In this article, Coach Will discusses the importance of carbohydrates for all Strength Trainees around workouts. This article goes into understanding when or how much to eat before, during, and after stepping into the gym and helps you understand how to time your carbs properly to improve performance and recovery allowing you to eek out the absolute most from training.
Most of us have goals. We set goals in order to give purpose to our actions. In strength training, for some of us the goal is overall strength to support our health and longevity in life. To allow us to do things better and longer than the average Joe. For others, our goals might be to squat, bench, or deadlift a particular weight, or achieve a particular total in powerlifting. Or, for someone like me, it may be to qualify for the Arnold Classic or for a spot on the National Team in order to go to the World Championship and be the best, or one of the best in the world.
Since 2014 I’ve had my eye on competing at a world championship. I’ve attended USAPL Raw Nationals every year since then and taken a podium position each time. Yet I’ve never quite been “good enough” to achieve that highest podium and snag a spot on the National Team as a full-power lifter.
The game changed after Raw Nationals 2017. The two top contenders in the 72kg class were no longer competing at USAPL Raw Nationals for one reason or another. This opened the door for the rest of us to duke it out on the platform for that 1 shining spot on the podium that is your automatic invitation to the World Championship.
The playing field was changed.
For one full year I’ve had my heart set on claiming this spot but then at the Arnold Classic in March of 2018 I experienced and injury that would make it challenging for me to continue to build my total to win.
On March 3rd, 2018 on my 3rd bench press attempt in the Pro American I suffered and avulsion fracture of my right rectus femoris. At the time, I didn’t know what happened but I knew it was bad. I walked off the platform after hearing and feeling 4 pops in my right hip and missing 120kg due to the immediate loss of strength in my right leg.
My right knee buckled under me three times as I walked back to the warm up room. My husband told me to stop being dramatic. Insensitive? Seems so. But he knows me well and knew whatever was going on wasn’t going to stop me from finishing the meet so he was trying to remain calm and collected to help me get through it.
The pain was real. And it was bad.
I remember lying on the floor sweating thinking maybe I should just pull out now. But I didn’t. My husband encouraged me to start warming up my deadlift and see how I felt. I did. It was challenging. It was painful. I couldn’t set myself up normally for the lift. But fast forward and I was able to pull 200kg for a 5kg PR that day. I was shocked. I was beyond happy considering how much pain I was in. I was also happy because I had ended the 3-meet dry spell with my Squat and finally hit a small PR that morning before the injury.
We weren’t done that day. I had another meet to do so we weighed in, fueled up, and carried on. Despite the injury, I was able to come back in the afternoon bench-only meet and hit that 120kg bench that my hip avulsed on...because, well, it was already f*cked. Despite it hurting, I didn’t lose any strength like I had during my attempt earlier in the day when the fracture occurred.
It didn’t hurt any more or any less than it did in the morning meet but that night was a different story. That’s when I knew something was very wrong. I couldn’t sleep. Every position was painful.
I took a week off from squatting thinking that would help. After that week off I tried to squat even though my hip still hurt. The bar hurt. But thinking it was a muscle strain or tear, I hoped that as I warmed up it would start to feel better, as most muscle injuries do.
Nope. The pain crescendoed as I added weight and at a mere 50kg I was in tears realizing this was a more serious injury than I had lead myself to believe.
Still thinking this was a muscle tear I found an exercise that had an eccentric component to the area of pain. Since the pain was on the front of my hip, a squat does not really cause an eccentric contraction of the hip flexors, plus the squat increased my pain. That day I started with 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg with split squats. It hurt, but my pain did not increase with number of reps so I did 1 or 2 sets without weight and then 3 sets with the bar. That was enough for that day.
Every. Day. After. That. for 2 weeks I went into the gym and linearly progressed the split squat in 2.5kg increments according to the Starr Rehab Protocol.
On March 14th, 2018 I decided to see the orthopedist for a few reasons:
My pain was not getting better.
I had terrible trouble sleeping comfortably as my hip was waking me up every time I turned over and I couldn’t sleep in my usual positions.
I was 9 weeks out from the IPF Classic Bench Press World Championship and I really needed my leg to be working for me.
Considering how much pain I was in and how seemingly slow my “hip strain” was healing, it was worth investigating further so we could change the intervention for faster healing.
