Dieting (the smart way) – part 1

As most people have, I’ve experimented with diet and nutrition in the past, with varying levels of success. I’ve tried keeping a food journal, intermittent fasting, “clean eating”, and calorie counting in the past. For various reasons, mostly my own lack of understanding of basic principals (and impatience), I had very little success with most of the above.

This time I’m smarter, so I’m trying to do things properly, following a scientific method, with set goals and measurable criteria for succeeding. I’m currently two weeks into what will be a five week cut, so right now I’ll outline what my plan was and give a quick update on a couple of aspects, and at the end of the five weeks I will write up another post giving my full thoughts about the method I’ve followed.

A quick disclaimer – I’m not a medical professional, and I really don’t know anything about dieting or nutrition. These blog posts are meant to help consolidate my own knowledge and thoughts about powerlifting and related topics- they aren’t meant to be instructional! There are literally dozens of better places for you to get information about either dieting or nutrition. In particular I’d like to recommend Dr. Mike Israetel‘s book, The Renaissance Diet, which I think is invaluable, as well as (soon to be Dr.) Eric Helms‘ book, The Muscle and Strength Nutrition Pyramid and its accompanying video series. I’m sure there are plenty of others too, but I’ve found these two to be particularly instructional.

The Goal

I’m intending to compete in early April (likely the 2nd, but to be confirmed) as an under 93 kg powerlifter (with a two hour weigh in). Before beginning my new macrocycle on the 4th of January I was sitting at about 93.5 kg, which didn’t give me a lot of wiggle room. The plan then is to use the first five weeks of my training (a hypertrophy block) to cut back down to ~ 90 kg (+/- a little), hopefully without losing any muscle or strength, and without compromising my training, then going on a slight caloric surplus coming through my strength and peaking blocks. Hopefully a what that means is that I can come into my meet at the right weight, without a massive water load and without needing to cut calories at the time I need them the most.

That sounds nice, but a goal without a plan is just a dream, so how am I going to make sure I am on track?

The Plan

The plan is not too complex really – follow the principals of dieting as laid out in the Renaissance Diet, and learn to do so in a sustainable way. Principal by principal:

  1. Calorie balance – figure out my maintenance calories, as described by Eric in his book and video series (see later for details), set my daily calorie goal in my hypertrophy block so that I lose ~0.5 kg per week, add ~300 calories per day each week following the hypertrophy block until I see maintenance or slow weight gain.
  2. Macro nutrients – meet a minimum goal for protein and fats each day (160 grams and 20 grams respectively), make up the rest from whatever works.
  3. Nutrient Timing – eat high G.I. carbs (i.e. “shitty” carbs) before and throughout trainings, eat fats as far from workouts as possible, try to balance protein throughout the day.
  4. Food Composition – we’re starting to get down the the nitty gritty here. Eat fruits and vegetables (Eric’s recommendation is one of each per 1000 calories, I use this as my rule-of-thumb) and a variety of meats. Don’t eat the same foods every single day!
  5. Supplements – 5 g of creatine monohydrate and a multi-vitamin each morning. (I’m considering adding magnesium and/or zinc supplements in the evening as well.) When it comes to micro-nutrients I am a big fan of Rippetoe’s ‘Shovel Philosophy’ – put more than you think you need in, and you’ll pee out what you don’t need. This is mostly covered by the variety of foods, and the multi is just to cover my bases.

The Tools

I’ve got a number of tools for keeping track of myself.

  • Scales – I weigh myself every morning (this will go up to morning and evening as I get closer to competition). I use a 7-day moving average to track movements in weight, as daily measurements are prone to water fluctuations etc.
  • MyFitnessPal – I think this is a stupid piece of software, but its the best I can find. I use it for tracking calories and macros.
  • Tape Measure – I’m taking quad, chest, neck, and waist measurements once a week. A derivative measure of these is body fat and hence lean and fat mass via the Navy Body Fat Calculator. This combination of measurements should give me a pretty good idea of how much of my weight fluctuation is muscle and how much is fat.
  • Google Sheets – I’ve got a lot of numbers to keep track of man!

Thus Far… Maintenance Calories

Before starting this I had no idea what my maintenance calories were… somewhere in the range of 2800 to 3000 seemed reasonable. I set my daily calorie goal for my first two weeks at 2500, which should have given me 0.3 to 0.5 kg of weight loss per week.

To eliminate water fluctuation I’m keeping track mostly of my seven day average body weight. At the end of the first week, it was 92.4 kg, and by the end of the second week it was 91.4 kg… hmm.

1 kg is approximately 7000 calories, so 1 kg x 7000 calories / kg = 7000 calories, split over 7 days is a 1000 calorie deficit per day! My average calories of the last 7 days was 2489, which puts my maintenance calories as 3500 (rounding to 2 s.f. because no-one is that precise.)

So that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand, I can eat a lot more than  I thought I can! On the other hand, I’ve been losing weight much faster than I should have been. Eric Helms recommends 0.5 to 1.0 % of your body weight per week, and I’d like to be towards to bottom end of that. Knowing this, I am going to increase my daily calorie goal to 3000 calories per day for the next 3 weeks. Hopefully that will see my 7- day average drop to 90 kg with minimal muscle loss.

That’s it for today – in a few more weeks I’ll publish another blog post with a full run through everything I did, by thoughts, and all of the various statistics I’m tracking!


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