Podcast Episode 47 Transcript – Competition Day Nutrition for Powerlifters

Aidan Muir

Hello, and welcome to episode 47 of the Ideal Nutrition podcast. My name is Aidan Muir and I’m here with my cohost Leah Higl, and today we’re going to be talking about nutrition for power lifters on competition day. Obviously competition day nutrition is a little bit different from everyday nutrition, so we’re probably just going to be going through some of the differences and what you should be looking to [00:00:30] be doing on those days.

Leah Higl

I guess a good place to start is kind of prefacing that good comp day nutrition can mean that you have a really good comp day. It can mean that you get that PR or you get that total that you’re after and it can contribute to great performance. The thing about doing comp nutrition wrong is you can tank you on the day. Especially as you get more into the day, usually it’s a good five to six hours. If you’ve not planned your nutrition well, [00:01:00] and you’re not doing the right things by the time you get to your bench and especially your dead lift, it’s going to feel quite crappy if you’ve not fueled yourself and hydrated yourself appropriately. A good place to start would be don’t do anything that makes you feel worse. So before we get into what makes you feel good or what might work best for most people, even when we go into all that stuff, even if we talk about something and you go “that probably is not going to make me feel really good”, cool, don’t [00:01:30] do it. It’s always going to be really individual. Like there are people that can sit down to a full fried rice meal between lifts and be okay, and there’s people that can’t. So it is going to be very individual at the end of the day and you kind of have to make a choice, what’s going to feel good for you and what isn’t. It’s probably going to take a bit of practice, but we’re going to run you through what would be optimal for performance in the theory side of things.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. I definitely see there’s something where if you nail things, you probably get [00:02:00] a small boost. If you mess things up, you probably get a pretty significant reduction in your performance. So the first rule is obviously do no harm, but then in terms of focusing on foods to fuel your performance and trying to get the most you can, there’s one major guideline that I’d like to start off with, which is typically most of your food throughout the day should be relatively high carb, low fiber, low to moderate protein, and low to moderate in fat. Obviously, as I said, you [00:02:30] go with things that you know work for you. Well, more than that’s more important. But like without further context, those are things I’d be looking at going through those individually, high carb is a bit of a no brainer just cause it’s our best source of energy on the day.

You don’t really need masses of glycogen or glucose or anything like that for a power lifting competition. But we do know that having some carbohydrate in your system can make you a little bit more explosive, a little bit more powerful, and just feel better as well. And the low fiber one is basically just based on digestion. [00:03:00] It makes it easier to digest if it is lower fiber, we don’t want to be spending heaps of energy on digestion. We just want to be feeling good throughout the day. Same kind of concept with the low slash moderate fat intake. That’s not a huge thing, but the more fat in the meal, probably the longer it takes to digest. If you have a massive high fat meal, it probably takes longer to digest and you may not feel as good and the low slash moderate protein one… Like on the day, your body composition, you’re not going to make that much of a change. Protein doesn’t really matter. You don’t [00:03:30] need to be high protein. The reason why I say low slash moderate is going to back to the concept of you probably don’t want your day’s intake to be massively different to your normal intake. Because if you normally feel good with your normal intake, you wouldn’t necessarily want to make a massive change. I’ve heard people use lines like “there’s heaps of power lifters who pretty much never have added sugar ever”. And they’re in competition day, they just have a ton of sugar, they have lollies they have Powerade. They have [crosstalk 00:03:59]

Leah Higl

Complete opposite.

Aidan Muir

[00:04:00] Yeah, and that fits my guidelines. That’s high carb that’s low fiber, all of those kind of things, but it’s a complete opposite of what they normally do. And they might feel kind of sick if they do that, so that’s also where the moderate protein comes into play. Cause it’s like, at least it keeps some semblance. Like if this is a, as you mentioned a six to eight hour kind of day, like in some cases, you wouldn’t normally go that much of the day without having at least a decent meal with some form of protein in it.