I’m fortunate to have a good working relationship with my orthopedist and was able to be seen immediately. X-rays were actually negative 2 weeks after the injury but all symptoms and orthopedic tests pointed to something more severe than hip flexor tendonitis or strain so we got an MRI. The MRI revealed that I had, in fact, avulsed the rectus femoris.
An Avulsion is when there’s a fracture in the portion of the bone that a muscle and tendon connect to. Instead of the muscle tearing, the muscle pulled off the bone and took some bone with it.
No-freakin’-wonder I was in so much pain and healing slowly! Bone pain is intense pain and bone healing is slow. We wavered with the idea of doing a PRP injection to promote faster healing but in order for the injection to work optimally, I wouldn’t be able to “use my legs” in training for about 2 weeks. Well, training for Bench Worlds would be halted if that was the case so I decided to wait until after the world championship to make a decision about the injection.
On March 19th, 16 days after the injury, I added in squats at 45kg for 3 sets of 5 reps. It hurt, but the pain didn’t increase much above baseline from rep 1 to rep 15, so that became my starting point.
I was heartbroken.
I hit a PR of 370lb 19 days ago and now I was starting over with 99lb that left me sweaty and tired? Demoralizing. But, if being a physical therapist who specializes in working with barbell athletes has taught me anything, it’s that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel may be long. You may not know how long or what’s there waiting for you at the end, but it’s there. So I put on my doctor hat and reminded myself to put one foot in front of the other, keep my morale high, and keep working towards my goal.
My goal was multifold. My ultimate goal was to get better.
Better meant the following...I wanted to:
Squat heavy loads pain free.
Hiit a bench PR at the IPF Classic Bench Press World Championship 11 weeks after the injury.
At least squat 160kg by the time Nationals 2018 rolled around 32 weeks (8 months) after the injury.
Squat enough weight to win the 72kg class at USAPL Raw Nationals in order to qualify for the 2019 Raw World Championship.
5 x per week I went into the gym and added 5kg to my squat for 3 sets of 5 reps. Light weights were hurting but not increasing across sets. I found I needed to wear my belt and squat flat-foot to not have as much pain, so that’s what I did. By April 20th, 2018 (7 weeks after the initial injury) I was back up to 100kg squat for 3 sets of 5 and now squatting 3 x per week instead of 5. I wasn’t out of the woods yet.
It was painful, but not debilitating.
As the weights grew heavier I had to lessen the incremental jumps and change from 5s to 3s to avoid lingering pain. Eventually the loads got heavy enough that I had to switch to twice a week with a volume and a light day to avoid deep bone pain and promote recovery. We incorporated single leg work because my right leg was showing significant signs of weakness with single leg activities that challenged it (like stepping up onto the bench to reach the pull up bar).
PSA: What I want you all to realize from this is the following…Pain should not lead to quitting. It should not lead to immobility. It should not lead to movement avoidance. Movement does not have to be pain free when we are recovering from an injury. If we waited for movement to be pain free we’d lose a lot of ground, a lot of motivation, and we wouldn’t heal as well.
The KEY is finding the precise amount of movement and load that doesn’t increase symptoms. Once we establish that, we build from there. This will all vary based on your injury and what causes you pain.
I had manageable pain for a while with training.
My pain rules were as follows: if symptoms increased more than +2 out of 10 on a pain scale or got worse with every rep then I’d back off.
I didn’t have to back off frequently because of managing the programming progression well without being too fearful or too ambitious. I wasn’t a hero and didn’t try to slap 300lb on my back every time I felt “ok.” I stuck to my plan and chipped away with 2.5kg increases every session.
By July I finally had that session that was completely pain free.
On August 3rd I participated in a Strength Lifting meet for fun. In that meet I squatted 147kg (325lb) which was 12kg (26.5lb) more than I had handled in training since the initial injury. This gave me tremendous hope that by Nationals in October I’d be within walking distance of my best squat ever (167.5kg).
This might have been where the anxiety began without me even knowing it. I felt extremely hopeful that I could contend for first place if my squat rehab continued as it was. I started to believe I would win. I started to tell myself I would win.
I knew that after Bench Worlds in 2019 that I’d be taking a break from competing to start a family so I added on this idea that I could do both Bench and Raw Worlds and then take a break. So I put an exceedingly high degree of pressure on myself to win this year.
