Written by Dr. Layne Norton
I have been asked several times to write articles for powerlifting nutrition/metabolism and really haven’t done much with it. So when Chad of JTS contacted me, I was a bit apprehensive about committing to an article series I’ve put off for a while. Would the powerlifting community be ready for it? Sometimes, different ideas from what is accepted as the status quo can be met with harsh resistance. I found this out the hard way with many of my articles in the physique community. In the words of Adam Jenson from one of my favorite video games: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, “If you wanna make enemies…try to change something.” Fortunately, over the years I have grown to really give less and less of a damn if what I say offends people. If data, science, and logic offends someone, then they probably need to be offended! That said, I believe the powerlifting community is smarter than most and is craving some good information, and lord knows there is plenty of misinformation out there. So I’m putting together my ‘Top Fat Loss Mistakes for Powerlifting’ series and hope you enjoy it and get information out of it that helps you perform better on the platform.
So why should you give a damn about fat loss for powerlifting? Well, if you are well above the superheavyweight limit, you probably don’t need to give a damn about it. But if you are in any other weight class, think about what would happen if you could drop to the next weight class down and maintain virtually all your strength, how much better would you place? Even if you couldn’t get to the next weight class down, just dropping 10-20 lbs and maintaining your strength would improve your wilks score drastically and could mean possibly qualifying for that national or invite only meet, or not. For powerlifting we want to be as strong as we possibly can at a light a weight as possible. It is a balancing act. If we get too light, then overall strength will suffer. If we get too heavy then we may be slightly stronger, but our lb for lb strength may not be optimal. Let’s be real here, if you are 181 lbs and 8 % bodyfat, there’s probably no way you are dropping to 165 without significantly compromising your strength. By the same token, if you are 235 lbs and 20% bodyfat, you can probably cut to 220 and not lose any strength.
It is important to be realistic about what weight class will be best for you. This is absolutely crucial towards making your nutrition, cardio, and training routine work optimally. For example, I compete in the 220 lb class but I still feel just as strong at 213-215. Could I make 198? Probably. But I would definitely need to sacrifice strength to get there if it was a 2 hour weigh in. Could I get to 208 with minimal strength loss then dehydrate to 198 for a 24 hour weigh in and maintain my strength? I’d probably lose a little bit, but it might be worth it to get in the lower weight class. These are all trade offs that you need to ask yourself. A 2 hour weigh in vs a 24 hour weigh in changes things DRASTICALLY. 2 hour weigh ins mean that you probably need to be within a few lbs of the weight you are going to compete at. If you need to cut more than 2% of your bodyweight to make weight, it’s going to be very difficult to maintain your strength & your energy. 2 hours will not be enough time to recoup all that regardless of how much you eat. That said, I see many people make the opposite mistake. I see people weighing 200 gorging themselves with food day after day because they are dead set on weighing 250 lbs in a few months. Sure you may get to 250 lbs, but it isn’t going to be pretty or functional. You might gain absolute strength but you will lose pound for pound strength. Moving up weight classes is a proposition that takes months and years, it isn’t going to happen overnight and you must be patient and do it properly.
There are also other considerations that many people do not even consider. If I cut a bunch of weight very quickly my belt is likely to fit much differently for squatting and deadlifting. This can affect the path of my squat and my leverages in the squat. This is one major reason I do not like having to cut a lot of weight last minute unless I know I can put it back on but in an optimal way. Gorging after weigh ins is also not optimal because you can have the same problem, let your gut get too big and now your belt is much tighter than you are used to in training & it changes your leverages & the way you squat/deadlift, but we will talk more about post weigh in refeeding in another series. Additionally, some people don’t train well with a full stomach, if you are one of these people, then this will change how much weight you can realistically cut and put back on post weigh in without having it negatively affect your performance.
In conclusion, you need to be honest and realistic with yourself when picking which weight class to compete in and it also may require some trial and error. Try to find a sweet spot where you can comfortably make weight without having to kill yourself and still maintain optimal lb for lb strength. If you go too low, you will sacrifice strength, if you go too high, you will put on unnecessary bodyfat that may increase your absolute strength but lower your pound for pound strength. I hope you all enjoyed this article and in the next part of the series we will get more into the nitty gritty of metabolism, nutrition, cardio, and training.