At powerlifting meets, you’ll often see some powerlifters chowing down on burgers and fries, some eating a nutrient-dense meal, and some consuming a ridiculous amount of sour patch kids. So what is the right choice? What are you actually supposed to eat on meet day?
What to Eat During A Powerlifting Meet? During a powerlifting meet, we should be consuming primarily foods high in carbohydrates, to provide energy for all 9 attempts. In addition, protein intake should be lower than normal, and fat and fiber intake should be minimized to avoid gastrointestinal distress.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- What to eat the day before, the morning of, and during the competition
- How our nutritional protocol may change if we are cutting weight
- Advice from 5 elitepowerlifters
Before diving in, I want to mention…
If you want a complete understanding of how to compete in powerlifting, then check out my online video course The First Time Powerlifter.
The course promises to eliminate mistakes at your first competition, help you make more attempts, and allow you to achieve your personal best lifts.
I’ve been the Head Coach For Team Canada Powerlifting through 8 World Championships, and this course is everything I know about preparing athletes to feel confident in their abilities to perform at their first competition.
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What To Eat The Day Before Competing?
Our nutrition plan the day before a competition depends on if we will comfortably make weight, or if we need to manipulate food and/or hydration levels to make weigh-in on target.
If we are cutting weight but are comfortably within our desired weight class the day before, we can slightly increase our carbohydrate intake throughout the day to replenish glycogen stores, while staying within our bodyweight limits.
However, keep in mind that we don’t want to increase them too much because with every gram of carbohydrate we also store 2-3 grams of water – which may cause fluctuations in body weight.
On the other hand, if we are still over our target weight the day before the competition and require water and/or food manipulations, we want to keep our carbohydrate intake low. By doing so, we can reduce the amount of water storage that occurs naturally when ingesting carbohydrates. At this point we will not be losing body fat in order to make weight, we will be trying to make weight by minimizing water retention.
It should be noted that sodium intake is usually also restricted while cutting weight, to further decrease water retention.
Protein & Fat Consumption
If we are within our weight class the day before, we can slightly reduce fat intake as carbohydrate intake slightly increases; this allows us to maintain the isocaloric balance (maintaining calorie intake by substituting carbs with fats). Our protein intake can stay relatively constant.
If we are not within our weight class the day before, we can keep our fat intake higher to provide us with energy, while our carbohydrate intake is lower.
Because fat sources are more calorically dense nutrients, they are typically lower volume foods. Therefore, there will be a lower volume of food in our stomach and digestive system than there would be if we were consuming more carbohydrates. This will also help us to weigh in lighter.
Read my complete guide on Powerlifting Cutting Program: 7 Rules To Follow.
Not Cutting Weight
If we are comfortably within our weight class, we can eat normal balanced meals (protein, carbs, and fats) the day before the meet.
We can also increase our carbohydrate intake and lower fat intake slightly for the last 1-2 meals of the day, to top up our glycogen stores for the following day. These carbohydrates can be more low-to-moderate GI as we do not need them for immediate energy; we are consuming them more to help our performance the following day.
The goal is to feel good on meet day to perform at our best. This is accomplished by eating enough but not eating to the point of being sick. If we eat too much the day before in an attempt to carb-load, we may feel lethargic and bloated when we wake up to compete. For this reason, we should eat until we’re satisfied but not stuffed.
Protein & Fat Consumption
Protein can remain relatively constant the day before, as it will not affect the storage of carbohydrates or our performance the following day.
Fat intake may be slightly lowered as the day goes on to accommodate the increase in carbohydrates in the last meals of the day.
While carbohydrate intake is necessary, the fat and protein content the day before a competition is largely dependent on personal preference and what has worked best for us in our experience.
A lot of people assume powerlifters can eat whatever they want. That’s simply not true. Learn more in my article on Do Powerlifters Eat Whatever They Want?
Should You Eat When You Wake Up (Before Weighing In)?
If our weigh-in is first thing in the morning, then we should wait until after we step on the scale to eat our first meal. We do not want to risk missing weight and being unable to compete due to increases in mass from food in our stomach. We will have enough time after the weigh-in to begin refueling for the competition.
