Jim Wendler: Few topics have been up for more debate at EFS than the role of nutrition and sport. There’s the “eat whatever” crowd, the “macronutrient/micronutrient perfect breakdown” crowd, and many more. It’s hard to find any middle ground.

We all know that many top athletes don’t have the best nutrition habits, but they’re the top athletes and their skills are exceptional. Is this any reason to dismiss nutrition? To me, as a powerlifter, nutrition wasn’t of great importance. I pretty much ate whatever I wanted and had success. As a football player though, I think it made a big difference.

There are many conflicting ideas out there—high protein versus low protein, carbs versus no carbs, tons of fat versus no fat at all. We all know the drill. So what is it? What’s your opinion on nutrition and its role on performance and recovery? And more importantly, what the hell do you recommend? I want some specifics, not studies!

Mike Ruggiera: Jim, you and I have discussed this before with no real conclusions. I made some of the best strength gains by just eating whatever I wanted. Hell, most of my diet consisted of Dinty Moore beef stew, Chef Boyardee beefaroni, a gallon and a half of milk a day, and protein shakes. But I believe eating that way led to my health issues. You need to eat healthy for the long term.

Jim Wendler: Mike, good point. I think many of us have experienced that.

Tom Deebel: The less processed the better. Lean meat, fresh veggies, and minimal fried crap and pizza, and you should be fine.

At my house, I buy organically-raised buffalo from a nearby farm. It’s slightly more expensive but provides twice as much protein per weight because the fat is so low. You don't have to be super anal, but choosing more natural foods is a good step.

Julia Ladewski: Personally, I eat healthy—lean meats, chicken, veggies, fruit, whole wheat breads and pastas, oats, and sweet potatoes. I don’t eat fish because I can’t cook it well enough to enjoy it. Jim and Mike both said that they could eat whatever they want and that as a powerlifter it doesn’t matter if you eat healthy or not. I disagree. Maybe it’s because I’m a lightweight female, but I feel like crap when I don’t eat well. I feel sluggish in my workouts. I also make sure to eat healthy to keep my weight at a certain level. I never really let myself get more than ten pounds over my weight class. I would say that I have roughly one third each macronutrient. I definitely feel that eating well has had a big effect on my performance. This is especially true after weigh-ins. As far as recovery from workouts, I’m not sure. I’d have to pay more attention to how I actually feel and recover after eating certain foods.

Now for my college athletes, I keep it simple. It mirrors what I said above—lean meats, chicken, pasta, veggies and fruit, oats, and low-fat dairy products. I teach them to cut out chips, fried foods, and processed foods. Again, it depends on the athlete. For an athlete who needs to gain weight/build muscle, I would recommend eating often and eating basically whatever he/she wants, focusing on calorie dense foods (meats, nuts, pastas, pizza, or meal replacement shakes). An athlete who is just maintaining or losing weight may need to be more cautious when eating pizza and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It’s not that they can’t have them, but for these athletes, it’s more about portion control. Also, for anyone, be sure to eat post-workout. This can speed up the recovery process.

Mark McLaughlin: With the college and high school athletes I train, you have to make it as simple and realistic as possible. With some exceptions, almost all male and female athletes are undernourished.

To start, breakfast is the most crucial meal of the day because it jumpstarts your metabolism. I recommend oatmeal, whole grain dry cereals, whole wheat toast, eggs, protein shakes, milk, and juice. Have a snack 2–3 hours later, something convenient like a protein bar. Lunch should be high in lean protein, and keep the carbs to vegetables and fruits.

The pre-workout snack is the second most important meal of the day. It should consist of a higher amount of carbs (40–50 g) and 10–20 g of protein. The post-workout meal is third in line of importance. I recommend a blend of Ultra-Fuel from Twin Labs (50 g) and 25 g of protein (Provision 6). About 1–2 hours later, have a meal high in carbs (i.e. whole wheat pasta, some sort of bean dish, etc.). Prior to bed time, I recommend a meal consisting of carbs to allow your system to sleep better. I like dry cereals, which are low in sugar (i.e. Wheat Chex). I also think that an athlete needs to drink at least 2–5 liters of water per day. Be sure to educate your athletes and teach them that the gains in the weight room or on the track can progress at a higher rate if proper recovery methods are used. Nutrition is a key component to this.

