8 Questions Strength Athletes Should Ask About Their Diets

I’m about to do something very difficult; rewrite an article that hundreds of authors have already taken on and challenge something that is on a steady rise to stardom in the strongman society. This subject can best be addressed in a FAQ style format to just cover the basics. I would love to start dialectics on the topic and know that this is the best way to find some common ground on the subject of:

Nutrition. I am constantly asked for strongman programming and training advice. It’s been that way for over a decade. Elite competitors know that there is a science to getting stronger and peaking for an event. There are often things that experienced coaches can see that others are unaware of. Many of these aspects are small in detail but huge in payoff. The results are often immediate and amazing. To my shock the subject of nutrition has come up more and more frequently in the last year. While I find it great that athletes are taking an interest in upping every part of their game I feel they are over investing in the subject without educating themselves first.

What is an athlete’s diet supposed to do?

Provide adequate nutrition for training, recovery, and competition, all while maintaining an ideal weight for the athlete to compete at. Sometimes the athlete must gain or lose weight to accommodate their goals and the diet is going to be mostly responsible for this task.

What are the challenges with the responsibilities of the nutrition plan?

Humans are biological machines, not mechanical ones, and sometimes small changes in eating will affect one person more than another. In cases like this a where your diet is extremely sensitive a pro can really help out. Also, sticking to the plan all the time helps understand how the system is succeeding or failing the athlete.  This leaves room for human error and makes perfecting the diet more difficult.

Is there a proven path to success for many athletes?

Paleo, Ketogenic diet for athletes, Zone, If It Fits Your Macros? All different styles of diets. They simply differ in ratios of proteins, fats, and carbs eaten and what the sources of those foods are. But they have one thing in common that must be understood:

Many diets share one commonality: control calories.

Depending on the foods you like you can find a diet that fits your schedule and goals. A mass diet and weight loss diet really only vary in one aspect: are the calories more or less than you need to maintain weight?

Athlete X had massive success with the “rainforest” diet, will it work for me?

Quite honestly (and this is a huge take away point from this article) the diet probably worked so well because Athlete X was free eating (no plan and just eating whatever) and started to control their calories because they paid money to be on a diet. This is part of the placebo effect. X wanted the diet to work, followed the diet exactly, hence cutting much junk food from their daily routine. The fact that they paid for it will have a greater impact on their commitment and their ability succeeded. By all means, if you need nutrition help and the only way you stay on plan is to pay for it, then do so.

I can’t afford what most diets cost, what do I do?

There is literally a calculator for your metabolic rate and calorie outline on the internet for every single diet plan out there, free. If you are willing to take control of your food choices and consumption you can do this yourself.

Is a strict diet essential to being an elite athlete?

I have worked with and been friends with a large number of NFL and NHL athletes. The abilities of these people are in the top one percent of the one percent. To the amazement of many fans, their diets are often that of a college frat boy. The same is true for many strongmen, too. While they may say they have a tight nutrition plan, just observe them eating at contests. Plate after plate of food is consumed with little thought to any fact other than the enjoyment. Protein first, and then pile it on.

It’s difficult to be undernourished in the United States. Food is relatively inexpensive and easy to get. Your body tells you if you are hungry and fatigue levels should indicate that you may not be consuming enough. Humans are also super efficient at saving calories for later and adjusting the metabolism to deal with the food they are given. Consistent weight gain or weight loss is often a challenge.

So why the hype on diet?

Athletes want to believe they are doing everything they can to be a success. Making sure the diet is working is part of that process Never forget health and wellbeing are important too. This is a short career for anyone and you should be concerned about the long term effects of your diet choices. Also some diets (like Keto) are touted to have medical benefits that may help people with illnesses. Make sure the program fits the situation.

I’ll perform better if I have abs though, right?

Visible muscles have no impact on the outcome of an event. Some athletes perform their best at 7 percent body fat others at 20. May athletes assume they will perform better if they are more muscular. This “Rocky IV” effect isn’t always true. Muscle costs a lot of energy to run. Plan around performance not vanity.

This topic wouldn’t leave my thoughts after having a 90 minute conversation with Dr. Trevor Kashey, most likely the smartest guy in the sports nutrition field today. One of the points he made was that he spends more of his time trying to talk his athletes and normal clients out of doing complicated plans, but instead having a better relationship with food. His concern seemed centered around anyone being able to get it together for 90 days, but is this really the best plan for long term success?

When I work with my my athletes, I explain that following the plan I set up long term (years, not months) will have them see the best gains for their entire career. Basic exercises combined with the correct volume and frequency scheme will provide the athlete with a great amount of strength and foundation.   Eating whole food (like meats, vegetables and starches) in reasonable amounts is the same way to think about athletic nutrition. Build a foundation that you can work with day in and day out and you only then need minor adjustments to fit your competition schedule during the year.

Featured image: Satyrenko/Shutterstock

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.