If our weigh-in is later in the afternoon or evening, we will need to eat before we weigh-in to ensure we have enough energy to compete. Depending on how late the weigh-in is, we may have 1 to 2 meals or snacks before stepping on the scale.
Some lifters will continue restricting carbohydrates, and eat predominantly fat and protein until the weigh-in. Others prefer to slowly introduce carbohydrates into the 2nd meal or snack, to begin replenishing glycogen stores.
All in all, the best strategy is the one that allows us to perform our best, and that we have experience implementing.
If you’re a female powerlifter, check out our complete guide to the Female Powerlifting Diet, where we break down the exact calories and macros you should be eating, considerations for competition, and how to eat properly for your menstrual cycle.
Not Cutting Weight
If our weigh-in is first thing in the morning, we may want to have something light that provides us with energy but isn’t high in volume. This allows us to weigh-in a bit lighter, which is not necessary but could be the difference between winning and losing, if another lifter ties you on the total.
If our weigh-in is later in the day we can plan to eat 1-2 meals and perhaps a snack, depending on what time we compete at. We should still prioritize carbohydrate intake with these meals and snacks, but gradually reduce fat intake as we get closer to competing (slightly more fat in the morning, little to no fat before competing).
What To Eat After You Weigh In?
After weighing in we want to eat something that we can easily digest, that is carbohydrate-dense, and that is lower in fat and fiber content. This could be oats, sports drinks, low-fat cereal, or any other high-carb foods that we have tested before training.
This meal should provide us with energy but should not be too voluminous or increase the risk of gastrointestinal issues. For this reason, we want to eat foods that we have eaten time and time again, that we know we can digest well.
If you want to learn about How Long Are Powerlifting Meets then be sure to read my other article breaking down meet day timing.
While being hydrated and replenishing electrolytes is important for all athletes, it is absolutely crucial for athletes who have water cut.
If we have dehydrated ourselves to make weight, it is essential that we re-hydrate immediately after the weigh-in.
To re-hydrate we should consume half parts water, and half parts carbohydrate and sodium-rich liquids (sports drink or pedialyte). Although important to consume these liquids, we do need to pace ourselves to avoid feeling full and bloated.
For those who have not had a water cut, the focus should be to sip water and/or sports drinks throughout the day to avoid dehydration.
If you need a water-cutting strategy for the competition, check out my complete guide on Water Cut For Powerlifters.
What To Eat Throughout Your Powerlifting Competition?
It’s important to remember that sports nutrition is not health nutrition; what this means is that the macronutrient ratios and food options that are optimal for competition, will not be optimal for everyday nutrition aimed towards improving health.
While competing, we want to consume mostly low-fat, low-fibre carbohydrates. It is not unusual for athletes to be eating well over 2 times their body weight in grams of carbohydrate on a competition day.
The reason for this is that carbohydrates are the macronutrient that are most efficiently metabolized by the body and we rely on them to be broken down quickly to provide energy for fast-twitch muscle fibers used in high-intensity exercises, such as lifting maximal weights.
In order to consume carbohydrates in adequate amounts, we should prioritize sources that are perhaps less filling but more calorically dense (gummies, sports drinks, pretzels, oatmeal packets). This prevents us from feeling overly full or lethargic and instead allows us to eat continuously throughout the day.
This may be the only time that eating sour patch kids is a better option than eating your vegetables.
Some lifters feel like throwing up on meet day. I discuss this more in my article on Why Do Powerlifters Vomit.
6 Rules to Follow For Meet Day Powerlifting Nutrition
For nutrition strategies that will help our performance rather than hinder it, we should follow these 6 rules:
- Eat Consistently Throughout The Day
- Get Most Of Your Calories From Carbohydrates
- Do Not Introduce New Foods
- Get/Stay Hydrated
- Limit Fat and Fiber
- Develop Your Caffeine Routine
1. Eat Consistently Throughout The Day
We should bring enough food to eat consistently throughout the day. Competition days can be long if there are numerous athletes competing, so we need to have enough food with us to maintain our energy levels throughout the day.
In order to eat consistently throughout the day without getting overly full, we should be prioritizing higher carb, and higher calorie foods to have a constant supply of energy. These foods will naturally be less voluminous and keep us from being too full.