Leah Higl

So if we’re worried about gut [00:04:30] upset or GI distress on comp day, which a lot of people are, something else you can do in relation to avoiding that would be to choose more low FODMAP foods or go more low FODMAP either the days leading up and competition day or just on competition day. So this could be for people who do have IBS and are prone to IBS flare ups, particularly when stressed or nervous, but even just people that feel icky on a comp day that just have GI upset [00:05:00] on a comp day, which a lot of people, when you factor in those nerves and stress of competing. So what this could possibly look like is maybe going for some more low FODMAP-ed grains. So things like rice and oats over your wheat and bread based products, it could mean maybe going less onion or garlic.

So if you make yourself like a spag bol for your meal, maybe leaving the onion and garlic out, going like a gluten free wheat free pasta, you might want to avoid the low FODMAP fruits and things like [00:05:30] fruit juice and dried fruit. I feel like dried fruit is a… It’s one that trips people up a lot in terms of people try that on comp day and then feel really sick because they’ve never usually have dried fruit. It is one that is that usually a higher FODMAP food, so in some cases that might give you GI upset if you’re not used to it. You might go low lactose dairy products if you’re having dairy – and I just preface that with, because a lot of FODMAPs overlap with higher carb foods, you don’t want to just go low [00:06:00] carb. So you don’t just look up the low FODMAP diet and go, “Oh, I’m just going to eat like meat on the day”. Because that goes against like the guidelines we spoke about previously, but maybe finding more of those low FODMAP sources of carbohydrates for the day so it’s a bit more easily digestible if you are prone to gut upset.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. And even when I’m doing just competition day plans for people without any mention of IBS or anything like that, if I have a choice between regular pasta and rice, oftentimes I choose rice [00:06:30] for that reason. If I’m choosing the vegetables, oftentimes I’ll choose like a lower FODMAP vegetable like spinach rather than something like, say rock or something like that. Same kind of concept just because it just reduces the odds of issues coming into play. It’s just a percentages thing. Like what if me doing that helps 10% more people, it’s still kind of worthwhile looking into.

Leah Higl

It’s definitely worth it even if you are thinking that you’re probably not super prone to it. It could just make you feel a little bit lighter on the day.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. And for people who are prone to it, like doing it for a few days, [00:07:00] leading up to comp definitely makes sense. Even like an endurance athletes, heaps of people do that. Even for people who haven’t done the full low FODMAP diet, haven’t done the elimination style kind of process re instruction, it can still make sense leading up to competition day.

The next one is caffeine. So this is an interesting topic to me because the research on the topic is kind of different to what people do in practice. It’s only going to be a small benefit, but it’s something that I like to share with [00:07:30] all of my athletes. So what the research shows is that five to seven milligrams of caffeine in the lead up to one rep max is the evidence based range. Everybody knows that caffeine hypes you up and everything like that and I’ve probably talked about it a little bit on the podcast, but it literally does make you stronger and more powerful. On average, the research on a topic showing that amount of caffeine leads to a 3-4% improvement in one rep max on average… Very individual, but that’s [00:08:00] the average. And I like sharing that research with a lot of people because most people don’t plan their caffeine out like that.

Most people do what I would honestly recommend, but they just do it based… What makes them feel good basically. But I like talking about this range because what if you have never had that high amount of caffeine? Cause there’s a lot of caffeine and I’ll put context around that. But what if you’ve never gone that high, you could be leaving performance on the table. Obviously there’re downsides are going that high in some cases like some people don’t feel good [00:08:30] when they do that, but it’s probably, if you’re going to compete for 10 years, it’s probably worth trying at some stage. For context, it’s a lot, five to seven milligrams for somebody who is a 100 kilo athlete, that would be 500 to 700 milligrams, that’s pretty easy maths. One, 500 mil Monster is 160 milligrams. So we’re looking at like three monsters, basically, 1.5 liters of energy drinks. [crosstalk 00:09:01]

