Maximizing Your Insulin Response

“Carbohydrate” has become a dirty word in recent years due to the popularity of high-protein diets like the Paleo Diet and the Keto Diet.  These diets strive to maximize the body’s fat burning abilities by keeping insulin levels low and forcing the body to use fat as fuel.  

Unfortunately, these high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets do not maximize a weightlifter’s muscle building potential.  Consider these facts–

Anabolic hormones stimulate muscle growth and development. 

The body has three primary anabolic hormones:

  • Testosterone
  • Growth Hormone
  • Insulin  

Insulin is required to build muscle.  

USA Weightlifting’s sports dietitian, Meagan O’Connor explains:

Insulin helps to maintain blood glucose within a normal range. As you consume carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose for energy into the bloodstream. When glucose levels rise, insulin is then secreted to help store glucose in the muscles, liver, and fat cells. So, insulin is an anabolic hormone (promotes building) of muscles. 

Insulin is even more anabolic than growth hormone, so diets that suppress the body’s insulin response hinder the body’s ability to create and maintain muscle mass.  

The body is very sensitive to insulin during and just after intense physical activity, especially weight training.  

A weightlifter can maximize this phenomenon by consuming fast-acting glucose forms during and just after lifting weights.  

USA Weightlifting’s sports dietitian, Meagan O’Connor explains:

Since weightlifting is using the stored glucose in our muscles for energy, it is important to consume fast-acting glucose forms (such as a sports drink or a granola bar made with refined grains). These break down faster in our bodies to get into the bloodstream and secrete the insulin to then rebuild and repair the muscles.

Fast-acting glucose forms are simply foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI). High GI foods are fast-digesting carbohydrates that enter the bloodstream quickly causing insulin to spike.

High GI foods Include:

  • Sugar
  • Candy
  • Sports Drinks
  • Soda
  • White Bread
  • Instant Oatmeal
  • Sugary Cereals
  • White Rice
  • Pasta
  • White Potatoes
  • Pretzels 
  • Rice Cakes 
  • Popcorn

A weightlifter can maximize muscle building and repair by consuming high GI foods during and just after training.

Caution: More is Not Better.  Inducing an insulin spike during and just after weightlifting boosts your body’s muscle building and repair potential.  However, eating high GI foods throughout the entire day is not beneficial.  High GI foods spike insulin. When the body has high levels of insulin, it will not burn fat.  It will simply use the carbohydrates available as fuel and store any excess in the muscles and fat cells.

Give your body a chance to burn fat by limiting your high GI foods to during and just after your workouts.  Through the rest of the day, strive to eat low GI foods, which will digest more slowly and not create a large insulin spike.

Photo Credit: Matthew Bjerre


  1. Ishii, Tomofusa, et al. “Resistance training improves insulin sensitivity in NIDDM subjects without altering maximal oxygen uptake.” Diabetes care21.8 (1998): 1353-1355.
  2. DC, Clay Hyght. “The Insulin Advantage.” T NATION,
  3. “Glycemic Index and Diabetes.” American Diabetes Association,
  4. “What Are Anabolic Hormones?15+ Ways To Boost It for Muscle Growth.” Total Shape,

The Most Important Thing

What is the most important aspect of developing a youth weightlifter?  Coaches of elite youth weightlifters weigh-in on the most important part of the process:


Ray Jones, coach of Youth World Record Holder C.J. Cummings and 2019 Youth World Team member Dade Stanley

Keeping athletes healthy and injury free.  I want to see my youth athletes lift in the Masters division.  It is not about the moment.  I want weightlifting to be something my athletes can do as long as they want to do it.  


Dane Millercoach of Haley Reichardt (2016 Youth Worlds bronze medalist), Kate Wehr and Emma Esterbrook (youth national champions) 

Technique.  The absolute most important aspect is to not only teach technique for proper movement but teach athletes the value of technique, what to look for technique-wise in other lifters and how to feel technically sound positions!


