Recovery

This Diet Prevents Athletes From Reaching Peak Performance

September 3rd 2019

With the sudden rise in popularity of the carnivore diet many athletes from all backgrounds of sports have started to wonder if the diet would aid their athletic performance and maximize results during competition. Depending on an individual’s goals as well as the type of sport they partake in some athletes may benefit from the use of the carnivore diet whereas others may either receive little to no benefit or may find it suboptimal for performance. In the case of powerlifting, it appears that although the carnivore diet could be used by athletes to fuel training and competition it may not be optimal for their potential in the long run. Let’s first take a look into the carnivore diet and how its macronutrient breakdown could be used to fuel the powerlifting athlete. We will then explore how the use and availability of energy from carbohydrates compares to that from protein and fat alone and how it would affect overall training in respect to the length of time spent training, the overall quality of training, recovery and more.

Does the carnivore diet help powerlifting?

Though there may be short term benefits of performing the carnivore diet such as fat loss, the carnivore diet does not help powerlifters in the long run. In order to become efficient and optimal, strength athletes need to have a balance of their macronutrients to supply energy, prevent excess muscle breakdown and proper homeostasis. 

Macronutrients within the Carnivore Diet

In general, the carnivore diet consists of protein and fat with no carbohydrates at all. In some cases, there might be trace amounts of carbohydrates in an athlete’s diet if they consume dairy products. Protein and fat from sources such as meat, eggs, fish and dairy would provide the athlete protein to aid muscle protein synthesis along with fat for energy and hormone regulation. Something notable about the carnivore diet is that it could potentially benefit the performance and well-being of athletes who struggle to consume enough protein or calories each day. The carnivore diet typically provides athletes with at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day as well as a minimum 0.3 gram of fat per pound of bodyweight per day which would enhance recovery from training, promote muscle growth and development, and provide enough energy throughout the day for meeting basic needs.

Those in favor of the carnivore diet may argue that not only does the diet ensure that athletes consume enough protein and fat each day to recover properly from intense lifting as well as provide enough energy for the lifts but that carbohydrate intake is unnecessary due to the body’s ability to rely on ketones in place of carbohydrate metabolism. Although it’s true that athletes who consume only protein and fat would transition to a state of ketosis for energy it may not be what’s best for training and performance in the long run for athletes such as powerlifters who need immediate energy for intense, short-term activity.

Energy Availability: A Comparison of the Carnivore Diet with Carbohydrate Consumption

The carnivore diet leads to athletes relying on ketones for fuel. Athletes typically rely on sugar in the form of glucose for their main energy source and any glucose unused by the athlete is stored in the body within muscles and the liver as glycogen for future use. When athletes forego the consumption of carbohydrates, the liver provides glucose to the body. Once glucose has been used up within the liver ketone bodies are produced from fatty acids found from the athlete’s diet or from their stored body fat. 

Although endurance athletes typically benefit from the use of ketones, athletes who perform more anaerobic activity might suffer from relying on ketones alone. Once the athlete burns through their available resources from food they begin to rely on their own body fat for energy purposes. This can be a great way for athletes to become leaner and hit their weight class before a powerlifting meet but at times it may place stress on the kidneys or restrict the body in building and maintaining muscle tissue.

 When athletes incorporate carbohydrates into their diet not only is their glycogen stored in the muscles and liver but there is also a continual intake of glucose throughout the day from eating making glucose for energy accessible at any time as well as for immediate use. This is the best energy source is for anaerobic activities which lasts less than 3 minutes, although it’s typically most applicable to those which last a few seconds up to 1 minute. This makes it ideal for powerlifters who perform one rep maxes and short duration, heavy lifts.

Having carbohydrates within a diet allows powerlifters to not only have glycogen available for short bursts of intensity but also allows their bodies to produce more ATP from the extra energy stores. Thus, powerlifters would run out of energy less quickly when compared to those on the carnivore diet enabling them to train for longer periods of time. This is especially helpful to powerlifters who frequently include accessory lifts during their sessions or train at higher volumes on some days. It is always recommended for powerlifters to bring along carbohydrates during sessions which span for an hour or more to aid in glycogen replenishment for increased performance and recovery.

Additional Benefits from the Inclusion of Carbohydrates 

Powerlifters who rely on diets which include carbohydrates instead of diets which are composed of protein and fat alone find themselves having quicker recovery since glycogen is used for energy and more protein is available for protein synthesis instead of being consumed for energy.  Having increased recovery allows the athletes to train more frequently throughout the week in addition to training for longer amounts of time. Training additional days throughout the week allows athletes to spread out their specific lifts and have days that are dedicated to each of the major lifts performed during competition. By doing this, athletes are better able to perform the lifts in lower repetition with much heavier weight, thus mimicking what is required of them to do during competition.

Having additional days for training also allows the athlete to master their lifts. Not only is there increased attention to the weight being used but there’s also more focus on how it’s moved. Elite powerlifters understand just how important it is to not only lift with maximal effort but also to lift smarter than their competitors and not expend additional energy from using poor technique. This is especially helpful for those who are still new to the sport and should evaluate their technique more often to lead to eventual mastery of the movement.

Bringing it all Together

Although athletes may rely on the carnivore diet to fuel training and performance it is most optimal for those who compete in powerlifting to incorporate carbohydrates within their diet. Carbohydrate intake allows powerlifters to rely on immediate and continual energy stores which also leads to better recovery and higher training frequency. Protein and fat play a vital role in recovery for athletes as well as in energy production but they perform their roles more efficiently when glycogen is available to be relied upon as the main source of energy. Thus, carbohydrates give the athlete energy stores to be used at all times while having protein used towards recovery purposes and fat for hormone regulation or additional energy.

References

Fan, First S. (2013). The fat-fueled brain: unnatural or advantageous?. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-fat-fueled-brain-unnatural-or-advantageous/

Gary Slater & Stuart M. Phillips (2011) Nutrition guidelines for strength sports:

Sprinting, weightlifting, throwing events, and bodybuilding, Journal of Sports Sciences, 29:sup1,

S67-S77, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2011.574722

Kin, B. & Wojcik. N. (n.d.). Training Adaptations and Nutrition for the Powerlifting Athlete [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53ea1d82e4b08a3f9c99e8e5/t/53f6ccf4e4b0989e906fc935/1408683252892/Powerlifting+Nutrition.pdf

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