How to Eat for Strength Growth & Powerlifting Dominance
To maximize your ability as a powerlifter, you need to lift the most amount of weight possible, at the leanest possible bodyweight.
For most people, this means that they will need to get as strong as they possibly can at around 12 – 15% body fat percentage.
Because your weight and body composition will be an essential part of your career as a powerlifting or strength competitor: you will need to learn the essence of counting calories and manipulating meals to hit certain macronutrient goals.
Although “hitting macros” is a beast completely on its own, this diet plan will be a template that you can use to consistently build muscle mass over a period of time.
It can also be easily adjusted to gain or lose weight in a way that allows you to retain as much muscle mass as possible (during periods of fat loss) & building as much lean body mass as possible during periods of weight gain.
Why is Gaining Weight Important for Powerlifting?
Gaining weight (in specific: skeletal muscle mass) is essential for strength because that is what allows you to lift more weight. If you compare a trainee at 200 lbs & 15% body fat percentage; and that same trainee at 180 lbs & 15% body fat percentage – the former will be able to move a greater amount of weight by virtue of having far more muscular body mass.
But the key isn’t to eat 4,000 calories of ice cream & milk every day to make the scale move: the key is to eat in an intelligent & deliberate manner that achieves three factors:
- Supports performance
- Facilitates recovery
- Builds muscle mass
These three pillars support each other in achieving continual strength gains. Recovery needs to be as best as possible to maintain a high level of performance. Training performance needs to be high in order to squeeze the most out of every session. And the foods need to then aid in the process of re-building and growing additional tissue.
That is the primary aim of this diet template.
How to Build Muscle in The Kitchen Consistently
So we know that we need to gain weight. And we want to maximize the amount of useful body weight that we can gain on a weekly basis.
In order to do that, we need to eat in a way that maximizes our daily muscle protein synthesis, is at a slight caloric surplus, and maintains an elevated level of performance in the gym.
Hitting our optimal daily muscle protein synthesis means that we are maximizing how much muscle we’re building on a day-to-day basis. Because an MPS response can only happen every 3-5 hours – this means that you need to somewhat time your meals to hit these windows.
It also means that every meal needs to contain enough protein to either stimulate or maximize this response.
Secondly, we need to eat in a slight caloric surplus to actually gain weight. Why slight? Because there’s only so much muscle you can build, and eating a ton of calories won’t improve that amount.
For that reason, eating a bunch of food in excess of your maintenance will simply amplify the rate of adipose tissue gained.
That’s not what we want. We want muscle.
You should be aiming for 300 to 500 calories in excess of your maintenance. That’s a slight surplus. Err on the side of 300.
You should not be gaining more than 0.5 lb per week. Anything more than that and you might not be doing yourself any favors.
As you build more muscle, you might have to adjust your calories by raising them a bit.
How to Setup Your Macros for Building LEAN Mass
On this website, you may have seen me recommend a macros templates that may be generally applicable to a random population. While one should refrain from doing so, I believe it would be generally useful for most people. At the very least, the demographic that follows this blog.
For building muscle, most of you would fare generally well eating these macros:
- 2,700 calories
- 200g of protein
- 70g of fat
- 317.5g of carbs
- Get at least 30g of fiber
Add more or subtract some depending on the scale movement. If your weight remains equal, add a bit more calories. If your weight goes down, add more calories. If your weight goes up too quickly (more than 1 lb per week) – subtract some calories.
That’s really all there is to it: managing your caloric intake & weekly weight average.
Eat 4-5 times per day with 3-5 hour intervals between meals.
Sample Meals for Building Strength & Muscle
Notice: This food is what I would eat in a normal week-in-the-life. These are the six meals that I eat the most. You’ll notice a trend of:
- Easy to prepare
- Reasonably good taste
- Cost effective
I don’t like to spend too much time in the kitchen. And most often, if a recipe requires too much prep or time to make it, I won’t have the ability to (on a weekday, generally).
These recipes need to taste reasonably good. I don’t have to love them to eat them. I just need to enjoy it. If I don’t: I will find myself often getting food to go somewhere.
Cost-effective: I like to budget myself $80 for the whole week for food. I find that this is plenty and is within reason.
Lastly, it has to be high-protein since our requirements for recovery and anabolic processes are quite high.
Without further ado:
(Breakfast) Ground Chicken Burrito
- 703 calories
- 46.5 of protein
- 21.9g of fat
- 82.4g of carbs
- 6.6g of fiber
These are a personal staple & very easy to make.
- 1X Burrito Tortilla (~$0.34)
- 4 oz Ground Chicken ($0.83)
- 2 oz Mozzarella Cheese (Low Moisture Part Skim) (~$0.47)
- 2 oz Mexican Rice ($0.10)
- 4 oz of Refried Beans (~$0.24)
I generally make these in a strange fashion. Basically, I just cook the ground chicken, then once the chicken is cooked, I toss everything in all at once and mush it together.
Heat up a tortilla to soften it up, place the aforementioned mush in, and wrap it (often somewhat successfully).