Kevin Doherty, coach of Olympian Jenny Arthur and 2019 Youth World Team member Seth Tom

Recruitment! Being in a comprehensive school setting allows me to funnel massive amounts of humanity through a weightlifting curriculum.

Second, teaching progression!


Jimmy Duke, coach of 2018 youth Olympian Jerome Smith and youth national champions Antwan Kilbert and Destiny Snider

Be Flexible.  The most important thing I have learned from coaching is that no two kids are the same.  Kids learn differently, move differently, have different mobilities and have different levels of athleticism or athletic experience.  So when it comes to putting concepts in an athlete’s head, especially a young athlete, you have to be ready to change plans.  You have to be flexible in your coaching method and verbal cues if you want to be an effective coach.


Ben Hwa, coach of 2019 Youth World Team member Seth Tom and co-coach of Hassle Free Barbell

Compete early and often. I think it sets a good precedence for kids to be unafraid to put themselves out there and show the progress they’ve made. It’s something that keeps them accountable to train and a way to continually show validation throughout the process.



Tripp Morris, coach of 2018 Youth Pan American bronze medalist and 2019 Youth World Team member, Hampton Morris
Patience.  As a coach, you have to have patience when developing a successful weightlifter.  Develop a long term plan and have patience to work that plan.


Opportunity. An athlete needs to have opportunity to develop into a successful weightlifter.  Athletes can have huge potential and a great work ethic, but without access or opportunity to work, then they will always be limited.
Photo Credit for all photos: Lifting.Life

Hand Care for Young Lifters

New lifters often regard ripped hands as evidence of their hard work, proudly displaying them in social media posts or parading them around the gym for everyone to see. More experienced lifters, however, know that damaged hands just slow you down. When the hands are torn or tender, barbell work becomes painful and difficult to sustain.

To keep the Gains Trains rolling, prioritize hand care just like you prioritize nutrition, sleep and training. Here are a few pointers to improve your hand health:

Keep the Hands Clean. Wash your hands before training to keep germs from spreading in the gym, especially if you share equipment with other lifters. Wash your hands again after training to remove the chalk. Magnesium carbonate, a.k.a. chalk, dries out the hands, making it a fantastic solution for sweaty palms during weightlifting. If it stays on the hands for hours, though, it can lead to chapped or cracked skin.

Shop in the Foot Care Aisle. The hand care aisle of your local store will not carry the products you need for your hands. Why? A weightlifter’s hands are like the average person’s feet—full of rough skin and callouses.

Instead, proceed to the foot care aisle and look for . . .

  • Callous Softening LotionRips occur when the top layer of skin shears away from the bottom layer. Large callouses can get caught on a moving barbell, ripping off the skin. Callous softening lotion can be used with a file to manage callouses, either completely removing them or filling them flat so they do not catch on the barbell.


  • Rough File: Foot files range from tools that look like large fingernail files to ones that look like cheese graters. Avoid the more aggressive “cheese grater” files; they may take off too much skin or make your hands bleed if used too frequently or aggressively.

  • Pumice Stone: Pumice forms when hot lava mixes with water and hardens.  The porous, abrasive pumice stone is great for removing excess dry skin.

Shower Smart. Each time you shower, spend a couple of minutes scrubbing your hands gently with the pumice stone. This should remove the roughest patches of skin.  Allow your pumice stone to dry between uses so that bacteria does not grow in the pores.  Over time, the stone will wear down, and you will need to replace it.


Moisturize and File. About once a week, use your callous softening lotion and file. First, apply a thick layer of softening lotion and give it about 5 minutes to absorb. Next, use your file to sand down any thick layers of skin. Pay special attention to the areas where you normally rip.


Tape. If your hands regularly rip in the same spots, such as your thumbs or fingers, tape up the problem areas before your workouts to give them an added layer of protection. Regular athletic tape will suffice, but many lifters prefer stretch tape because it sticks to itself and not to the skin, and it has a padded feel.

