Written by Nick Shaw
The dreaded “d” word, dieting. Chances are if you’re a competitive strength athlete you’ve had to deal with cutting weight at some point or another. What makes the dieting process so hard for some and for others seemingly so easy? I’m going to lay out some of the top mistakes made by strength athletes that can make dieting that much harder and in many cases is why it is dreaded by so many!
Not paying enough attention to your diet in the off-season. This one may seem quite obvious to many, but it is often overlooked. A lot of strength athletes think that if they just finished a meet, they can relax with their diet for several months as they know they have half a year or so before they compete again. The problem here is it often ends up leading the strength athlete to gain a lot more excess weight and hence body fat than they would otherwise want. Here’s a newsflash, serious involvement in strength sport is a year-round endeavor. Nobody forced us to sign up for this (please disregard if you’re reading this from North Korea) so why only take half of the year seriously? You had better believe those that have risen to the top take things seriously year round and they’re rewarded for their hard work by being the best in the business! Not paying attention to your diet and getting heavier than is needed actually leads us to the second mistake that a lot of strength athletes make.
Dieting all the way into a meet or contest. If you’re one who doesn’t take their diet seriously in the off-season, chances are a couple months before your meet or contest you have to drop 20 lbs. or more to even make weight. Now some of that can come from a water drop depending on if you have a 24 hour weigh-in, but that’s a lot of weight to drop in 8-12 weeks before an important meet. The big mistake here is having to drop your calories by a lot, which automatically raises your fatigue and begins to interfere with your performance and recovery from training. Does it really seem like a good idea to be dieting when you are training with your lowest total volume load as you hit your strength and peaking phases leading into a meet? The volumes are not high enough to save your muscle, and the weights are so heavy that you’ll need all of your energy… not have it sapped by hard dieting. The best bet is to focus on making body composition changes in the off-season. A great time to lose some unwanted body fat is likely after a meet when you can train with higher volume loads during a hypertrophy phase where you’re presenting a much greater stimulus to your muscles to increase your chances of hanging onto all of that hard earned muscle and strength. If you absolutely must diet leading up to a meet, try and give yourself at least a couple of weeks beforehand where you can stabilize and eat a bit more to really let all of your hard work appropriately show on the platform.
Dropping carbs too quickly or dramatically when trying to lose weight. If I had a dollar for every powerlifter who I’ve seen or read about on social media who has slashed their carbs right off the bat when starting a diet I’d probably be driving a Lamborghini right now, but sadly I don’t even have a car (don’t send me charity just yet, I live in NYC so a car can be unnecessary). This is one of the biggest mistakes that a lifter can make as carbs are a cornerstone of performance! It’s certainly a popular trend with low carb diets, but they’re not designed with the strength athlete in mind, they’re designed more for the average American who is much more sedentary in their lifestyle. So you might be asking, well what do I cut then to drop weight? Well, that answer has a lot of variables at play, but the simple answer is you’re better off cutting out some fats first. Fats serve much less of a role in the anabolic/strength process than do our ever so tasty friends the carbohydrates! If you start your diet early and cut fats slowly and surely, you’ll still have plenty of energy and recovery ability during the whole process… while losing the weight you want.
So there you have it, a few tips that can have a big impact on your performance and on your total come meet day. Pay attention to your diet in the off-season and suddenly everything becomes that much easier diet wise!Nick is the Founder and CEO of Renaissance Periodization, a training and diet services company for world class athletes. Renaissance Periodization has worked with some of the top strength athletes in the world including Professional Strongmen, all-time world record holders in raw powerlifting, numerous Elite level powerlifters both raw and equipped, some highly ranked CrossFit athletes and nationally qualified physique athletes (bodybuilding, figure, physique and bikini). Nick is also a competitive powerlifter and bodybuilder. Nick holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan in Sport Management. Nick currently resides in Manhattan with his wife and two kids. Online Training, Website