Couple that with a history of little-to-no progress on my squat and I worked myself into a major squat fail on my opener at USAPL Raw Nationals. I created so much internal anxiety with the pressure I was putting on myself plus the fears I had about progress and injury that I literally toppled over on my first squat attempt like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
It’s fine, no big deal. I brushed it off. Got over myself. Retook 150kg and crushed it and the meet was smooth sailing from there. Unfortunately though, this miss cost me at the end of a very tight meet. The winner took 1st by body weight. She and the second place lifter tied with a 495kg total. The 3rd place lifter had such a tremendous squat that she was able to chip her squat to break an American record and because of that she beat me by 1, ONE kilo!!! With a total of 486 versus 485.
While I didn’t win, I did achieve many goals at USAPL Raw Nationals.
I am better. My hip no longer hurts and I’m training as if nothing ever happened.
I squatted 160kg at Nationals 32 weeks after fracturing my hip.
I hit a full-power bench press PR of 120kg.
I hit a huge deadlift PR of 205kg.
I matched my best total which was achieved on the day I fractured my hip.
So, regardless of not winning, I’m still really pleased with my performance, my ability to come back long term after a major injury, and my ability to come back short term after a major squat fail and let neither affect the rest of my performance.
The biggest thing I’ll need to work on between now and my next meet is decreasing my pre-meet anxiety to reduce the chance of something like this happening in the future. This is the 3rd meet in a row where I’ve screwed up or choked on my squat. At Nationals in 2017 I had the wrong belt on and missed my second attempt. At the Arnold in 2017 (when I fractured my hip) I was so nervous on squats I was vomiting in my mouth and thus under performed.
I have to thank my Coach, Chris Aydin, my training partner and colleague, Will Brenseke, and most importantly, my husband for never ever giving up on me during the ups and downs of my rehab and for always encouraging, supporting and helping me brainstorm the process.
I’ve created a situation of squat PTSD and I need to break this cycle! So that’s what I’ll be working on before the Arnold Classic in March of 2019.
In the words of the Man himself, I’ll be back! See you on the platform :)
There you are, standing in your kitchen, glass of Pinot in hand, talking to a few of your friends about the latest TMZ blunder. Your husband is in the living room with a few of his friends watching football, eating wings, and spilling beer all over the brand new Polo you bought him for his birthday *sigh*. What a wonderful Sunday night it is. Once the crowd is gone, you eat the last slice of cold pizza (because really, who doesn’t like cold pizza?), put on your pajamas, brush your teeth with your eyes half shut, and crawl into bed. It’s 1am and the alarm is set for 6am. Time to get some shut eye.
The alarm rings LOUD for the third time this morning; oh how handy the snooze button has become. You crawl out of bed, messy hair, morning breath and all, and stumble into the bathroom to get going with your morning routine. First up? Get on the scale! The numbers blink, you take a double take, gasp for air, and step off upset you’ve undone all your hard work for the past 5 weeks. Three pounds in one day?! What the heck!?
Sound familiar? Is this more common in your life than you’d like to admit? Well, that’s okay. Enjoying time, food, and a little gossip with your friends isn’t a crime, just like the weight going up on the scale doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve gotten any fatter!
Maybe that doesn’t sound familiar to you. You might be the type of person to never slip up on your diet even for social events, holidays, and traveling. But sometimes that number still moves in the wrong direction. Again, this does. not. mean. you’ve gained actual fat.
You heard me! Seeing an increase in weight on the scale doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily gained fat. Weight gain does not equal fat gain. It most certainly could, but in this situation and many others like it, there are more likely reasons why the scale went up that have nothing to do with fat gain.
In your half-drunken stooper, laughing with friends until 12:30 am and indulging in an extra slice of pizza, a garlic knot, and a few too many wings, there was not much time between guzzling down some delicious food and falling asleep like a baby does to a bottle of warm milk. Sleep down-regulates metabolism and slows digestion. This makes sense, as there’s not much of a need for energy while you’re passed out dreaming about laying on the beach in the Bermuda. But this also means that food passes through the intestines much slower than when you’re awake and moving around. When it’s time to get up in the morning and weigh yourself on the scale, the large meal you already wish you didn’t have is still in your digestive tract.
Reason # 1: The scale went up compared to the day before because it’s also weighing the giant meal you had before bed!
