What's The Difference Between Strongman and Powerlifting Competition Prep?

If you are actively competing in strongman or powerlifting, I am sure that you are trying to do every little thing you can to make sure that your performance on competition day is as good as it can be. In my free eBook Maximizing Your Strongman Competition Performance, I shared with you the strategies that any strongman (or strongwoman) athlete can use the week leading up to a competition to ensure that they come in feeling their best physically and mentally for the day of the competition. This is an excerpt of a much larger project I’m working on for a complete year-round training and nutrition guide for the sport of strongman. If you’ve already checked out the eBook, you’ll probably have noticed that I allude to the topics of the night before a competition and the day of competition as separate chapters in the part on competition performance. 

Today I want to go into a little more detail on what I cover on the topics of the night before and day of competition and compare and contrast it with how powerlifters tend to approach their competition preparation. 

Now, I myself have not competed in powerlifting before, but I have helped a number of athletes prepare for powerlifting competitions and they have had great success in their competition. I do not consider this a complete guide to powerlifting contest prep, but I thought it would be fun to make the comparison and there might be something you find useful here. 

 

The Day / Night Before a Competition:

Note: There will always be athletes who have really fast metabolisms, dietary restrictions or intolerances, and other factors that will make these guidelines incompatible. In general, I have seen this work well in drug-free powerlifters and strongman athletes. My goal is to make sure everyone can perform their best on competition day, so if anything mentioned doesn’t jive with your strategies, don’t try to force it. 

 

Strongman

 

Weight Cut

  • Does not apply as often as in powerlifting, where weight classes are part of every competition.  Although weight classes are becoming more common, most strongman competitions and the athletes competing are in the open class. 

 

Re-feed / Calories

  • Most athletes are going to continue eating at a surplus of 20 kcal per pound of bodyweight or more that they’ve been striving for all week. If cutting weight, obviously do what you need to do before the weigh in to make the cut. 

 

Macronutrients

  • At least 1 g per pound of bodyweight in protein (usually somewhat more though), 2 g per pound of bodyweight in carbs, make up the rest of the calorie goal in fats.

 

 

Micronutrients

  • Continue to load up on electrolytes and eat mineral-rich foods. Don’t shy away from sodium before a competition. 

 

 

 

Last Supper

  • Eat something high carb and high sodium that you enjoy (pizza has been my go to choice for the last couple of contests). Finish off with dessert if you so desire. 

 

 

Dietary Restrictions

  • Avoid any foods that have a higher risk of foodborne illness, like raw fish (sushi) or meals that have been removed from refrigeration for too long. Also avoid things you know upset your stomach, like too much spicy foods or hot peppers. Now is not the time to take any chances. Save your sushi for after the competition is over just to be safe. 

 

Exercise

  • Do some light cardio and some light band work or body weight work, similar to the warm up you would do for the competition. Foam roll or target any tight areas you find. 

 

Mindset

  • Visualize your competition performance following your warm-up. See the guide on visualization in my free eBook for more on this. 

 

 

Powerlifting

 

Weight Cut

  • Most often an athlete is trying to make weight in a certain weight class, unless they are brand new and just trying to gain experience. 

 

 

Re-feed / Calories

  • If the weigh ins are the day before, athletes should strive for 20 kcal per pound of bodyweight after they have weighed in. 

 

Macronutrients

  • (After weigh in) At least 1 g per pound of bodyweight in protein (usually somewhat more though), 2 g per pound of bodyweight in carbs, make up the rest of the calorie goal in fats.

The first meal after the weigh in should be easily digestible, like chicken and rice with veggies or well-cooked fish and rice with veggies. 

Micronutrients

  • Once the weigh-in is over, start loading up on electrolytes. Include high-sodium sauces or foods with every meal (soy sauce, hot sauce, add sea salt if needed).  Also be sure to get plenty of other minerals and electrolytes, especially magnesium, potassium, calcium, and zinc. 

 

Last Supper

  • If your weigh in is already done, you're in luck! Eat something you really enjoy that’s high carb and high sodium. Finish off with dessert if you choose to. I find that something sweet helps to counteract the loading up on electrolytes and high sodium meals. 

 

Dietary Restrictions

  • Avoid any foods that have a higher risk of foodborne illness, like raw fish (sushi) or meals that have been removed from refrigeration for too long. Also avoid things you know upset your stomach, like too much spicy foods or hot peppers. Now is not the time to take any chances. Save your sushi for after the competition is over just to be safe. 

 

Exercise

  • Do some light cardio and some light band work or body weight work, similar to the warm up you would do for the competition. Foam roll or target any tight areas you find. 

 

Mindset

  • Visualize your competition performance following your warm-up. See the guide on visualization in my free eBook for more on this. It applies very similarly regardless of strongman or powerlifting.

 

 


The Morning / Day of Competition:

In my experience, what you choose to do the day of competition will differ more drastically depending on the athlete, and a little bit less depending on the sport. 

