Weight Classes: Years of Yo-Yo Dieting In Review
By: Dan Dalenberg, Team PRS
Over the course of several years, I’ve experimented with a few different approaches to nutrition, lifted in 4 weight classes and seen my bodyweight go all over the place. While I will make some recommendations and hopefully share some lessons learned in this article, I believe that this is part of the process in strength sports. Lots of experimenting will happen and the right bodyweight will never quite be found, always a work in progress.
This period was when I was really first getting serious about powerlifting. I had done several meets by this point, but now was no longer playing football so powerlifting became my primary athletic focus. In 2009, I was lifting as light as 198 and had been following a stricter, cleaner diet. I wasn’t counting macros but did have a repetitive routine that kept me light. College started to make this hard, I had less control over my nutrition and saw my bodyweight (and waist line…) grow. I lifted in a couple meets at 220 and then gradually made my way to a lighter 242.
Lesson: There isn’t an excuse for losing control of your nutrition. I could have made better food choices, even when eating in the school cafeteria. My frame could handle carrying extra weight, but I could have done it without getting chubby too.
Now progress was really going fast! I had figured out a lot when it came to training, had some great mentors and made a ton of progress very quickly. My attitude with diet was that bigger would surely be better. I finally felt like I was ready to be really cutting weight and got comfortable with the idea of cutting for meets. 240 pounds worked well, so why not 250? Then 250 worked well… why not 260? This led to some disgusting, greasy, bloated diet choices. It was hard to keep my weight over 250, so food quality went out the window entirely. The worst choices I made were right after training. The gym was about a 15 mile drive from home. I would stop at the grocery store and get a box of my favorite Little Debbie’s (Zebra Cakes!) to eat on the way home. An appetizer for dinner of course. In that 15 minute drive, I was shoving hundreds of grams of sugar into my face and thousands of calories.
Lesson: I wasn’t any stronger at a sloppy 260 then I was at a chubby 250. I wasn’t stronger as a chubby 250 than I was at a better, more solid 240. The result of being that big was it negatively affected my health, made me a fat, sweaty mess and instilled a sense of self-hatred in me because I felt like a slob. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns when it comes to bodyweight, and I had blown right past it.
Late 2015- Present
I realized in the latter part of 2015 that I needed to change. What I was doing wasn’t working and I needed to permanently be lighter. I did lose a bunch of weight for my wedding in March 2015, but let my bodyweight climb back up after. Finally, by the Fall I had reflected and knew it was time to come down some.
I used a couple of different diets to do it. Ketogenic dieting for a couple rounds and then exactly the opposite. I like both low and high fat styles of diet, but simply find myself stronger and easier to manipulate bodyweight when eating carbs and low fat. I brought my bodyweight down into the mid 240s and have been there, or even a little lighter, consistently. My strength has only continued upwards and I feel, and look, much better. Most recently, I’ve decided that the 220 weight class is in my near future. I will be more competitive there and should be able to maintain the strength that I have built.
Lesson: Diet is about consistency and figuring out what you like. I like keto but don’t like training while eating that way. It’s easier for me to stick to a high carb, low fat diet and I can very easily push my bodyweight to wherever I need it to go. With my height, the 220 class is probably the right one to be targeting for the remainder of my time as a competitive powerlifter.
Bodyweight and competitive weight class will be a work in progress for a long time. Most people will be built to compete in 1-2 weight classes and it will take some work to get there. Embrace the process and try not to eat too many zebra cakes along the way.