The final part in this series will discuss some additional nutrition considerations for designing a peak and taper.
Whether or not the lifter is cutting weight.
In the first part of this series, I mentioned that novice lifters should not be cutting weight for meets, as it introduces too many extra variables. New lifters should be focused on having fun, learning, and gaining competition experience. In addition to adding stress to the process, cutting weight for meets can reduce performance.
More advanced lifters may choose to cut weight for important meets to increase competitiveness. My professional opinion is that weight cutting should be reserved for the highest priority events of the year and qualifying events, and is not necessary for all competitions. If you do choose to cut weight for a competition, there are some strategies that can be employed to optimize performance:
Maximizing Calories to Maximize Recovery and Reduce Risk of Injury
Caloric intake largely affects recovery from training, especially in a high intensity training phase. High intensity training in a deficit can also increase risk of injury, due to reduced recoverability, changes in leverages associated with weight loss, and decreased training fuel. As with anything in sport, a risk to benefit ratio must be assessed and ultimately a weight cutting strategy should be used that keeps the bigger picture in mind.
Accounting for Changes in Leverages by Dieting Slowly
In a perfect world, lifters would train and compete at the same weight. However, in order to maximize competitiveness, set records, or win championships, cutting into a weight class is sometimes in a lifter's best interests. In this case, it is beneficial to keep calories as high as possible by dieting over a long period of time. Losing a small percentage of his/her bodyweight per week allows the lifter to make small, manageable adjustments to changes in leverages (and the necessary technique adjustments that accompany these changes) each training week. Typically a lifter can use this method to get within a 1-2% of bodyweight water cut to make his/her weight class. Alternatively, with a faster cut, leverages change more quickly, requiring the lifter to make more frequent adjustments in lifting technique. The abruptness of change in how a certain weight "feels" can occasionally lead to loss of confidence and/or unintentional overreaching if training is not autoregulated.
Level Of Competition and Number of Competitions Per Year
Most lifters compete in multiple competitions per year, which can typically be ranked from least important to most important. Lifters (and/or coaches) can maximize performance at the highest priority meet of the year by periodizing training phases to peak at that competition. In some cases, this may mean "soft" peaking for other "lower" priority meets throughout the training year. Just as training and peaking for competitions may be planned to prioritize the most important competition of the year, it may be smart to only cut weight for the most important of these competitions. Spending a larger percentage of time at maintenance or in a surplus maximizes hypertrophy and strength adaptations to training. Refraining from dieting for lower priority competitions can be used as a way to prioritize performance at higher priority competitions.
At the beginning of this series, we discussed the concept of a sliding scale. Remember this scale and how individuals may fall on the scale as you design peaking protocols and tapers. The goals is always for the lifter to be at their absolute best ON meet day. A downloadable PDF version of this information, complete with helpful graphics and in-text citations, will be made available soon.