Alwyn Cosgrove: After being sick, my attitude on this has changed a lot. As an athlete, I think I was only concerned with getting enough calories to train hard or cutting calories to make weight. I don’t think anyone can argue as to the importance of a high fruit and vegetable content for health (even if it means you aren’t low carb).

So my basic recommendations for my athletes are to consume enough calories, but the bulk of their food sources have to be natural, primarily lean proteins and vegetables. To be honest, once this step is taken, most of them drop body fat pretty rapidly.

My other rules are eat five meals per day—don’t miss a meal (I’d rather they cheated on their plan than miss a meal) —and always use a post-workout drink (I prefer they use a protein-carb blend, however, I just want SOMETHING in them at this time).

Lance Mosely: There are so many different opinions out there, and they all have something good to say. I’ll first give you what I have been doing. Then I’ll put what I should be doing and what I’ve been trying to do to take myself to the next level.

I’ve been known not to eat very much at all, and I’ve had to force myself to eat just five meals a day. I would usually skip breakfast and then eat something (protein bar, shake) around 9–10 am. I might have a bowl of oatmeal in the morning on the way to work and then have some kind of protein for lunch with rice or potatoes. Throughout the day, I may have another shake or I might not eat anything until around 7–8 pm. I would usually try to drink a protein shake before bed. I would also consume at least nine dozen boxes of chocolate chip cookies a month. (This was the staple of my diet, no joke.) I generally ate whatever I wanted whenever I did eat.

Obviously, this is very poor eating. However, even though I knew I needed to eat much healthier, I never gave it much thought because I continued to get stronger. Now, I’m trying to get in what I need. I try to eat at least 300 grams of protein, as well as more rice (a variety) and potatoes. I try to drink protein shakes all the time, make sure that I eat breakfast, and eat every 2.5–3 hours.

This is taking some time to get used to because I’ve been eating the way that I first described all of my life (at least as long as I’ve been living on my own, which has been at least ten years). I’m on both sides of the fence though. I’ve seen people eat like shit and get strong, and I’ve seen some eat perfect but not progress as quickly. However, eventually health problems will catch up to you. When it comes to certain sports, nutrition should play more of a role. But for me, it comes down to conditioning. If you condition your body to do something (no matter what), it will learn how to do it whether it’s good or bad.

James Smith: There are many knowledgeable individuals in the “sport nutrition” industry who are far more qualified than I to address the biochemical aspect of nutrition as it relates to developing structure and function. Keep this in mind. Alternatively, I’ve taken myself up to a reasonably lean body weight of 260 lbs without the use of anabolic/androgenic steroids so take that for what it’s worth.

Generally, I recommend taking a multivitamin to almost anyone. The biggest distinction is that women tend to require an iron supplement due to the loss during menstruation, and men can generally go without due to the already higher concentrations found in red meat, which is part of most men’s diets. Obviously vegetarians, post-menopausal women, and those who are anemic are exceptions.

Attempt to limit your intake of liquid to water only. Personally, I drink nothing but water with the exception of protein/rice milk shakes and the occasional alcoholic beverage. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. The foods found here will consist of vegetables, fruits, meats, chicken, turkey, fish, and eggs. Try to limit your intake of saturated fat, which is found in fatty cuts of meat, chicken skin, turkey skin, junk food, fast food, most deep fried dishes, mayonnaise, and butter. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature.

You should also attempt to limit your intake of starchy carbohydrates to those products which are made from whole wheat and whole grain. This applies to bread, cereal, and pasta. Oatmeal is a great carbohydrate source.

Try to limit or eliminate the intake of foods/liquids high in sugar such as candy, soft drinks, and energy drinks. A much wiser alternative are foods such as yogurt, fruit, or muffins/brownies made with protein powder. Wise fat sources are olive oil, coconut oil, natural peanut butter, fish oil supplements, and nuts.

My meals are comprised of some combination of the following: oatmeal, eggs, fruit, green leafy vegetables, chicken, turkey, lean beef, deep cold water fish, whole wheat, whole grain bread although I eat my share of artesian and Italian style bread) and pasta, potatoes, rice (brown, white, long grain, wild), yogurt, natural peanut butter, tomato sauce, olive oil, rice milk, and protein powder/meal replacements.

Personally, I attempt to alternate a whole food meal with a protein or meal replacement shake throughout the day. I average 6–8 meals every day, and on training days I may eat nine times because of the extra shakes (post-workout, etc.).

The bottom line is that at the end of the day, you’ll either be in caloric surplus, deficit, or somewhere in between. So get the meals when you can, and try to achieve your target daily total. I strongly believe in feeding every 2–3 hours in order to maintain and regulate blood glucose levels.

Brian Schwab: I’ve found that I’m able to maintain enough lean muscle mass to keep my metabolism fast enough to stay lean year round, regardless of what I eat. However, I try to follow and I recommend the following:

  • Eat every 2–3 hours to maintain blood sugar and energy levels.
  • Eat a gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
  • Eat equal amounts of low glycemic carbohydrates with lean protein at every meal.
  • Avoid fried food, sugar, and starchy carbs (any white carbs such as bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes).
  • Try to drink an ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. I have a hard time with this.
  • Find a meal replacement powder and a bar with either a 40/30/30 or a 45/35/20 ratio of carbs/protein/fats that you can stomach and possibly enjoy. Keep one of them with you at all times, otherwise you’ll end up eating the first crap that becomes available. If you want to lose weight, eat them alone. If you want to gain weight, add them to a solid meal.
  • Prepare your meals in advance. This will prevent you from eating crap as well.
  • Drink some form of electrolyte and glucose combination during exercise to help restore blood sugar as it’s lost.

I take an antioxidant supplement, calcium/magnesium/zinc, and 3,000 mgs of vitamin C per day to boost my immune system. Two to three weeks prior to a competition, I drop from a protein/carb/fat ratio of around 40/40/20 to about 60/20/20 and almost entirely eliminate carbs to help eliminate water weight. I’m not nutty about any of this. I don’t weigh my food or count calories. Normally, if I want to eat something, I do. If I’m getting closer to a competition, I start to keep better track of what I’m eating to make sure that my body weight isn’t too high.

Because I start work early in the morning, I always have a meal replacement powder with skim milk for breakfast. Then I eat a bar a couple of hours later, leftovers for lunch, another bar or shake a couple of hours after that, Gatorade with glutamine and creatine during my workout, lean protein with low glycemic carbs and/or veggies for dinner, and another serving of glutamine and creatine before I go to sleep.

Travis Mash: This is a really cool topic, especially since I used to be a (name of strength guru has been deleted!) fan, and I was totally convinced that with his super special secret diet, miracles were going to happen for sure. All of a sudden I realized that I was already stronger than all of his athletes so maybe he is full of sh*t. All kidding aside, I totally believe that diet is important. However, for strength and even explosive type sports (throwing, Olympic lifting, football, etc.), all you need are certain guidelines. For example, I try to do the following:

1.   Take in 1.5 times my body weight in protein.
2.   Eat six meals per day.
3.   Drink post-workout shakes consisting of whey protein and carbs (great time for simple carbs/fruit) with BCAAs.
4.   Stay away from starchy carbs (sometimes I cheat…wait, I really cheat a lot).
5.   Increase my good fats (Omega 3 and 6). This is a much more efficient source of energy.
6.   Eat my greens and other high-fiber carbs.
7.   Take a quality multivitamin from a reputable company.

These are just a few things. Let’s not kid ourselves. Do your best with diet, lift heavy weights, and sleep a lot!

Jim Wendler: Thanks guys for all of your input. I think we can all agree. Don’t eat like crap!