Everyone is different in terms of how much and how often they like to eat throughout the day, but I would suggest at least eating after weigh-ins, between squats and bench, and between bench and deadlifts.
If we tend to be nervous on meet day, and therefore struggle to eat or digest foods, we should focus on primarily consuming liquid calories. Liquid calories digest faster, because there is less breakdown required than foods in solid form. This allows us to take in enough energy to fuel our performance, without worrying as much about digestion
2. Get Most Of Your Calories From Carbohydrates
Food composition on meet day is important for success because we need to be consuming the nutrients that digest quickly, and will provide us with energy at a faster rate to exert maximal levels of force on the barbell.
The nutrient that accomplishes this is carbohydrates. We need to prioritize carbohydrate intake over all other macronutrients (protein & fat), as they are the body’s preferred energy source during maximal attempts and while recovering between attempts.
Most athletes will be accustomed to consuming large amounts of protein to build and repair muscle mass, but protein intake should be lower on meet day.
While protein is still important, our performance on meet day is less likely to be limited by structural damage to tissues; instead, it will be limited by substrate depletion. Therefore, carbohydrates need to take priority while competing to replenish our energy stores.
3. Do Not Introduce New Foods
It’s important to stick with foods that we know we can digest well. Every lifter will respond differently to certain foods, and therefore should only eat foods that they know they are comfortable eating before a training session.
We should practice eating our meet day foods before training sessions to know how our body tolerates them. If we normally consume candy before/during workouts, then we can feel confident knowing that it probably won’t affect our performance.
However, if we never consume candy but decide to eat 3 packs of cherry blasters throughout the day, we may not feel so great by the time deadlifts roll around.
4. Get/Stay Hydrated
If we water cut to make weight, we need to hydrate more vigorously throughout the day (but not too vigorously) with our 1:1 ratio of water to electrolyte beverage.
If we are not cutting weight, we can be more relaxed about hydration by sipping water and sports drinks (for electrolytes) throughout the day.
Ensuring euhydration is important because being dehydrated by 1-2% can decrease performance, and reductions of 2-10% can result in cramping and even hallucinations.
5. Limit Fat and Fiber
Fat and fiber are great for keeping you full and regular, but these are not outcomes that will benefit us while competing.
Fat will slow down digestion as the body takes longer to break it down, which can keep us full when we want to instead be taking in food more often throughout the day. It is also not the primary fuel source for our body while lifting, as it will not provide us with the quick energy that we need to perform our lifts.
Fiber is actually not digested by the body, its role is to provide bulk. While fiber is important for daily living, it tends to cause lifters to feel bloated, sluggish, and sometimes nauseous while competing.
Check out my article where I discuss whether powerlifting will make you fat.
6. Develop Your Caffeine Routine
Everyone has preferences on how much caffeine they consume on meet day, which they develop through trial and error.
Research suggests that the optimal dose of caffeine to enhance performance is between 3 to 6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. However, this can change depending on our individual caffeine tolerance. Our tolerance depends on how much and how often we typically consume caffeine, specifically before training.
For those who don’t regularly consume caffeine, a lower dose or no caffeine may be more suitable. Caffeine is more likely to cause anxiety, nervousness, and gastrointestinal distress when consumed in amounts above our tolerance.
Caffeine intake is something best experimented with in meets that are of less importance. It is best to develop our routine in a competition setting because we will most likely never have a training session of similar length, that would require multiple doses of caffeine.
Choosing a meet of less importance is ideal so we can tweak the protocol to be more effective, if necessary, for the competitions that are most important.
Advice From Top Powerlifters
We reached out to some top powerlifters and asked them what advice they could give on meet day nutrition, here is what they said.
