by Tom Daly uploaded 5th May 2013
Nutrition is a major part of any sport and Powerlifting is of course no different. Depending on who you ask, it ranges from 70-90% of what determines your progress or lack thereof. Either way that is fairly significant and highlights a need for examination, if we want results.
Through the past few years of training, and researching muscle building and strength, I have seen many conflicting theories on diet structure and composition in relation to increasing muscle mass and power as quickly as possible. These range from the “ see food” or garbage disposal (tm) diet to a more moderate 6 small to medium meals a day, or the basic but arguably very effective squats, oats and milk structure.
My own studies, scientific articles, anecdotal evidence and a healthy supply of experimentation has led me to believe that it really isn't overly complicated. ( Highly ironic if you think about it) On a basic level, the major questions which come up frequently can be answered with single sentences rather than an overly complex array of tables, charts and diagrams. You don't even need full sentences, such is its simplicity. Having trouble adding mass? Eat more food. Want to lose weight? Eat less food. Now you can add a little more detail to these answers of course, to ensure the majority of mass added is lean mass, and the majority of mass lost is fat but the basic principle remains the same.
The body is a complex machine whose inner workings take years to understand but like even the most complex of machinery, when you break down and examine its simplest processes it is not difficult to predict its behavior. ( Of course this is assuming a lack of pathology)
At the simplest level, before we descend into combinations of macro nutrients and the importance of magnesium to CNS function, the body needs a certain amount of calories to maintain its weight based on metabolism and activity levels. Consume more than this and you will gain weight, consume less, you will lose weight and consume just this amount and your weight will remain stable.
I remember sitting in lecture halls listening to nutrition lectures and realising that, complicate matters as we might, these basics are the foundation for everything we do, and try as we might to make it seem so, you don't need a dietetics qualification to design a healthy, balanced and effective diet. So I'm not going to bore you to death with this article and launch into an overly scientific breakdown of a perfectly healthy diet and nutrient partitioning. I simply wish to attempt to dispel many nutritional rumors and fallacies which have permeated the Powerlifting zeitgeist ( a fantastic german word, roughly translating into English as the spirit of the time) leading to many people deciding that lifting weights and everything that goes along with it, is highly complicated. Worse still leading many others to assume that they simply cannot gain much size or strength at all, no matter what they do.
There is significant evidence that the following myths are untrue. I realise that many will be uninterested in reading scientific studies on these topics ( as to be fair, they are written in extremely boring fashion without exception) but I encourage everyone to read into anything that seems incorrect and I am happy to be proven wrong if my research is incorrect.
The first topic I will address is one which has been a popular assumption for many years but is easily debunked with a little thought.
1 - You can only absorb a certain amount of protein or nutrients in one sitting:
Now there may be an element of truth to this, i.e. if you end up vomiting or with diarrhea after a meal then yes you are unlikely to be absorbing much of your meal. However in general circumstances, the body is quite efficient at absorbing what we put into it.
The human body is not a fire and food is not diesel. It is not burned in one massive burst. The food which enters our bodies, is digested relatively slowly with different foods taking longer to be broken down. This results in the body absorbing nutrients in a steady stream rather than all at once regardless of the amount of food you gorge yourself on. Thus whether you eat 4 chicken breasts at once or 1 breast every 2 hours the result is roughly the same.
Now many will argue this point and state that many diet gurus will have people eat smaller meals more often to help lose weight or build muscle and assume this is for absorption reasons. It really isn't. It is possible that these gurus are mistaking correlation for causation. If we look at a group of fitness conscious individuals who likely have been fed this information from various unreliable sources and notice that they are in better shape than their couch potato counterparts, can we assume it is due to meal frequency? Of course we can't. Now for a real world example: If we could only absorb a certain amount of nutrients in one sitting then eating a large pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner would result in no more weight gain than eating a less calorie dense food as we would only absorb the same amount of nutrients either way. Thus people who are heavily overweight could only have gotten so by following a frequent meal plan greater than that of any powerlifter which is often simply not the case. So those of you who want to gain significant mass need not fret. You don't need to add a few more meals to an already full day to add size. You need to eat more at the meals you are already having. Eat the same number of meals as you do now, just try doubling your intake in those meals.If you don't gain weight very quickly, feel free to blame me and I will apologise in person.
To be more specific with regards protein, yes over a certain threshold this will be converted to glucose or body fat ( in simple terms) However this does not operate on a meal by meal basis but rather over time as our stomach does not work on a first come first served system. The body will use the amino acids it needs for repair and growth than the rest will either end up stored in a different form or excreted. However that doesn't mean we can't eat all our day's protein in three sittings and not make the same gains as breaking that into several meals, it simply means that our body will only use what it needs. So if we don't absorb some of the protein we take in, it's not due to eating too much in one sitting. From my own experience, I often eat over 100g of protein in one meal due to time constraints throughout the day and gained strength and size exactly as quickly as eating the same amount in smaller meals, which was a system I followed when I started training.
2 - You need a fast acting protein source quickly after training to avoid going catabolic and losing your gainz:
This is also simply not true. Once you take in enough nutrients throughout the day from good sources this really won't make a difference. As touched on in the previous paragraph, nutrients are absorbed slowly over time. Thus having a protein shake directly after training is not the important building block of a training program it is made out to be. Your body will use the amino acids in your system to repair the damage you do in training. It doesn't wait until you have a protein shake to do so. So if you run out of whey then you don't need to skip training. Also if you don't want to spend 80 euro on a tub of whey. Then buy chicken, which is fairly cheap if you shop in the right places, cook it, blend it and drink that. It works and tastes the same as eating it once you get over the mental block. I personally add oats and chocolate syrup and have this for breakfast if I am in a hurry.
My final point is not entirely nutritional but is related. This is mainly aimed at women who want to tone up and not add mass.
3 - It is possible to spot reduce body fat: Not really no
Doing a hundred sit ups won't get you a six pack. Nor will doing a few heavy curls leave you with massive arms. Doing heavy squats will develop your core to a much greater extent and then some Cardio and proper nutrition will allow you to show off these muscles. I hear people in the gym everyday talking about doing higher reps to tone up and shape their muscles, and buying expensive supplements to add muscle and burn fat. There is a reason this level of misinformation exists, there would be no money in the fitness industry if people figured out how simple the basics of weight loss or mass building really is.
In conclusion, lift heavy, eat big and sleep. You can make things as complex as you like but these three things will produce results if done consistently. The myths mentioned in this article were given credence by the bodybuilding and strength community due to the frequency with which they appeared on message boards and were spouted by gym rats. Repetition does not equal accuracy. It is also important to note that science is an ever advancing field. Our best research today may be contradicted by the best research of tomorrow. Thus it is important to remain up to date and not let age old assumptions limit your potential.
A little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing