19 Aug 2013

Nutrition for armwrestlers

I have wanted to write an article about nutrition for arm wrestlers for a long time, because let’s face it there are many fat arm wrestlers, since we are competing in a sport with weight classes the excess fat doesn’t do you any good. The goal for any arm wrestlers must be to have as much muscles as possible in their weight class, this means that they must limit the amount of body fat. Unless of course you are in the super heavy weight division in which case you can read the article for pure educational purpose. 

I will not supply you with an exact diet program, rather I will stipulate some guide lines about micro nutrients (Carbs, Fat, protein) and also the timing of these, the goal is to get as much muscle protein synthesis without eating to many calories that make you fat. 

Well first of all we are not competing in a very calorie demanding sport like marathon running or cycling. So our intake of Carbohydrates does not need to be as high as for many other sports. This obviously depends on how you train. I know many arm wrestlers who do cross fit and running etc. and they need to compensate for this by eating enough calories. But if your only training consists of arm wrestling you do not have to eat like a rugby player. 

If you have gotten the impression that carbohydrates are bad for you and make you fat I want you to forget about this misunderstanding immediately. We need carbohydrates to be able to train hard and recover from workouts. Calories make you fat, not carbohydrates. 

When I say carbohydrates I am referring to starch that you find in Potatoes, pasta, bread, rice etc. Sugar is also a carbohydrate but has very different physiological properties. I think that Carbohydrates has gotten bad reputation because starch is confused with simple sugars (sucrose, fructose etc) 

Now it gets a bit complicated but stay with me. Common sugar (Sucrose) that you find in candy and soda has an ability to make you fat that goes beyond just its calories, The Sucrose molecule is composed of  50% Fructose and 50% Glucose. The fructose part is what causes the problem. It is a carbohydrate but it cannot be used directly by your muscles for energy. Instead it goes to you liver that converts it into glucose and fat and uses the energy for its own calorie needs. To make a very long story short: Fructose gives you calories but it is not an efficient source of energy for your muscles. Instead it leads to lower insulin sensitivity and increased level of free fatty acid in your blood, this makes you tired, hungry and you burn less calories and therefore you put on more weight. 

Starch on the other hand is only composed of glucose in long chains. Glucose is by far the best source of energy for your muscles and the rest of your body.  For anaerobic activities such as weightlifting and arm-wrestling it is the only source of energy that your body can use with maintained performance.

Muscle Growth

We all want more and stronger muscles, the biochemistry behind muscle growth have been studied thoroughly and we think that we have a good understanding on how it is regulated. From this we can also learn something about how to design our diet to maximize gains. 

For a muscle to grow it needs 3 things. 

1. A reason ( Heavy exercise) IGF-1

2. Energy ( Calories) Insulin

3. Building blocks (  Protein) Leucin

The muscle building process is controlled by a protein in your body called m-TOR, this factor measures the amount of IGF-1, Insulin and Leucine and control the muscle protein synthesis accordingly. If it senses that all these three factors are present your muscles will grow.


IGF-1: Anabolic peptide hormone released during resistant training (e.g. Lifting weights)
Insulin:  peptide hormone released when carbohydrate and calorie intake is high)
Leucin: Amino acid found in almost all proteins

So we can see that if we want to gain muscle we need to exercise and eat Carbohydrates and protein. And last but not least eat enough calories. Sounds simple right?  

But enough with the biochemistry let’s take some concrete examples.

Ex1: Lose weight maintain muscle mass  90kg male athlete

Several studies have shown that a high protein intake is important for keeping you muscle mass during periods of weight loss. So make sure you have a high intake of protein from Lean Meat, chicken, eggs, whey protein or fish.  A number that has been popular among bodybuilders is 2g/kg body weight. To me that sound like a reasonable figure, but I´d like to put it at 2,5g/kg body weight just to make sure. And since low carb diets have worked very well for many people over the years I recommend that you keep you carbohydrate intake below 100g per day

Then we get the following figures

Protein 225g / day
Carbohydrates 100g / day
Fat 90g /day

Total Calories: 2200 Kcal

Energy %
Protein 40%
Carbohydrates 19%
Fat: 41% 

Most of the carbohydrates should be ingested 1h before and immediately after workout. I also want you to eat 40g of protein and 20g of carbohydrates before going to bed, this is to support muscle recovery and growth during the first hours of sleep when growth hormone levels are naturally at its highest. How you choose to distribute the rest of the calories throughout the day is more or less up to you. I´m not a great fan of 6 meals a day, but if it suits you it is great. The important thing is to eat less calories than you burn so that you lose the excess fat. Try to lose no more than 1kg of body weight per week, more than this and you risk losing muscle mass. If weight loss is not sufficient, decrease your calorie intake or preferably increase you activity ( walking, running  etc)   

Ex 2: Gain muscle without gaining fat 80kg male

To gain muscle without gaining fat is also a popular goal. To succeed in this I will tell you one thing, you need to do some aerobic exercise! Maybe not if you are 20 years old, then your natural hormone profile might allow you to put on weight without gaining fat with only gym and armwrestling, but for the rest of us we need to do some running for example. This is to create a better hormonal profile in your system with higher levels of growth hormone and testosterone etc. 

Studies show that interval based exercise is best for promoting a positive hormone response. This is when you run for say 30sek than rest for 1 minute and then run again and so on. So incorporate 2 of these sessions every week. You can do it with running, cycling, swimming etc. 

To gain muscles effectively you need to gain weight. This means that you have to have a surplus of calories (eating more than you burn) Depending on your level of activity a total calorie intake of 3500 kcal should be enough. These calories should come from Starch, fat, and protein. Avoid sugar and fried food. Do not eat unhealthy food just because you want to gain weight. 

So here is the plan
Energy: 3500kcal
Carbohydrates: 350g
Fat: 130g
Protein 200g 

Carbs: 40%
Fat: 37%

Carbohydrates: Potatoes, rice, pasta
Protein: Meat, fish, egg, whey, chicken.
Fat, Fish, nuts, eggs, oils.

Timing: How you choose to distribute the calories throughout the day is up to you, but make sure you take 1g of carbohydrates and 0,5g of protein per kg of bodyweight immediately after every workout. I would also recommend a fairly large dinner, as I mentioned before the first hours of sleep are extremely important for growth and recovery. Make sure your body has enough energy and building blocks to make the most out of the growth hormone spike. 

Building muscles take time, be patient! If you notice that you start putting on a lot of fat, decrease the calories. If you are not gaining weight, eat more calories. Try to gain apx 0,5kg of weight every month. If you train hard and gain weigh slowly, most of it should be muscle mass. But you probably have to accept some more fat as well. Do not worry; this can be dealt with later. 
Good luck.

Author: Magnus Westberg

Read all articles written by Magnus Westberg in section Arm Science by Magnus Westberg