“I always suggest eating more than you think you need to on meet day, and eating during the competition to ensure you have enough energy to last through your last deadlift! I’ll usually have some oatmeal with protein, bananas, and honey right after weigh-in to fill myself up. Between lifts, I’ll drink Gatorade and consume some fast carbs (like bananas or sport gels). I make sure my coach knows what my plan is for intake during the meet so they can make sure I’m consuming things as I should be in case I forget or don’t feel like eating”.Rhaea Stinn
“Choose something easy to eat. Lots of lifters get nervous on meet day and aren’t very hungry. Choosing something easy to chew and fairly tasty makes it easier to get calories in. I often eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Bigger weight cuts may have more complicated needs, but not much matters if you can’t physically eat it. And beginner powerlifters are probably not cutting much weight anyway, so keep it simple”.Mike Tuchscherer
“Typically I suggest athletes focus on rehydrating first before solid foods using a moderate carbohydrate drink. Follow this up with foods that are higher in carbohydrates and some protein and also higher in sodium. I think it’s important to aim for foods that don’t upset the stomach and contain some more complex carbohydrates at first. Really after that, it’s up to the lifter’s preferences on lifting on a full, medium, or empty stomach, how much weight they had to cut, if at all, and food preferences on exactly what they put in their body. I think it’s a good idea to bring more than you need and to bring some low weight and high-calorie foods to get in added calories without bloating the stomach too much”.Bryce Lewis
“Powerlifting meets tend to bring out the worst for most athletes’ nutrition. Eating properly at a meet requires experience and preparation. It’s not uncommon for athletes to completely deviate from what they normally eat – be it, post-weigh-in pancakes and bacon or stuff they’ve restricted during a training prep. What’s best to eat during a powerlifting meet? Eat foods you commonly consume but with a preference towards higher carb choices vs. protein and fat (more rice, oatmeal, fruit, whole grains and less meat, nut butter etc). Your stomach and performance will thank you.”Marc Morris
“Prioritize carbohydrates on competition day, and limit fats and fiber as much as you can. This is because fats and fiber will prolong digestion and block glucose absorption, which is what you need for those quick bursts of energy for max attempts. Stick to what you know feels good. It can be tempting to want to eat all of the things you don’t usually fit into your diet, especially when cutting weight. But you want to keep everything from the way you lift, to the way you eat consistent from training to competition. Save the donuts for post-comp.”Maggie Morgan
Should You Take Supplements On Meet Day?
- Protein Powder
These are supplements we want to continue to take on meet day, if we have been taking them consistently throughout our training cycle. They will help to keep us stimulated and may have the potential to increase our strength levels by 3-4%.
Caffeine takes roughly 40-60 minutes from the time of ingestion to reach peak effects, and therefore we should keep this in mind for supplementation timing when competing.
We should also keep in mind that because powerlifting meets can go on for multiple hours, one dosage of caffeine will most likely not get us through the entire meet. Therefore, additional doses may be required between competition lifts.
Some athletes prefer to ingest more caffeine between each competition lift, and others (myself included) prefer to save the next dose of caffeine for deadlifts.
The timing and amount of consumption is very individualized, and therefore we need to practice at meets of lower importance to figure out our best protocol. Ultimately, the best protocol is the one that allows us to be stimulated or “hyped-up” when necessary and doesn’t lead to lethargy or emotional disengagement.
If we’re using a pre-workout supplement and competing in a tested federtations, such as the IPF, we need to be sure that it contains no banned substances. Check out the WADA Prohibited List before purchasing supplements.
Taking creatine on the day of competition will not make or break our performance, as it has little to no effect unless we have been loading for at least 5-7 days or longer, prior to the competition.
If we’re used to consuming creatine before workouts or it is premixed with your pre-workout supplement, there is no harm in taking it.
As we discussed previously, protein intake will be less important than normal on meet day; because structural damage to the muscle is less likely to limit our competition performance, the way that energy depletion certainly will.
However, if we know we can easily digest protein powder and we are consuming enough carbohydrates to support our energy output, there is no harm in consuming it.
Starting Powerlifting Guides
After reading this article, you should check out my complete guides on:
- How To Start Powerlifting
- How Strong Do You Need To Be At Your First Powerlifting Meet?
- How Powerlifting Meets Work
- Competition Gear For Powerlifting
- How To Pick Your Attempts In Powerlifting
- How Powerlifting Is Scored
- What To Bring To A Powerlifting Meet
- How To Pick Your Weight Class For Powerlifting
- 55 Powerlifting Mistakes To Avoid
- How To Find Powerlifting Meets
While there are guidelines for what to consume to enhance our performance while competing, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach as we will all respond differently to certain foods. The goal is to consume foods that provide us with energy throughout the day, and do not cause gastrointestinal distress – so we can feel our best on meet day.