Could You Hack the Strongman Diet? – Eating for Serious Strength
Have you ever wondered what real-life giants eat every day? What sort of food can fuel a man to deadlift 1000 lbs. or overhead press a railway axle? If so, you’ve come to the right place. We’re about to break down a strongman’s incredible diet.
Strongman 101: Eating for Serious Strength
Strongman is a sport like no-other. As the name suggests, it’s all about finding out who’s the strongest guy on planet earth – period.
To crown the king of strength is competitors deadlift, carry cars, press logs, raise atlas stones, and even pull planes to victory. Unsurprisingly, this kind of monumental strength needs equally impressive fueling.
The strongman diet can be over six times the calories of an average man. While most of us will eat around 2000 kcals in a day, champions like Brian Shaw consume 12,000. In a video interview Shaw said he’s; “just eating to be the strongest human on the planet.” No calorie deficit, no weight cut, but everything power and performance.
Robert Oberst, another American champion claims he’ll chow up to 20,000 calories. To put that into perspective, that’s ten times the amount average men usually eat in a day. He jokily said these guys could eat his way; however, they wouldn’t be average for very long.
According to the USA’s number two competitor, he does it all through six meals per day! However, his wife says it’s more like seven including his midnight snack. There’s even footage of Oberst racking up an impressive grocery bill of over $450 for the week!
What makes a strongman diet plan?
Strongmen are eating for performance. While they might look big and bulky, which they are, they’re also athletes.
Chaw Wesley Smith, pioneer of the Juggernaut Strength System, said it best; “Strongman combines all the strength and technical abilities of my previous endeavors with the added requirement of great alactic, aerobic and lactic capacity.” In short, they need to be able to move, not just lift!
This means that strongmen must cover all their macronutrient bases. They require enough muscle glycogen from carbs to carry and rep-out, while being able to tap into flowing creatine stores for single big lifts.
Robert Oberst describes his body as a machine and a vessel to work. “If you want your car to run well you put good fuel in it. The same as your body”, says the huge, bearded man.
Due to the nature of the sport, it’s not just all about size – it’s performance too.
Now, when we say this, we’re not talking absolutes. It’s just that both size and performance play an equal role in competition success.
In a way, size sometimes equals function too.
The World’s Strongest Man 2018 winner Hafthor Bjornsson towers at a behemoth six-foot-nine, with a mass sum of 180 kg. Brian Shaw, a four-time WSM and three-time Arnold Classic champion, stands at six-foot-eight with 200+ kg of size as well.
We weren’t kidding when we said these men were giants roaming the earth.
According to top competitors, their size can aid them by increasing leverage. So, for most strongmen, their diet is finely tuned to find a balance between big enough and not too bulky.
It’s all about finding the weight where they can perform optimally, without carrying too much unnecessary body fat. One of the reasons for this is movement.
Because strongman events also cover the distance, these giants need to be nimble. Maybe not quite like a gymnast, but enough to carry a yoke for however many yards. If a man’s too fat he’ll struggle to make two feet.
Photo credit: @shawstrength
Essential Foods Every Strongman Should Eat
Many men who don’t know the life of a strongman make the same misconception. They see giant guys blotting out the sun and think they must eat whatever they want.
Who wouldn’t want to be a strongman, right? It sure looks like fun and games.
In actual fact this is far from the truth. Bjornsson told interviewers that when he started, he had the exact same mindset. He ate pizza, pasta, and anything he could get his hands on to get bigger.
But now he’s changed his mindset. Hafthor eats what will him a better athlete, “not just a bigger one”, having become conscious of what supports his body.
So, what’re the essential foods every strongman should eat? Let’s lift the lid on the diet of three top competitors…
Protein is an essential part of any strongman’s diet. Like all athletes, strongmen need the amino acids present in it to rebuild and maintain their muscle mass.
For this reason, these men need a high-quality protein source. Almost all competitors choose meat as their main source with the addition of eggs, milk, and whey.
Robert Oberst will even eat eight eggs for breakfast while Thor crushes six.
We should also mention that meat and eggs have high-creatine content too. This is something your muscles use to regenerate ATP for power-based, explosive exercises.
In Brian Shaw’s infamous video breakdown of his diet, he claims to eat 705 g of protein per day. When it comes to beef, he prefers grass-fed straight from the farmer as it feels “easier to digest”. It seems that for the strongman, digestibility is incredibly important.
Good sources of strongman protein include:
- Grass-fed steak (better CLA content)
- Ground beef
- Lean ground turkey
- Pasture-raised hen eggs (higher in vitamin D)
- Salmon (packed with healthy fatty acids)
- Tuna (canned in spring water)
- Whole milk
- Whey protein shake
- Casein (taken before bed for slow release)
- Greek yogurt
Carbohydrates are a huge portion of the strongman diet. Once eaten they can be broken down to provide their huge muscles with glucose, glycogen, and firepower.
As you’d expect, not just any old carb will do though. Strongmen like to mix their sources to get a mixture of simple and complex carbs. Again, much of this can be due to digestibility, for example, Thor prefers white rice as it’s easier on the stomach.
Eating carbs can also aid in recovering from strongman training too. Some researchers believe carbohydrates actually aid protein synthesis, and others say they aid sleep.
One interesting study also claims that carbs can boost the immune system for athletes during intense training. To put this bluntly competitors are less likely to get run down and ill.
“…it’s not the Mark Bell no-carb diet.” – Brian Shaw
Shaw got the message across simply when he said; “This diet is to make me as strong as I possibly can, so it’s not the Mark Bell no-carb diet”. The top contender will eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal for breakfast and angel hair pasta for lunch.
For the regular gym-goer, all this carb love can be confusing. But these guys aren’t trying to cut up for six-pack abs, so sugars and starches are strictly on the menu.