15 Performance Enhancing Foods

Steroids.  Testosterone.  Human Growth Hormone.  These performance enhancing substances are prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) when present in the body in high concentrations.  Did you know that you can reap the benefit of these and other performance-enhancing substances, however, in a completely legal–and healthy–way through food?

Here are 15 performance enhancing foods to add to your diet:


Oats contain saponins, or chemical compounds, that produce a steroid-like effect.  The saponins in oats boost testosterone levels by increasing levels of luteinizing hormone, which is the hormone responsible for initiating testosterone production.  Boost your testosterone levels by eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. 


Wild Game

Tap into the muscle-building power of creatine by adding wild game to your diet.  Creatine allows an athlete to work more intensely during an exercise session and is especially beneficial to weightlifters because it recycles adenosine triphosphate (ATP) back into the muscles quickly, allowing for more repetitions before fatigue sets in.  Wild game is the richest dietary source of creatine, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.  Game meats include venison, buffalo, rabbit, elk, boar, ostrich, moose,  and wild duck.

Free Range or Grass Fed Meats

Don’t have access to wild game?  Creatine is also found in domestic meats, with the highest concentrations in free range meats.  Look for free range chicken, turkey, lamb, veal, pork and fish.



Quinoa is a natural ZMA supplement.  ZMA is a supplement made up of zinc, magnesium aspartate, and arginine.  It is used by athletes, including weightlifters, to support the immune system, enhance muscle recovery, boost muscle size and strength, and promote better sleep.  One cup of quinoa contains one-third daily value of zinc, full RDA of Magnesium and 1.7 g of Arginine.  Quinoa is also one of the only plant foods that is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids the body needs to build lean muscle.



Celery is a natural testosterone supplement.  Studies show that even the smell of celery can increase testosterone levels in the body.  Celery also offers plenty of vitamins and minerals.  One cup of celery offers nearly 45 percent of the daily value of vitamin K.  It also serves as a good source of vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin B6.


Chocolate Milk

Are you playing multiple sports or doing two workouts a day?  Drink a glass of chocolate milk after the first session to improve performance in the second session.  In a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, a group of cyclists drank three different recovery beverages following an interval workout.  Four hours later, the cyclists performed another workout.  The cyclists who drank chocolate milk as their recovery beverage cycled 49% longer and performed 57% more work in the second workout than cyclists given a carb-replacement beverage.



Turkey is high in beta-alanine, an amino acid that reduces acidity in the muscles.  During high-intensity workouts, such as weightlifting, acidity in the muscles increases when glucose breaks down into lactic acid, leading to fatigue.  A study published by the American College of Sports Medicine confirms that beta-alanine buffers this acidity, which allows an athlete to perform  high intensity exercise longer before tiring.  With 2 grams of beta-alanine per 3 oz. cooked serving, turkey breast is an excellent choice for increasing beta-alanine in the body

Cod Liver Oil

You might be surprised to hear that vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a steroid hormone that is produced when the body is exposed to the sun.  The best source of vitamin D is sun exposure.  If you do not live where it is sunny year-round, however, you can supplement with fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil, which contains 227% of the vitamin D RDA per tablespoon.  Alternatively, you could eat 3 oz. of salmon (75% RDA), but you would have to eat fish almost every day to get enough vitamin D.



Glutamine, the most prevalent amino acid in the human body, may boost human growth hormone (HGH) levels according to a study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  Glutamine is available in a variety of protein sources, including soybeans and kidney beans.  Beans are also rich in folate, a B vitamin that fuels muscle growth, and copper, which strengthens tendons.  Add a serving of beans to your soup, salad, or dinner plate to spark a rise in HGH.


Leafy Green Vegetables

Weightlifters often take nitric oxide supplements to support muscle growth and athletic performance.  Nitric oxide is involved in many cell processes, including the widening of the blood vessels, or vasodilation. Wider blood vessels means faster delivery of nutrients and oxygen to working muscles during exercise, which enhances exercise performance.  Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, chard, kale and lettuce are particularly high in nitrates.  Don’t like salad?  Toss a handful of baby spinach into the blender with some orange juice and frozen fruit.  You won’t notice the spinach in this tasty shake!