This very smoothly segues into my next point. The scale in the morning could also be higher than the day before because you haven’t pooped yet. Sorry to get a little crude (but not really). Even if you haven’t had a very large meal before bed, the intestines hold on to quite a few pounds of material (including an entire ecosystem of living bacteria), and if nothing has been excreted yet for the day (or maybe the day before as well…), the scale will read heavier. In particular, foods high in fiber add bulk to the intestines, as well as a good amount of water content in order to keep things moving along.
Reason # 2: If you’re all of a sudden heavier in the morning, it may be because you just need to take a poop!
Side note: at PRS we recommend all our nutrition coaching clients weigh themselves before their morning poop so as not to produce “poop-scale” anxiety. If you always weigh yourself before you poop, your morning weight *should* be more consistent.
Continuing with the theme of food as the culprit for your sudden weight gain, foods high in carbohydrates are also a common cause for sudden weight gain. I know what you’re thinking, your suspicions of carbohydrates being evil have now been confirmed and you’re doomed to a life of lettuce and cucumbers in order to lose weight. Not so fast my friend!
Reason # 3: The weight gain that occurs after a high carb meal has nothing to do with storing carbs as fat. Instead, when a surplus of carbohydrates are eaten they are stored in the liver and in muscles as glycogen. For every gram of carbohydrate stored, there is also about three grams of water stored as well. This excess water retention is completely normal and a necessary function of cells.
What this means for you is an increase in weight on the scale that may be unexpected. Most often this occurs after a very large meal like a plate of pasta with meatballs, or in this instance, pizza, garlic knots and wings. Another scenario where this is likely to occur is when you switch from a lower to higher carbohydrate diet. For example: if on average you consume 150 grams of carbs but then you’re at a halloween party and happen to eat 3 handfuls of candy corn (holler to the small population of people who lurrvvvvvv candy corn!) then you’ve just taken in about 150 MORE grams of carbs than usual. This doesn’t all turn into fat overnight but it DOES hold on to extra water.
There is one more component to food that may be the cause of your rapid, unexpected weight gain over the course of a day or two; Sodium. Anyone who has had a large serving of General Tso's Chicken and a side of fried rice, or a medium movie theater popcorn, has experienced this water retaining effect, typically seen as swelling in your hands and feet or bloating.
Reason # 4: Sodium is one of the main electrolytes in the human body; a water soluble mineral that helps to maintain a proper electrochemical gradient and normal fluid balance. If there is too much salt in relation to water or vice versa the body must do something to restore equilibrium in your body. When too much salt is eaten, the body increases its water content by holding onto, or “retaining,” more water from food and drinks than usual. The effect is a body that is heavier, sometimes substantially heavier, than usual.
There are so many reasons why you may be a few pounds heavier some mornings than others that are not at all related to food that don’t mean you’ve gained fat.
We all know exercise is good for us. Actually, it may be one of the best things for us. And despite the fact that exercise is most commonly used as a means of losing weight, it can actually cause a transient increase in weight in the acute period post-exercise, especially after resistance training.
I know what you’re thinking: exercise is now the devil and if you wanna lose weight you should just sit around and eat lettuce all day. Not really though! It is completely normal for you to weigh more after a hard bout of resistance training, like a barbell training session or an F45 class, and it comes down to three things.
Reason # 5: Exercise increases blood flow to the muscles being worked. Resistance training in particular is responsible for an effect typically labeled “the pump.” This pump is a natural response to training and is actually beneficial for many reasons (most of which are outside the scope of this article). The cause of the pump is a rapid rushing of blood to the working muscles in an effort to deliver important nutrients as well shuttle out unwanted, and potentially harmful, waste products. The swelling that occurs may also be a mechanism that drives muscle growth. What is important for you to know is that “the pump” can and will last for hours and sometimes days, to some degree, after the session is over, and the increase in fluid volume in muscles will cause you to be heavier when stepping on the scale.
Reason # 6: Exercise increases the production and release of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. This is also a natural response to training and is a necessary part of the stress-recovery-adaptation cycle. Cortisol has a profound effect on the body, interacting with almost every type of tissue in some way or another. One of its major effects is water retention. As we’ve learned previously, and a common theme throughout this article, is that this water retaining effect will increase scale weight.
Reason # 7: Exercise induces an inflammatory response as part of the repair process. Microtrauma caused by resistance training, as well as ballistic exercises like running or plyometrics, are necessary to repair in order to recover. Again, with inflammation comes, you guessed it, water retention. Go figure!