[00:09:00] Pre-workout, one serve. So like typically two scoops can be anywhere from like 240 to 300 milligrams. So you could have a monster and pre-workout, and it’s probably getting closer and a shot of coffee is often 80 milligrams, but it’s super variable. There’s a lot of research showing that it can be way higher or way lower than that. And when we’re talking about quite high dosages of caffeine, I don’t really like the margin of error. I wouldn’t mind having one coffee or two coffees or something like that in there, [00:09:30] but I wouldn’t be trying to get it all through coffee because what, if it is significantly higher or lower? It’s not really as scientific or specific, so to speak. So yeah, I’d probably use a combination of stuff to get up to that high amount. Obviously for smaller athletes, it’s less and for larger athletes, it’s more. I don’t know about you, but when I’m working with people who are like 150 plus kilos, I typically don’t go this high.

Yeah. And there’s no reason from what I’ve seen in the research that it really differs based [00:10:00] on body weight based on that. But I also have not seen research on 150 kilo athletes. So I’m not that confident. It’s an interesting one, but that begs another question. So powering meets are often, I don’t know, three to eight hours long, depending on if it’s a single lift or a three lift or however many people are in there. So it’s a logistical challenge. All this research is done on leading up to one rep max… There’s no research on power lifting competitions that I’m aware of, which therefore [00:10:30] means, how do we know? Should we go that high in the lead up to squats and just like, sit on that for the rest of the day? Should we have top up caffeines throughout the day? Should we go higher?

Is there a downside from being hyped up for eight hours straight, that then leaves you drain when deadlifts come around. That’s where a lot of personal preference comes into play where it’s like, I typically will have people who will have just below that range, like 30 minutes before their squat opener. Cause it takes about 30 to 60 minutes for caffeine to peak in the system, [00:11:00] but then I’ll just have them top up throughout the day. But if somebody finds themselves drained at the end of the day and they feel like that’s a variable, obviously we’ll change it. If somebody feels great doing that, then we’ll keep it the same. And we kind of just play around based on that because for some people that’s too much, other people it’s too little. There’s some people who love even more than that.

Leah Higl

Yeah. It’s so variable with caffeine and I’m generally with that range, I’d always say don’t just jump straight to that in competition and go that’s the first time you’re going to try that kind of dosage always tried in training, see how it feels. And [00:11:30] then also factor in you’re probably… For most people there are going to be nerves and stuff around competition day. And is that caffeine dose going to throw you over into the anxiety range and put your performance in that way? It’s so variable, got to trial it, test it, see what feels good for you.

So the next part we’ll be talking about is hydration. So hydration for a power lifting meet, not typically super complicated. It can be more nuanced and complicated if you’ve done [00:12:00] a weight cut and then you’ve got to do a refuel and stuff like that. That is kind of out of the context of this podcast, but we have done an episode on weight cutting, and that was episode 16. So if you want to hear about that, you can go there, but generally talking about hydration for a power lifting meet, my general recommendation is to in the days leading up to that comp if you’re not doing a weight cut, just maintain good hydration.

So leading in there’s that week, just making sure you’re getting enough fluid in day to day. [00:12:30] And then the day of, I just recommend for my athletes to sip on fluids throughout the whole day. So make sure that there is like a water bottle there for you that you can kind of continuously sip on when you need it. If it’s a particularly hot and humid day and you’re losing a lot of sweat throughout the day, you might consider something like a sports drink and that could also be a source of carbohydrates for you as well as fluid and electrolytes. But I wouldn’t generally overthink hydration at a power lifting meet other than have it available and try to sip on it throughout [00:13:00] the day.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. Pretty simple. And it’s just putting that into practice. Some people forget or whatever. But it’s pretty simple. The start I always go, I don’t know if you said it, but that 2% kind of number, if your body weight decreases by 2% to dehydration, you are weaker, you are less coordinated. And I point to that stat all the time because well, we’re trying to be stronger. We’re trying to avoid that from happening. So as you sort of know that it’s not just common sense, like you should do this thing. It like actually impacts your performance.