A study from Texas A&M found that subjects who consumed 3 whole eggs following a weightlifting program for 12 weeks gained twice as much muscle mass and twice as much strength as subjects eating no eggs or just one whole egg per day.  The cholesterol in eggs supports testosterone development, which leads to big gains.  Keep in mind, however, that the study was conducted on adults, so youth athletes should adjust their egg consumption accordingly.


Cottage Cheese

Tyrosine is an amino acid that may improve performance in stressful situations.  Tyrosine does not directly improve athletic performance.  However, studies confirm that it may benefit healthy individuals exposed to demanding situational conditions, such as an athlete at a weightlifting competition.  A one-cup serving of cottage cheese contains 1833 mg of tyrosine, and can promote calmness when stress levels rise.


Beets A study conducted at Kansas State University found that athletes who drank beet juice experienced a 38 percent increase in blood flow to muscles, especially “fast twitch” muscles that affect bursts of speed and strength.  Researchers attributed the results to nitrates found in beets.

If eating beets does not appeal to you, consider these 10 Kid Friendly Beet Recipes.


Olives  Oleuropein is a compound found in olives and olive oil that helps the body use proteins more efficiently.  In a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, rats that had a protein-rich diet retained no less than 46 percent more protein when large amounts of oleuropein were added to their food. In addition, they produced 250% more testosterone and less cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone.”  The same results may not hold true for humans, but olives are still worth adding to your diet.  Olives are a rich sources of antioxidants, iron, calcium fiber, copper, vitamin E, vitamin K, and choline.



Peanuts are high in leucine, a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA).  BCAAs are broken down in the muscles instead of the liver, enhancing energy production and muscle synthesis during exercise.

A study reported in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that six weeks of leucine supplementation significantly improved both endurance and upper-body power in competitive rowers.  Another study reported in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology found that consuming leucine right after a workout stimulated muscle recovery and muscle protein synthesis.

For youth athletes, peanuts offer the additional benefit of high calories.  Each half-cup (73-gram) serving of peanuts contains around 425 calories.  So if you’re having a hard time getting enough calories to drive your muscle gain, eating peanuts could be a good way to get some extra calories and nutrients.  Try some of these peanut butter packed No Bake Energy Bites for a post-workout treat.

Final Considerations:

  • Dietary supplements can boost athletic performance.
  • The supplement industry is not regulated, however, which means that no one monitors the manufacture of dietary supplements.
  • Sometimes manufacturers put banned substances into their products without listing them on the labels, and athletes get flagged for doping.
  • Athletes are liable for any banned substances in their bodies, whether they know about them or not.
  • Finally, research on dietary supplements is generally performed on ADULT athletes, not youth athletes, so any side effects may be greater for younger athletes.

So what does this mean for you?

You might be better off eating real food than fueling your body on supplements.  Real food contains nutrients within their whole food matrix, making it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients and less likely that you will overdose or experience bad side effects.

What if I Don’t Make Weight?

The countdown is on for USA Weightlifting’s (USAW) National Youth Championships, aka Youth Nationals, and tensions are rising.  Among the stressors is . . . body weight.  Weightlifting is a weight class sport, which means that athletes only compete with others in their same weight range.  This will be our family’s fifth Youth Nationals, and our fifth year stressing about body weight.  It happens EVERY year.  The problem?

Kids keep growing!

You register your child at one body weight, and two weeks out from the competition, she is at a completely different body weight.  If an athlete is at a borderline body weight (1 to 2 kg over the weight class), do you push the athlete into a lower weight class?  What if an athlete barely made the qualifying total to participate in the competition?  Can this athlete still move up a weight class?  What if the athlete doesn’t make weight at the competition?  Can the athlete simply show up to the next session, weigh in again, and compete in a higher weight class?

