Eating for Strength: The Importance of Nutrition in Strongman
When I began competing in Strongman at the age of 24, I was eating everything in sight. My diet consisted of frozen foods, lots of pork, and whatever I could find that was on sale. The goal was to get as big and strong as possible. My thought process was that as long as I kept lifting and eating, I would accomplish my goal, because that’s exactly how things had worked in the past. What I failed to realize is that when you’re in your early twenties, you can get away with just about anything. Once your metabolism starts to slow down however, those plans are as good as garbage.
During that first year of my Strongman career, I ran myself into the ground. I gained a wealth of competition experience, but picked up several nagging injuries along the way and by the end of the season I was 10 pounds heavier but not a bit stronger.
Stubborn and naïve, I didn’t learn my lesson. I continued to lift heavy and eat everything I wanted. By age 27 I had ballooned up to over 200 pounds (on my 5’8” frame) and although I was strong, I was just another underachieving, overweight, wannabe athlete. Injured again, one snowy January morning I saw the giant milk bag in the mirror looking back at me and I made a decision: It was time for a change.
Fast-forward to the present day and not only have I shed my Michelin Man-physique, but I’m now one of the top 175-lb Strongman athletes on the planet. The change? I started treating my nutrition like I treat my training. The results didn’t come overnight but staying consistent with a few small habits not only changed my athletic future, but improved my health along the way.
There’s a misconception in sport that food=fuel, which is laughable at best. Food isn’t fuel, and humans aren’t cars. If life were that simple, we’d all be healthy, lean and strong as hell. Unlike simple fuel, food contains many different components and is affected by the ever-changing environment of the body. If you consume the right foods in the right amounts at the right times, and if your body is healthy and functioning properly, you’ll get the intended benefit from your actions. That’s a lot of “ifs”, and if you eat the wrong thing under the wrong circumstances, your body will trend the wrong direction.
In my experience, most Strongman athletes tend to overdo it with training and think they can compensate by overdoing it to an equal extent with food. Newsflash: Too much training is bad enough and even if you can get away with this, you can really only overcompensate enough nutritionally by eating energy-rich/nutrient-poor food sources (read: sugar and processed foods). The issue is that these food sources can cause other issues like inflammation and compromised gut health, which will impair your ability to build muscle and burn fat. Try as you might, this haphazard approach will have you spinning your wheels. More is not always better, and this is a lesson that most Strongman athletes learn the hard way through stalled progress and injuries incurred while trying to force expected gains.
Training + Food ≠ Automatic Gains
Training + Food = [Digestion/Absorption/Inflammation/Hormonal Changes] = Gains or Losses
Training is incredibly important, but if you’re not equally as concerned about your eating habits and lifestyle, you’ll never reach your full potential. Strongman is a sport of many demands. You have to be strong, you have to be fast and you have to have endurance. These demands tax the different energy systems of the human body. In order to be successful, you have to train these systems the same as you train your muscles and movement patterns. Do you have the metabolic flexibility to effectively use fat substrates for energy once you’ve burned through your carbs? If not, you’re surely the athlete who burns out prematurely in longer events.
If you’re the type to never miss a training session, why is it justifiable to half-ass your nutrition? The truth is that even if your training is right on point, it really isn’t unless you put the same effort into your nutrition. Fine-tune your programming as much as you’d like, if you’re slacking in the recovery department, you’ll leave a trail of gains in your wake.
Here are a few important points to consider when it comes to eating for Strongman.
- More isn’t always better, even when bulking. Just like having an intelligent training plan, having a quantifiable nutrition plan based on day-to-day energy requirements will always give you better results than winging it whenever you’re hungry.
- On that same line of thought, don’t overdo it on protein. Around 1g per pound of body weight is plenty. Understand your macronutrients and the individual value of each.
- Minimize supplementation. You’ll always get better results when relying on a robust diet of nutritious whole food sources. Shakes are best saved for training sessions and pills and powders cannot replicate the value of real food.
- Focus on nutrients-dense food choices. Most meals should focus around meat/fish and vegetables (yes, they will make you stronger). Carbs are an incredibly important macronutrient for athletes, but relying too much on this relatively nutrient-poor macronutrient can damage health and stunt performance goals.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is to have a plan. Eating based on cravings and convenience is a surefire recipe for limiting progress in the gym. The Strongman universe is veiled in the manta that more is always better, but it’s the athletes who buck this trend that rise to the top. If you’re willing to put in the work in the gym, you should be willing to do the same in the kitchen. Treat your diet with the same dedication as you do your training and you’ll take your performance to the next level.
Dain Wallis is a Nutrition & Strength Coach from Toronto, Canada, as well as a competitive Strongman in the 175 weight class. A graduate of the Physical & Health Education program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Dain holds a CSCS and is one of only 100 people worldwide with the Pn2 Advanced Nutrition Coaching certification. A Body IO® Coach as well as a contributor for several media outlets including Bodybuilding.com and The Huffington Post, Dain specializes in helping athletes achieve optimal body composition while continuing to drive health and performance. Dain placed Top-5 at the 2015 Arnold Strongman World Championships while coaching a fellow competitor to a Top-10 finish and is passionate about improving the overall quality of competition in the sport of Strongman.
If you are interested in training and/or nutrition services from Dain fill out the form HERE
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