Today’s topic is something that I’m often asked about. I haven’t blogged about it specifically before, because I don’t consider myself an expert in powerlifting or strong(wo)man. Heck, I haven’t competed for more than a year now!
Nevertheless, this is what I do (did?) and recommend that others do in the days leading up to a strength competition. The following recommendations assume that you are comfortably within your weight class and not trying to cut weight via water and carb manipulation (if you are, see this post instead). Keep in mind that this is what works for me and my clients, but it won’t necessarily work for everyone.
One month out
When you are approaching your competition or meet, yet still several weeks away, you want to really pay attention to your recovery methods. You must ensure that you’re eating enough to fuel every workout, but also be careful to avoid eating so much to “fuel your training” that you wind up in a higher weight class. Eat at a maintenance level of calories or slightly above.
If you’re preparing for your first competition, don’t worry about weight classes at all. Just weigh in where you weigh in. There’s also no need to purposely pack on the weight right before a competition, as it will likely only slow you down and modify your leverages. You want to avoid any major changes right before a competition.
As you get closer to competition day, your workouts will likely feel heavier and harder. It is crucial that you eat and sleep enough to counter this, or one lousy, poorly-fuelled workout will really shake your confidence at a time you don’t need it to.
One week out
This week will likely involve a deload or complete rest as you inch closer towards the big day. Although you won’t be training as hard, resist the urge to cut back on calories. It is crucial that you keep your calories high, even if nerves and simultaneous lack of training kill your appetite. It’s really important to keep your carbohydrate intake high, as those glucose stores will fuel you on comp day. If you’re hovering close to your weight limit, watch your sodium intake this week.
Allocate the extra time you have not training this week towards rest and sleep. You’re going to need it!
The night before
Eat a big meal, but not something completely out of the ordinary. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of people who generally avoid dairy and gluten loading up on foods like pizza and ice cream the night before a competition, to then suffer stomach cramps all night long and spend half of their comp day running back and forth from the toilet.
My go-to meals are steak and mashed potatoes, pasta bolognaise or a burger and fries. I always choose red meat as it’s higher in calories. I always eat dessert, too – something like cake, ice cream or a donut. My body doesn’t react badly to these foods as I include them in my regular diet, but I know enough about my body to avoid pizza, milkshakes or anything super cheesy.
If you don’t eat certain foods in your regular life, don’t choose the night before your competition to experiment. Save the blow-out for your post-comp meal!
I recommend having a normal, or slightly larger than normal, breakfast as if you were on your way to the gym to do a regular workout. About 90 minutes to two hours before the competition starts, I typically have eggs and bacon on toast with a side of fruit and a bucket of coffee to fire me up.
I then wait about an hour after the comp starts before eating anything else. I differ to most competitors in that I like to eat as normally as possible during the day of competition. Most avoid eating big meals and just survive on sugary lollies, chocolates, donuts and bread. I prefer to prep a couple of big tupperware containers full of chicken and rice and/or pasta, and eat small servings throughout the day to keep my energy up.
I save my one sugary treat until right before my last event, when I need a final burst of energy. If I eat foods high in sugar throughout the whole day it makes me feel too queazy. It will take a few competitions’ worth of experimentation to figure out what works best for you!
I know some people get really nervous during competitions and don’t feel like eating afterwards, when everything is over. As I tend to eat a lot throughout the day, I prefer to wait a couple of hours before eating a big post-comp meal.
That said, I always have a protein shake and something like a banana or more chocolate to kick start the recovery process. Remember that, even if your total work time for the entire day is only a few minutes, your muscles will have taken an absolute beating, so it’s important to get some protein and carbs to them immediately. Then you can eat whatever you want! My post-competition tradition is a burger, obviously.
Have you ever competed? Do you do anything differently to me?
PS. Starting tomorrow, I will be backpacking through Southeast Asia, so my internet access may be a little sporadic for the rest of the month. I will be checking emails when I can, so please be a little more patient when waiting for a response. Thank you!