If they work for performance, you can bet your last dime they’re eating ‘em. In the words of former World’s Strongest Man, Eddie Hall, “If the average person eats a bowl of porridge… I will eat a bucket.”
That doesn’t mean it’s all fun though. Although most of us love nothing more than diving deep into a dish of carbs, almost all strongmen say it gets tough. Putting away so much bulk can become forceful after a while.
These are the most popular carbohydrates we saw in our three athletes’ diets:
- White potatoes
- Sweet potatoes
- Jasmine, basmati, and white rice
- Frozen berries
- Granola bars
For years the mainstream media told men to stay away from fats. But we’re here to tell you that they’re integral for your health. By avoiding fats you’ll seriously hold back your strength potential. Plus, your hormone health will take a hit, which is not ideal.
As a strongman, eating high-quality fats not only gives you energy but protection too. Healthy fatty acids can benefit joints that take a serious hammering in training. It’s for this reason most supplement with fish oil or some kind of Omega capsule.
Another thing to consider is testosterone. Without fats, strongmen simply could not generate the amount of muscle mass that’s necessary to toss kegs sky high. This is because they need to maximize their levels of the male sex hormone.
Without getting too deep into the science, cholesterol found in certain fats is an integral precursor to testosterone. As a result, opting for a low-fat diet can damage hormone production.
Chole-ster-ol, testo-ster-one. Notice the ‘ster’ part? It all makes sense when you put it like that, right?
Crushing those calories
Finally, for fat, consider their caloric density. At nine kilo-calories per single gram of weight they’re the densest of all macros. Carbs for example come in at just four per gram and the same for protein.
When you’re trying to hike your intake into a caloric surplus to stay strong, fats become seriously handy. As many of us know it’s hard to maintain maximum strength and/or build muscle without this extra energy. In terms of growth, it’s absolutely integral.
These are the most popular fats we saw in our three competitors diet plans:
- Peanut butter
- Brazil nuts
- Fish oil supplements
- Greek yogurt (full-fat of course)
- Egg yolk
- Omega 3 and 6 supplements
The best of the rest
Building a well-balanced strongman diet requires just that – balance. Therefore, it’s important to support the body with a bunch of other micronutrients. Brown rice, chicken, and broccoli just doesn’t seem to cut it.
When looking at the diet of strength athletes one thing is very clear. These guys definitely don’t skip out on the vegetables.
Excuse us sounding like a broken barbell but it’s all about eating for peak performance. Bodybuilders might not eat their greens (besides broccoli) but strongmen need them.
For athletes to move their best, they require all the right vitamins. This is because the correct alphabetic gathering of micronutrients supports biological and cellular functions. Vitamin D promotes testosterone production, C boosts the immune system, while B vitamins boulder energy pathways, for example.
Let’s not forget about the minerals either. Magnesium is absolutely vital for high-performing muscle and zinc is another powerhouse for testosterone. Both of these things are known as essential minerals. There are others also, but that’s for another article…
Any self-respecting strongman should use these add-ons to dial-in their diet:
- Berries (full of antioxidants)
- Fruit – pears, apple, dates, etc. (rich in vitamins)
- Leafy greens – spinach, kale, cabbage, etc. (rich in iron)
- Fibrous vegetables – broccoli, asparagus, green beans, beetroot, bok choy, sprouts, carrots, red pepper, etc. (aid in digestion)
- Zinc supplement
- Magnesium supplement
- Vitamin D supplement
- Essential amino acids (EAA)
- D-aspartic acid (a known testosterone booster)
- Sea salt (replenish sodium)
Do you think you could eat like a strongman?
What do you say? A five-figure calorie count and seven meals per day sounds like heaven, right? Well, that’s what we thought too.
Right up until we checked out what Hafthor Bjornsson was eating in a run-up to a previous World’s Strongest Man. As a competitor, he finished inside the WSM’s top 10 since 2011 and in this year, he took the title.
His diet plan for that event prep is almost as impressive. This is what the Game of Thrones star was devouring most days:
- 6:50 am – BCAA, Glutamine, & handful of almonds
- 7:30 am – 200 g Oats, blueberries, strawberries, & avocado
- 9:30 am – 400 g beef, 400 g sweet potatoes, a handful of spinach, & greens
- 11:50 am – BCAA & Glutamine
- 12:00 pm – 400 g chicken, 400 g potatoes, greens, & fruits
- 14:00 pm – (blended) – 150g oats or sweet potatoes, 2 bananas, 150 g Kellogg’s rice Krispies, frozen berries, handful almonds, peanut butter, glutamine
- 14:30 pm – BCAA, Glutamine, Vitargo
- 17:30 pm – 60g whey protein & 2 bananas
- 18:00 pm – 500 g beef, potatoes, & greens
- 20:30 pm – 500 g salmon & 500 g sweet potatoes
- 22:30 50 g casein protein or 6 eggs, avocado, 30 g almonds, & 50 g peanut butter
- 24:00 pm / 02:00 am – 50 g casein protein or raw eggs
Looking at those numbers it’s easy to see why strongmen consider dieting to be the hardest part. The sheer volume turns eating into a full-time endeavor, which although tasty, can get tough. Brian Shaw is quick to point out it’s the feasting part that’s harder than the actual training. For him, lifting heavy objects is as fun as it gets.
Can you stomach it?
So, do you think you could eat the strongman diet? We’re not ashamed to say we’d struggle. But then again, we’re not training to break world records in feats of strength.
At this stage, we’d usually say, “try it today”. In this case, though, we don’t advise any of that as this is a strict plan set up for the strongest of giants. It’ll no doubt put a Mountain sized dent into your bank account as well.
Good luck in your strength game brother. Keep on crushing it.