If you’re a powerlifter or bodybuilder preparing for a competition and your friend is prepping for a triathlon, should you both follow the same diet? The short answer is no--different training regimens require varied diets, and the type of dietary guidelines you want to follow as a powerlifter or bodybuilder are vastly different than those across any other sport. For example, powerlifting nutrition and similar strength training exercises rely heavily on protein and carbohydrates, with an overall higher caloric intake for men and women. The goal in powerlifting and bodybuilding is to increase muscle mass, which often results in rapid weight loss. However, powerlifting nutrition is not a diet or designed to support those who may struggle with chronic obesity. Powerlifters need specific nutrients in specific amounts at specific points during the day to reach peak performance on the platform.
This article unpacks powerlifting nutrition and highlights some of the best foods to eat for optimal strength and endurance training. We’ve also suggested ways to incorporate electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) into your weekly workout routine for added strength building and muscle toning.
Powerlifting & EMS
Powerlifting and bodybuilding concentrate on building strength and muscle mass through repeated motion. Reps are controlled with long breaks in between lifts and sets. This type of strength building activity helps stimulate muscle growth.
Our team of fitness experts recommends that powerlifters and bodybuilders incorporate electrical muscle stimulation up to 3 times a week per muscle group in between workouts or post workout to extend and maximize strength training efforts. Powerlifting and bodybuilding workouts focus on pushing, pressing and pulling, which create an ideal environment for implementing electrical muscle stimulation to build and tone muscles.
You’ll want to set your PowerDot to the strength or explosive strength programs for these treatments. Our muscle endurance program helps improve muscle endurance and fatigue resistance so you can train longer and push yourself further. If you decide to incorporate this training program into your workout routine, use EMS before endurance workouts, up to 5 times a week per muscle group. We also have a strength endurance training program designed to help boost your muscle’s ability to handle more intense training sessions for more powerful workouts. In this case, use EMS before or after strength endurance workouts, up to 4 times a week per muscle group.
For the best strength building and endurance results possible, make sure to get 3 conditioning workouts in per week outside of your powerlifting workouts. We also recommend light cardio at least once a week for 30 minutes. Avoid marathon sessions; long periods of running can compromise muscle tissue.
The Power of Protein
Ideally you want to eat well balanced meals throughout the day in tandem with your powerlifting workout routine. Generally, powerlifters and bodybuilders will feel full for about 3 hours after eating a high protein or high-carb meal--that means you’ll eat between 4-5 strategic meals a day plus protein powered snacks to stay satisfied.
Nutrition professionals agree that powerlifters and bodybuilders should eat protein at every meal including at least 1 between-meal snack. Protein is a macronutrient, meaning that the body requires lots of it to function properly. Proteins are made up of organic compounds called amino acids, which act as the cellular building blocks for bones, muscles, skin, cartilage and blood, helping to facilitate chemical reactions in the body as they carry nutrients through the bloodstream and across cell membranes. Powerlifters and bodybuilders benefit from a higher-than-average protein intake because protein helps build lean muscle mass as well as repair tissue and muscles.
The Internal Society of Sports Nutrition encourages strength training and endurance athletes to consume 1.5-2 grams of protein per kilogram--that equates to approximately 0.68-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. According to The National Strength and Conditioning Association, male powerlifters require around 23 calories per pound of body weight daily to maintain weight; female powerlifters require 20 calories per pound of body weight daily. As an example, a 200-lb male powerlifter would need approximately 4,600 calories daily while a 140-lb female powerlifter would need approximately 2,800 calories daily.
Powerlifting A.M. Meal Ideas
Protein Shake | Add a ½ cup of fruit and/or vegetables or a small serving of whole grains (e.g., brown rice, buckwheat, farro, oats, quinoa, whole-grain barley, etc.) for a more robust “meal.” Read labels carefully. Avoid shakes that contain large amounts of added sugars. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, recommends that you keep your intake of added sugars to less than 10% of your total daily calories.
Sweet Potato Pancakes | Try healthier flour alternatives like almond, coconut, buckwheat or quinoa flour. Drizzle with honey or top with Greek yoghurt and chia seeds. Complement with a side of egg whites for protein. Egg whites are a fantastic protein source because they are naturally fat free, cholesterol free and low in calories--only 17 calories compared to the 55 calories that come from the yolk alone. Plus egg whites pack more than half of an egg’s protein at 4 grams per egg compared to just over 2 grams found in the yolk.
