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There is always a lot of prep that goes into getting ready for a competition (at least for me there is). I have been competing for almost 4 years now and I’m still playing around with nutrition during events so when I am asked by others newer to the sport how to eat, I sometimes struggle with giving advice. It’s not because I don’t have thoughts on this, but because there are a million ways it can be done and some methods are better than others; however, I will share some of the ways I’ve gone about nutrition and eating prior to and during my events.
I am sure there are “better” or “cleaner” ways to eat, and it’s going to be very individualized. I should disclose, I do not cut weight for my weight class (I usually drop about 3-4lbs only from not lifting for a week prior) and that’s going to entail a whole different way of eating. I tried it once—hated life! I also sit too far away from the lighter weight class after years of lifting and gaining muscle, so it would be a struggle for me to cut. I also do not suggest weight cuts for any novice lifter—especially if you’re entering your first competition – but again, there are others who do this and that is fine.
My first powerlifting meet was much different than I do things now. I had been keto cycling for a while—not for any reason really, but a few of the guys I trained with were and I wanted to try it. So, while everyone else at the meet was walking around eating carby goodness, here I was, over in the corner, so happy I could eat a damn banana, rice cakes, and yogurt. I really didn’t know any different at that time. The short time I prepped for that was not filled with thoughts of what I should eat.
By my next few meets I had gotten much better! I was now that “typical powerlifter” walking around with candy and eating a donut after weigh-ins.
When I traveled to compete in Vegas for IPL worlds, and LA for the Fit Expo, I realized that getting a good meal in the night before, and eating during the event was even more important. I wasn’t able to bring my own food like I had in the past as I was flying to these events so after weigh-ins for Worlds, my dad and I hit the buffet. I made sure to keep it somewhat simple, and stayed with safe foods—had an omelet, bacon, fruit, and of course a waffle for breakfast. The night before I had a steak Chipotle bowel. The main goal was protein, and carbs I knew I could digest well.
For the Fit Expo it was a little different—I had somehow weighed in about 7 lbs. less than expected and felt weak. After weigh-ins we again went out to eat. This time, though, it was like carbs galore. I had tomato juice, oysters, an entire basket of bread and butter, and then chicken Alfredo for lunch. Again, the goal was loading carbs and getting my salt intake high.
Now we arrive at the first Strongman event I did this summer. There were no weight classes – all the women were in open division. So my plan was to carb load for 3 days prior this time, instead of doing it all the night before. I won’t lie, I love carbs (who doesn’t right?) so this was as fun as it sounds! I ate normal during the days, but had huge bowls of pasta each night. I added salt to my water, I had sweet potato’s at every meal, and the night before had a hamburger and ice cream. This plan worked—I weighed myself the morning of and had bloated up 6 lbs. I felt strong, and had an awesome event!
As you can see, I play around with what to eat and timing a lot. I don’t think I have it all figured out. I know there are plenty ways to go about this. What I can tell you, is there are some things that are important the night before and day of.
The Night Before
I personally know a handful of strength coaches who advocate for red meat and a carb source like sweet potatoes, baked potato, rice, pasta, even Chinese buffets the night before an event. Stick with good fats like butter, olive, or coconut oil, and try to keep the sodium intake semi high. I have added small amounts of salt to my water to increase sodium intake, and I love salt and vinegar chips, etc. I wouldn’t overdo it, and this is not the time to try new foods as you don’t know how your stomach may react to them. Last time I competed at a local Strongman event (on very short notice) I had half a rotisserie chicken, salt and vinegar chips, and Mike n’ Ikes. (I know some of you reading this will probably be scared of that.)
This can be the hardest part as most of the time you are nervous, and may not actually be that hungry. I still have this problem after many competitions. The best advice I can give is to try and get a good breakfast in. If you are not a huge breakfast person, have something small. I usually have yogurt with granola and a shake, oatmeal and eggs, etc. I try and get a slower digesting carb in paired with protein and some fats so that I at least have some food in me. I haven’t done a meet in a while with a same-day weigh-in, but when I did, after I weighed in was when I ate this small meal. Throughout the day, and before a lift/event, you want more of a quick digesting carb—think about simple sugars. Candy, juice, bananas, and yes, donuts! I personally eat baby food. I get the squeeze pouches of bananas, plums, etc. It’s one of the easiest things on your digestion (it’s meant for a baby) and has the simple sugars I am looking for. I usually have a PB&J sandwich at about lunch time (if it’s an all-day event) I also drink pear juice, and do drink a lot of Pedialyte—especially for strongman where I am outside and it’s a long day. I have a shake too, if I am still feeling hungry, but don’t want a lot of food sitting in my stomach.
As you can see, it’s really about knowing your body. Like I said, this is not the time to experiment with new foods, or go super crazy on foods you don’t normally eat. If you usually eat chicken and sweet potatoes, don’t eat pizza and a greasy burger the night before. Stick to smaller meals if you can’t stomach that much food, and watch how your body feels or reacts to the food. Try and get enough carbs loaded in, along with protein and salt. Make sure you have some simple sugars on hand during the meet, enough Pedialyte to keep hydrated, and even if you are not hungry, try and eat a little bit so that you have some energy come your turn to lift.
Then go lift! That’s the fun part