 

Strongman Competition Day:

 

Breakfast:

Most athletes tend to have some level of adrenaline firing up their systems by competition morning, either due to anxiety, or just sheer excitement. Because of the greater demand for higher reps, and cardiovascular output involved with strongman compared to powerlifting, I find that a very light breakfast, or skipping breakfast altogether bodes well for the majority of competitors. A small bowl of oatmeal or something similar is the most I will go with. Things like eggs are usually a great breakfast choice, but I cannot digest them well enough on competition morning to justify. Remember that you’ve been eating at a surplus of calories leading up to the competition, so eating light on the morning of won’t mean you have no fuel. If there is a weigh-in the night before or the day of the competition, use your discretion to decide if you want and have enough time for a light meal like chicken and rice with soy sauce. 

Snacks / Meals:

Some athletes like to have a little something to keep them going between events, like candy, rice krispies treats, granola bars, or chocolate bars. I always pack a couple of PB&J sandwiches and granola bars, even if I don’t get around to eating them. Sometimes there can be a long wait between events where you will want to get some solid food in. Other times the competition will go faster and you’ll prefer just to have liquids to keep you going. In strongman you’ll lean much more towards light snacks rather than packing any meals, unless you know there is going to be a wait of a couple hours for some sort of break in the middle of the competition.

Supplements / Hydration:

  • Pack more water than you think you’ll need and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt into all of the water. 
  • Protein shakes - Unless it’s between events with a pretty long wait, or after the competition, I find more protein powders to make my stomach feel a little uncomfortable when competing and much prefer BCAAs.
  • BCAAs are my number one recommendation for competition day. Sipping on BCAAs is the perfect approach for me to keep me going throughout a competition. You can find many great BCAAs that include whatever else you fancy. If you find a product that also has a good electrolyte blend in it, then it’s a win-win. Dehydrating or cramping up is a much bigger deal than running out of glycogen from performing at the very most 6 sets of 60-90 seconds on competition day. But if you find a BCAA that also has a couple of grams of sugar in it, then you’ll have your fast-acting carbohydrate concerns covered as well. I usually go with at least 2-3 scoops of BCAAs on competition day to keep me going without solid food. 
  • Caffeine - Caffeine can be tricky to get right with strongman competitions and I find that fast-acting caffeine, like caffeine pills of most pre-workout supplements should be avoided for the majority of events. Unless you are a robot, there is going to be a substantial adrenaline rush in general on competition day and right before the whistle blows for your turn. In most events you are then sustaining your performance for up to 60 - 90 seconds. Combining this adrenaline rush with a high caffeine product or other stimulant will cause you to burn through more energy and release more epinephrine than is necessary (assuming you are prepared for the competition) and this will cause you to crash hard early and limit your performance on the rest of the events. While there are some supplements that contain natural caffeine sources that aren’t as high in caffeine and offer a more sustained energy boost, I find that coffee, or better yet cold brew coffee is the best thing for giving you a more mild, yet robust, energy boost for competition without causing your sympathetic nervous system to crash. I can remember over-stimulating in some of my early competitions and being lucky to make it through the entire competition, although my performance in the last few events took a serious dip. 

 

Powerlifting Competition Day:

Breakfast:

Nervous athletes, or those who like to lift on an empty stomach will lean towards choices similar to the strongman athlete. Some powerlifters prefer to lift on a full stomach sensation and will choose to have a bigger breakfast, like going all out with bacon and eggs. I feel that powerlifters in general can get away with a bigger breakfast on competition day than strongman competitors, because there isn’t the high reps or cardio component with powerlifting competitions where the sensation of having an undigested meal sitting in your stomach feels awful. With weighs in the night before or day of competition, a bigger meal may be necessary in order for you to feel you can perform to your fullest ability.  

Snacks / Meals:

Just like with breakfast, some powerlifters like to have a fuller belly for benching and might do well with having a meal like chicken and rice between squats and bench. Solid food snack also fare better between events, because the number of competitors can also be much higher in powerlifting and the time between events may be much longer. Your cooler should be packed with whatever you like that will keep you going and won’t spoil quickly if something goes wrong. 

Supplements / Hydration:

  • Pack more water than you think you’ll need and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt into all of the water. 
  • Protein Shakes - Because of the longer wait times that usually ensue between lifts with powerlifting, having half of a shake or even a full one between each lift can work better than with strongman. Pack a couple of shakes, or keep them ready to go in ziplock bags so that they can be added to water whenever you want and won’t be hot and stinky.  
  • BCAAs - just like in strongman, a couple of scoops of BCAAs can sustain you throughout your competition if you like to lift on a light stomach and they can be less expensive, but more effective than a typical electrolyte drink like Gatorade if you find the right product to suit your needs. The products with higher electrolyte content are great for hydration if you have a late weigh in and are rushed to get re-fueled and rehydrated. 
  • Caffeine - For those looking to optimize their supplement usage for maximal strength, caffeine might be the most significant difference between powerlifting and strongman. As mentioned with strongman, over-stimulation creates too much of a sympathetic crash when combined with the strength-endurance nature of strongman. The optimal dose studied for producing a significant short-term strength increase from caffeine is between 4-6 mg/ kg of bodyweight. I am sure that many high-level powerlifters that like to lift with lots of stimulants will time this dose for each third attempt. That is an extremely high amount of caffeine to consume in one day and I don’t recommend something so extreme. Most beginner to intermediate powerlifters looking to optimize their caffeine usage might benefit from taking around 200 mg of caffeine around 30 minutes before their second or third attempt, if looking to maximize their total. 

Fortissimus

What mistakes have you made in preparing for a competition that you now know not to repeat? Leave a comment below. 

 

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