The protein found in egg whites is a complete, or whole protein, meaning that it contains all 9 essential amino acids in the amounts your body needs to function at its best. Other examples of single-source complete proteins include lean red meat, chicken, fish, milk, cheese, yogurt, quinoa, chia seeds and more.
Although this breakfast dish is on the sweeter side, it works for a couple of reasons. Sweet potatoes are unique in that they serve as a good source of carbs, fiber and protein. They are sweet, but not overbearing, and pair well with honey, a safe, natural sweetener. Powerlifting nutrition eliminates simple sugars like soda, sweets and other junk foods, replacing processed foods with whole foods as much as possible. Processed cereals and other foods like frozen pancakes or waffles are out. Replace these with fiber based cereals and lighter pancakes for a heartier breakfast that will keep you fuller longer while also helping to keep you regular. Still craving something sweet? Eat (almost) as much fruit as you’d like. Fruit does double duty as a carbohydrate and fiber source.
Egg & Avocado Toast | Top your whole grain avocado toast with a halved hard boiled or scrambled egg. Alternatively you can top with a tofu scramble.
Overnight Oats (or Quinoa) | Make your breakfast the night before, then grab-and-go in the morning. Easily increase your protein intake by mixing with soy milk and topping with 2 tbsp natural peanut butter, nuts or seeds. What we love most about this traditionally a.m. powerlifting meal is that you can transform it into a savory dish simply by changing the toppings or eating it as a side.
Powerlifting P.M. Meal Ideas
Here’s where your protein really comes into play. Physicians, nutritionists and fitness experts recommend that you get your protein from very lean cuts of red meat, chicken or oily fish. You’ll want to stay away from fatty cuts of red meat and pork. Healthy fats can come from lean meats, avocados, olives, olive oil, and nuts and seeds. Your fats should make up no more than 20% of your daily caloric intake.
Salmon Bowl with Brown Rice & Veggies | As part of a healthy, balanced diet, eat at least 2-3 portions (3.5-oz serving) of oily, or fatty fish a week. Oily fish include anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, sturgeon, lake trout and tuna, and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In our kitchen we like to mix brown rice and tri-color quinoa for added texture and depth.
Shrimp & Arugula Salad | Marinate your shrimp in fresh squeezed lemon juice, cook and season with salt and pepper to taste. This is a simple, but satisfying meal with just a few ingredients: arugula, basil, English cucumbers and giant croutons.
Tofu-Spinach Stir-Fry | Go above and beyond soy sauce--combine sesame oil, garlic, ginger and honey for a slightly sweet finishing drizzle or dipping sauce. Complementary veggies include carrots, broccoli and snap peas.
Chicken, Beet & Kale Salad | Another simple, but nutritious salad goes a long way in keeping you satisfied throughout the afternoon or evening. Grill or bake your chicken breast. Try baby kale for a lighter texture and less bite.
Powerlifting Snack Ideas
Cottage Cheese Bowl | A ½ cup of 1% lowfat cottage cheese contains 14 grams of protein and just 80 calories. Top with fiber rich berries for an a.m. snack or add shredded veggies for a savory approach in the afternoon.
Mango Salsa & Blue Corn Chips | Blue corn chips get their color from the same anthocyanins (i.e., a class of compounds with antioxidant effects) that pigment blue corn as those found in blueberries and other blue, red and purple foods and plants. Research has found blue corn chips to contain 20% more protein than white corn chips, and less starch.
Turkey Roll-Ups | Slice veggies (carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.) and cheese into strips and roll up using thinly sliced turkey breast. Each wrap contains about 5 grams of protein from the turkey and cheese combined, plus added nutrients and fiber from the veggies.
Hummus & Veggies or Pita | Hummus is made from cooked and mashed chickpeas often blended with olive oil. A ⅓-cup serving contains 6.5 grams of protein. A 4-inch whole wheat pita contains 15.5 grams of carbohydrates.
Tuna | Just 1 cup of tuna is loaded with 39 grams of protein--a perfectly healthy, high protein and convenient snack at almost any time of day. Tuna is also an oily fish that contains omega-3 fatty acids as well as other important vitamins and nutrients.
We hope this dietary and EMS guide for powerlifters and bodybuilders is helpful as you weigh your options for how to move forward with your strength training. It’s important that you continue with your current powerlifting workout routine, making gradual modifications to your diet. Make sure to consult your physician and trainer before beginning a new diet and exercise program, or before making significant changes to your existing diet and exercise regimen to help avoid injury.
Now that you know what and how to eat, learn why it’s equally important to rest and recover for a balanced approach to wellness.