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How To Drop A Weight Class Without Losing Strength

posted May 16, 2017, 12:27 PM by Dicy Saylor   [ updated May 17, 2017, 9:22 AM ]
Powerlifters tend to belong to two extreme groups when considering the ideal weight class for themselves. In the first group, we see folks trying to become as large as they can so they can move more weight. In the second group, we see folks trying to become as small as they can while moving the same weight as when they were bigger. I would suggest that both of these groups are not considering their health as priority number one. 

However, you may find that you belong to the group of people in the middle. The folks who need to lose some body fat but want to keep all of their strength while they diet. I belong to this group, and I've been asked how I put 72 pounds on my powerlifting total while losing 22 pounds of (mostly) body fat. In hindsight, the way I dropped a weight class seems obvious, but in the beginning it was a mystery. I want to explain that mystery to you, so no more stalling... let's dive right in!

Before I began, I got an amazing coach, Kelsea Koenreich of Team ProScience, to help me on my journey. I highly recommend her and her services. I have no qualms in recommending another coach to you on my coaching page. It goes without saying that I also recommend myself to help you drop a weight class! If hiring a coach isn't feasible for your budget, I suggest enlisting a friend to help hold you accountable or keep an internet diary-that's how I started way back when! 

Armed with your accountabilibuddy, here are the basic steps to follow which I will describe in more detail below.
  1. Just Begin!
  2. Diet Phases & Breaks
  3. Reversing & Rebuilding
  4. Life After Dieting

1. Just Begin!

There are two main ways to monitor your nutrition 1) meal templates and 2) counting macros.*

I am a supporter of counting macros because it teaches you what is in your food and helps you make choices for yourself. I feel that it builds a lifelong, sustainable eating habit compared to following templates. You don't want to follow either of these methods forever, so I think the best method is the one where you learn for yourself by trial and error. It's up to you which you decide to do, but just know if you want to work with me I will have you count macros.

Once you know which method you want to follow, just begin! Start monitoring your intake and changing your habits without actually starting a diet phase. You'll want to get used to eating like an athlete, making your own food, etc. before you do something stressful like feel hungry. Once you get the hang of your new lifestyle-it should only take a few weeks with the help of your accountabilibuddy-you're ready to move on to Step 2!

*Additionally you could simply track total calories, but your body composition will change in a more desirable way if you pay attention to your macronutrient intake.

2. Diet Phases & Breaks

Dieting is stressful on the body. I mean this in the physical sense of the word stress. Your body will increase it's production of the stress hormone-cortisol-while you diet. It's for this reason that you want to diet in phases and take breaks as needed.

Your first diet phase should not be too intense, e.g. a 10% caloric deficit. It's important to be a little strict during this phase because it's easy to eat your way out of such a small deficit. After a couple weeks, you can move into a larger deficit, e.g. 20% at which point you may want to consider adding in a refeed day weekly. A refeed day will still maintain the deficit, but you will put more of your calories towards carbs. This helps reset the cortisol levels, so you can diet a little longer. After about 6 weeks of dieting, you will want to evaluate where you are and consider taking a break. If you're close to your debut competition you may have to keep pushing. However, if you're following this method you will not be dieting into a competition ever!

What do I mean by that? 

I mean that you will follow this cycle of diet phases & breaks for a long time. You will most likely compete as a light lifter in your old weight class a few times before you make your debut in the weight class below. You *could* just wait until you've lost all the weight to debut, but I don't think I could stay away from the platform that long! I suggest competing every 4 months or so, and taking your diet breaks while you peak for your competition. 

A diet break consists of increasing your intake back to maintenance levels. They can last a day (birthdays, holidays), a week (a family vacation at a time with no competitions on the horizon), or a whole month (while you peak as previously mentioned). I have actually done all of these types of diet breaks during the year I spent losing the weight.

Eventually, you will debut in your new weight class, and because you've done this the correct way it will be time to move on to Step 3.

3. Reversing & Rebuilding

Now that you are a smaller person, your metabolism is lower than it used to be. Not only this, you've spend the last year or so dieting off and on and if you weren't lifting weights then you probably weren't very active-gotta conserve that energy! So now it's time to start reverse dieting and rebuilding your metabolism.

You'll want to reverse diet the same way you started dieting. Slowly! Increase your carbs and fats by 5-10g/day here and there so your body can adjust to the new fuel levels. You will eventually find the point where your body can't use the additional fuel any more and you can't add in more macros without gaining weight. However, with your newfound levels of energy, you will start moving your body more which will increase your metabolism which will allow you to eat more! This process will take many months, and should be taken just as seriously as the diet phase. I am currently towards the end of this phase. We have found the amount of food that my body likes (which incidentally is a little bit more than when I very first started) and now we're working on moving my body more and utilizing all this energy. Which brings me to...

4. Life After Dieting

No one wants to count macros and print off meal templates forever. Eventually, you will settle into a routine. Your body weight will find the spot it likes to hang around, and you will move away from tracking everything you eat. This isn't a call to throw everything you've learned out the window, but it is a call to listen to your intuition and use everything you've learned so you can fuel your body properly. You may find you will have to track going in to competitions just to keep your weight in check, but that all depends on where your body weight likes to sit relative to your weight class.

I hope you find this helpful, and if you're interested in working with me then drop me an email at coachdicy@teamdafitness.com! Until next time, thanks for visiting!
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