Regardless, it tastes great and I can eat it at any point in the day. It is also very cost-effective. Total cost per burrito: $1.98. I buy most of my food at Aldi’s, or BJ’s.
(Breakfast) Mayo & Tuna Sandwich
- 752 calories
- 56.6 of protein
- 32.4g of fat
- 61.6g of carbs
- 5g of fiber
- 1X Brioche Burger Buns (~$0.84)
- 1X Can of Chunk Light Tuna in Oil (drained) ($0.85)
- 1 oz of Mayo (Hellmann’s) ($0.15)
This one’s a bit on the fattier side with 32.4g of fat. However, it takes less than 2 minutes to prepare and it’s a decent amount of volume.
I make two sandwiches with the above measurements. The combined price is: $3.64.
Just take a small bowl, putting the tuna, red onions (chopped), and the mayo. Mix it all in. Put it in two separate buns.
(Lunch) Ground Turkey Breast & Pasta
- 921 calories
- 86.1 of protein
- 22g of fat
- 98.3g of carbs
- 6g of fiber
This is arguably my favorite meal of all. I eat it at least 5x a week, if not every day. The pasta I most use is elbow macaroni, it’s just shoving it in boiling water.
- 6oz Ground Turkey Breast 99% Lean (~$1.19)
- 4 oz Pasta (Barilla) (~$0.21)
- 2 oz Gouda ($1.5)
- 4oz Traditional Pasta Sauce ($0.25)
The gouda cheese and the pasta sauce really are what make it extremely delicious.
Total price = $3.15. I cook the pasta separately (boil water, put in pasta, turn down heat – al dente). At the same time as the ground turkey is.
Once they’re both finished – take the water out of the pot and put the pasta back in. Low heat. Toss in the cheese, cooked turkey, and pasta sauce. Mix it all in as the cheese melts. And I generally just eat it straight from the pot & do not leave a single atomic particle untouched.
(Lunch) Skillet Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Lean Ground Beef (w/ Bread)
- 561 calories
- 49.2g of protein
- 24g of fat
- 38.2g of carbs
- 7g of fiber
- 6 oz of 93% Lean Ground Bean ($2)
- 2 oz Mozzarella (Low Moisture Part Skim) (~$0.47)
- 8 oz Sweet Potato (Skillet Roasted) ($0.31)
Total price: $2.78.
However, because it doesn’t have any carbs – I will typically eat it with a ton of bread on the side. For no other reason than, one: I love bread. I can eat plain bread any time anywhere. And two: I want more carbs in that recipe/meal.
You can include more carbs in any way you want or just leave as is.
With the usual added bread:
- 786 calories
- 56.7g of protein
- 25.6g of fat
- 83.2g of carbs
- 8g of fiber
I’ll usually add whatever quantity of bread needed to get an extra 50g of carbs. It may vary weekly or daily. Sometimes, I just drink some orange juice with that meal.
Overall, the taste is amazing. I bake the sweet potatoes in the oven at 400 degrees over 30 minutes. Some olive oil on top with everything seasoning.
Make the ground beef on a skillet and when it’s finished, I’ll add the cheese on top and let it melt. Mix & throw it all into a dish together. Piece of bread on the side.
(Dinner) Mexican Rice & Chicken Burrito
- 857 calories
- 59.1g of protein
- 34.7g of fat
- 76.3g of carbs
- 5.5g of fiber
- 1X Burrito Tortilla (~$0.34)
- 1X Pack of Mexican Rice ($0.50)
- 6 oz of Chicken ($0.71)
- ½ of California Avocado ($0.45)
- 2 oz Gouda Cheese (or cheese of preference) ($1.5)
Total price: $3.50. You’ll notice this is much higher in fat than the previous meals. That’s because I eat dinner immediately post-workout. I just don’t have as much a need for carbs. Also, after my first two meals, I will generally be at around 40-50g of fat, and I need to load up a bit to match my daily targets.
To make, I heat up the rice as per the instructions on the package. Cook the chicken, when it’s finished, I mix it all in the skillet & place it into the burrito. I also mush the avocado so it’s a guac-like consistency.
(Dinner) Garlic Roasted Potatoes & NY Strip Steak
- 857 calories
- 41.8g of protein
- 37.5g of fat
- 84g of carbs
- 4.5g of fiber
Need to be adjusted depending on what steak you choose.
- 1X 6 oz Steak of Choice
- 6 oz Potatoes
This meal also follows the trend of fattier foods at night. I eat it with a piece of bread to add some more carbs.
I’m not an expert on cooking steaks so I won’t even try on telling you how I make it. It’s a technique I learned from Joshua Weissman. I’m not sure if my form is all the way there, though. But – working on it.
This is also a bit pricey, so I only eat it a few times a week – to stay within budget. However, the garlic-roasted potatoes and the richness of the fat in the steak really make it absolutely phenomenal.
And that’s it. That’s how you eat in a way that supports performance, facilitates recovery, and builds muscle.
Nothing complicated. Nothing super-advanced.