negative physiologic adaptations ranging from increased estrogen, high levels of inflammation, reduced insulin sensitivity and much more.  Do you really believe this unhealthy state leads to optimal performance? The answer is no. My guess is you likely feel lethargic, have fluctuations in mood and the blood work of an obese diabetic man.

From my experience working with powerlifters and strongmen, they all feel AND perform better after dropping body fat and improving their nutrition. I have yet to have one client report a loss in strength while following one of my diets. This isn’t an accident. If you put better nutrients in your body, time them appropriately and focus on eating for performance and health, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

In transitioning from suck to good, you will need to start paying more attention to not only what you put in your body but when you do it.  You’re past the newbie phase where gains are easy to come by. And with the time you have invested in training, it’s worth it to try and maximize your progress. An effective nutrition plan can improve your nutrient repartitioning, or where your calories end up going.  You want your calories to go towards building muscle, not excess fat.

Here are some basic ways to improve your diet:

1.)     Proper Protein: The majority of your food choices should be solid whole foods, for the nutrients they provide and their role in satiety. Yes, you can work in some of your favorite foods, just learn moderation.  At this point you should already be focusing on having an abundance of lean meats or high quality protein sources. Where should protein be? This depends on a couple of things like training history, lean body mass, supplementation and current goals. I don’t see much added benefit in going any higher than 1.2-1.5g of protein per lb of lean body mass. Even that can be high, depending on the person.  But also having some periods of low protein intake might help resensitize your response to protein after consistent high levels.

2.)     Carb Control: Carbohydrates are great, and you need them to grow and to push through demanding workouts. However, they can be a disaster for some as well. There are a lot of things at play here but when insulin is high, fat burning is inhibited. Couple that with high GI carbs inability to stimulate fullness, it’s easy to go overboard on carbohydrates.  Most of the time, especially far outside your training window, you should opt for lower glycemic index carbohydrates (Ezekiel bread, oatmeal, vegetables); though there’s room for higher GI stuff as well.  Those periods around your workout, or the “peri-workout window”, are a safe(er) time to take in some simple carbohydrates, as this energy will either be used to fuel activity or experience the enhanced insulin sensitivity that resistance training provides. You have to find your sweet spot with total carbohydrates, judge based off how they make you feel and how you’re progressing. Start as high as you can so that you have room to lower if necessary.

3.)     Calories Count: You need enough total calories, as well as proper macronutrient ratios, to stimulate growth and continue to increase strength. To make sure you are keeping body fat in check it’s wise to try and match food intake with energy requirements of that day.  Training days should include more total calories and carbohydrates, and off days don’t require nearly as much energy.  You should also consider that calories from certain types of food can vary in the hormonal response they produce. Post-workout is an environment where you want a good amount of your protein intake to facilitate the building of muscle. Protein synthesis is energy intensive, so your body needs the tools to repair itself.  Your strength, energy and recovery will give you great insight on how well your nutrition is working.

4.)     Keep Fat in Check: This isn’t about dietary fat, grass fed butter is delicious, and offers some health benefits too. You should, however, keep an eye on body fat, especially if you are trying to put on weight. Even something as simple as taking waist measurements will really allow you to see where your diet is taking you. If your waist is expanding a lot faster than your shoulder or back width, you need to scale back. Love handles won’t help you bench more. You can do this with some short fasts or fasted cardio. With short periods of no food you are looking to spend some time using fat for energy thus keeping body fat at bay.

5.)     Nutrient Timing: Make sure you enter your lift in a fully repleted state, with enough energy to complete a heavy lifting session. Have some complex carbohydrates at some point leading up to your session to ensure you have enough glycogen and consider adding some intra-workout supplements. Caffeine pre-workout provides a boost and L-leucine, when added, is a powerful amino acid which stimulates the anabolic pathway mTOR. If you just want to keep it simple you can have some BCAA’s or L-leucine during your lift, or if looking for a boost during your session, consider adding some moderate carbohydrate and electrolyte intake. Coconut water provides both of those and tastes relatively good. My nutrition clients use a unique blend of different amino acids and compounds intra-workout but that combination is exclusive to them.  I also recommend a moderate (5g) dose of creatine monohydrate daily.

Take home message: don’t skimp out on your nutrition. Training and developing strength are a long term process. If you are serious about improving your performance you will dedicate the extra energy required to maximize your gains in the gym.


  1.  Eat Better, Perform Better: Nutrition For Strength Athletes | New York Fitness
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