Leah Higl

It makes a difference, [00:13:30] for sure.

Aidan Muir

The next thing we’re talk about is timing of food. It’s a bit of a boring one to me because once again, this one actually is quite a common sense thing. It’s just based on how you feel throughout the day. So ideally say lifting starts in the morning, you probably want to be having breakfast two hours before that, you probably want to have a similar breakfast to your normal breakfast. And then like 15, 30 minutes before your squat openers or whatever, have some caffeine. And then snacking throughout the day, and we’ll probably talk about more specific like snacks and foods and [00:14:00] stuff like that in a second, but snacking throughout squats and then throughout the day. And then also like after you bench press, because it’s going to be squat, bench, deadlift and there’ll be gaps between. After you bench probably make sense when to have a meal if you’re going to have a meal in there. Some people don’t want to have meals just because it’s hard to eat on comp day.

Leah Higl

I never have a meal on comp day. I think it makes me feel absolutely so sick even if I keep it simple. And I know a lot of athletes like that and I know a lot of athletes that like [00:14:30] to have their meal later in the day or earlier in the day again, that comes to individuals.

Aidan Muir

I guess we’ll jump into that. So we’ll talk about meals then we’ll talk about snacks. So what I like to do for people is I like to have a simple meal that fits that criteria, being high carb, low fiber, all those kind of things, low to moderate protein… Probably relatively low in vegetables, but still containing some vegetables just to keep it similar to what people normally do, but not so much that it’s high fiber or high FODMAP. And I like to have it there [00:15:00] and people just eat however much they want to eat. If they want to eat the entire meal cause they feel comfortable doing so, go for it. If they don’t feel like it, probably just having a little bit and then putting it away or whatever is probably how I like it. Anything to add on that?

Leah Higl

No, it’s so individual, it’s hard to get really specific about it. But if you do have a meal, I guess just keep it lower fiber than maybe you’d usually go and a little lower fat.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. I also like to people to have more food on hand than they probably are going to need.

Leah Higl

That’s a good point.

Aidan Muir

Because appetite [00:15:30] just changes on day to day. I’ve only done a few comps myself, but there was… First comp I did, I didn’t get that hungry. Second comp packed the exact same amount of food because I was like “Oh, that worked well the first time”, and I was starving when deadlifts came around and I actually missed a deadlift and then ate and then hit that number that I missed. And it actually did play a role and I’m not going to say that’s the only thing but it was very clear to me and that’s advice I’d give to everybody. That’s just have more food than you think you need. Cause like the worst case scenario is you just don’t eat it.

Leah Higl

Yeah. And I always say also have a bit of a variety, [00:16:00] generally I’m sweets only person on comp day, but I’ll always pack some salty snacks in case that’s what I feel like on comp day. Because I think a lot of people like you really can only eat sometimes what you feel like. You’re going to probably struggle if you’ve packed something and you’re like “Ah, man, I really don’t feel like that right now”. So just having a variety of options can be helpful.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. So common stuff we give clients?

Leah Higl

Snack wise. So things I’d usually go for would be things like [00:16:30] rice cakes or even rice cakes with honey. I love a good, simple muesli bar. So things like LCMs and kind of those like kids muesli bars, almost like candy. I personally like lollies and stuff on comp day, but you can go for things like [inaudible 00:16:48], sports drink, rice pudding is a good one I feel, just cause it does tend to be low fat, low fiber. Sandwiches are great, so there’s a lot of snack options for you. [00:17:00] And again, it will be depend on preference. This has been episode 47 of the Ideal Nutrition podcast. If you’re able to leave a rating or review, that would be so greatly appreciated. But otherwise thanks for tuning in.