By this time you have probably figured out that many of the reasons why scale weight fluctuates day-to-day is due to a fluctuation in body water content. You’ve probably also realized that there are many different reasons why body water content can fluctuate, and in fact there are still more to talk about!
Going back to cortisol, there are two other things that cause elevations in this hormone that will also have a fairly large impact on water fluctuation:
Lack of sleep (Reason # 8)
A high amount of general life stress (Reason # 9)
Both of these factors are fairly prevalent in most people’s lives, so remember that the next time the scale is something you’d rather throw out of your third story window instead of look at.
There is one more key factor that will affect day-to-day weight fluctuations, but it is only a factor for women: Menses.
Reason # 10: The premenstrual water retention that occurs before the menstrual phase of your cycle can cause quite a significant amount of water weight gain, amounting as high as a few pounds in some women. This water is then lost during menstruation. So, if you notice that you weigh the heaviest around the same time each month, this may very well be why!
In our example from the beginning of this article we had a middle aged female who was hopped up on alcohol, pizza, wings, laughter, and a lack of sleep. This concoction, as you now know, can be a recipe for short term weight gain that had nothing to do with gaining fat.
All too often unnecessary stress is caused by a sudden increase in scale weight, usually accompanied by an “oh shit!” moment. But seeing now that weight fluctuation can be caused by a shift in fluid balance, you can rest easy knowing that you probably didn’t gain a spare tire in a day if all other factors surrounding diet, exercise, and health are consistent and in check.
To drive this point home one last time, it may also be beneficial to explain that physiologically speaking, gaining a substantial amount of fat in one day is not physically possible. The caloric surplus necessary to gain one whole pound of fat in a day is tremendous and not attainable in one day by most people. In a week? That’s a different story, one that we’ll save for another time.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’ve been running a novice program for several months now, progressing the loads session to session. Your squat started to slow down so you introduced a light squat day to your training week and things are moving along steadily. Your bench and overhead press are still progressing thanks to the use of your nifty fractional plates. But your deadlift set of 5, which you’ve been alternating every other workout with power cleans or Pendlay Rows, seems to have come to a screeching halt.
You’ve been barbell training for a while. Maybe today’s your first day under the bar. Wherever you are on your strength journey, you know that putting weight on your back, or in your hands, feels some type of way. Some days the weight feels how you expect it to feel like, some days it feels like loose-leaf paper, and other days it feels like a humpback whale.
Let’s face it: sometimes the same weight feels different than what you expect or exactly like you expect.
Understanding how our bodies feel weight is as important as defining the weight with a concrete number.
What are the first exercises you think of when someone says they’re doing “upper body?” Bench press? Biceps and triceps? Dumbbell lateral raises? The obsession with growing arms, shoulders, and chest means cable columns, dumbbells, and benches are abundant in any gym with a weight room. So why do so many strength programs underemphasize, underrate, or completely omit the most important exercise for developing upper body strength and maintaining shoulder health?
We’ve all seen and heard it before - the advice on how to “tone up”, “bulk up” (or NOT bulk up), “get shredded”, “lean out”, etc... If you’re like me you’ve probably tried light weights, heavy weights, sets of 8, sets of 20, supersets, cardio, yoga, circuit training… the list goes on. So why did it all stop working eventually? Why do your pants not fit better? Why don’t you have 21-inch biceps? Chances are, at one point or another, you’ve succumbed to at least 1 of 5 common myths about strength training in your pursuit of a leaner, “more toned”, or muscular physique. Well, I’m here to set the record straight!
The endless wealth of information on the internet definitely has its benefits. Accessibility to information has allowed businesses to expand, entrepreneurs to set out on successful journeys, and people to expand their knowledge at quick and affordable rates. BUT! Like the hazards of Web-MD and self-diagnostics, people often times misinterpret and incorrectly apply information to their individual circumstances.
In this articleDr. Rori illustrates the intricacies that go into appropriately diagnosing and treating common aches and pains. She helps the reader understand why there are no "simple fixes" that can generally be applied based on a symptom descriptor and the importance of identifying what's causing issues in conjunction with follow up care.
Leg drive gets its own article as is a huge component of the bench press that can make or break a maximal attempt in competition or the completion of a training set as fatigue sets in throughout more and more reps. Additionally, in my physical therapy practice with barbell athletes, lack of leg drive is a common cause of shoulder injuries and pec strains while benching.