Every year a handful of kids do not make weight at Youth Nationals and are not allowed to participate in the event.  It is a heartbreaking situation for the athletes, coaches, and parents who invested so much in the competition.  Save yourself some trauma by taking these precautions:

Weigh Your Athlete at Home.  Your bathroom scale is not particularly accurate.  However, it should be consistent, which means you can still work with it.  For instance, I know that my bathroom scale reads 0.3 kg lighter than a competition scale.  So, I add 0.3 kg to the number on the scale to determine a true body weight.  If you have access to a competition scale, or another very accurate scale, it will be helpful to compare your scale to determine its accuracy.

Youth athletes (chronological age of 17 or under) are now required to wear singlets at USAW weigh-ins, so make sure you check body weight with your athlete wearing a singlet.

If your athlete is well within the limits of his or her weight class, skip to step 3.

Emilia, age 12, has worked hard to make it to Youth Nationals but must move up a weight class due to a growth spurt!

Experiment in Advance. If your athlete is at a borderline bodyweight, i.e. 1-2 kg over their weight class, you must decide whether to cut weight to fit into the weight class.  Generally, athletes will be more competitive in a lighter weight class.  Some factors that affect this decision include: the athlete’s experience within the sport, age, body composition, and goals.  For instance, it should be no problem for a healthy 69-kg, 16-year old to lose 2 kg by limiting carbohydrate intake for 24-hours prior to weigh-ins.  Conversely, it will be very difficult for a lean 12-year old to shed 2 kg.  Also consider the athlete’s experience and goals.  Is this the athlete’s first national competition?  If so, do you want him or her to remember it as a miserable event involving dieting and depravation?  Is your athlete’s goal to medal or make personal records?  If you choose to cut weight, experiment at home first.  Know what works for your athlete, and have a plan before you show up at Nationals.

Bring Your Scale to the Competition.  That inaccurate bathroom scale I was talking about, yep, that thing.  Bring it with you to the competition, whether you are borderline in your weight class or not.  On Thursday, competition check-scales will be available.  Bring your bathroom scale and your athlete to the check-scale.  Check your athlete’s weight on both scales.  Now you know where you stand.  You can return to your hotel room with your bathroom scale and have some assurance of your athlete’s true weight.  If your athlete is cutting weight, he or she likely will be weighing multiple times before the competition.  It is easier to obsess about things in your hotel room rather than returning to the check-scale every few hours.  Even so, it is not a bad idea to check weight against the official check-scales as you get closer to the weigh-ins.

Make Weight Class Adjustments if Needed.  If you already know that your athlete needs to move up a weight class, make the adjustment now by contacting USAW’s National Office in writing (an email works just fine).  You can continue to made adjustments until 5:00 pm Mountain Time, Wednesday, June 13.  You can also make a weight class change at the Verification of Final Entries Meeting on Thursday, June 14 at 2:30 p.m.  After this time, NO WEIGHT CLASS CHANGES are allowed.  It is best to weigh one final time before the Verification of Final Entries Meeting to make very, very sure that you do not need to change weight classes.

Can my athlete still move up a weight class if she did not produce a qualifying total for the heavier weight class?

Yes!  As long as the athlete’s combined starting attempts at Youth Nationals are within 20 kg of the qualifying total for that weight class, the athlete can move into the heavier weight class.  For example, I registered my daughter, Emilia, for Youth Nationals based on a qualifying total she produced in January.  In January, Emilia weighed 44 kg and totaled exactly 48 kg.  I registered her for the 48 kg weight class, which required a 48 kg qualifying total (13 & Under).  Between January and June, Emilia gained 6 kg of body weight!  Fortunately, she also increased her total by 22 kg.  Because Emilia’s starting attempts (25 and 35) are within 20 kg of the required qualifying total for the 53 kg weight class (53 kg), Emilia can move up a weight class.


Preparing for Youth Nationals

Youth Weightlifting Preparing for Youth Nationals - Pic 1

After preparing my son for five USA Weightlifting Youth Nationals, I have become an expert—not because I have done so many things right, but because I have done SO. MANY. THINGS. WRONG.  Let me spare you the agony of my mistakes—

Daytona Beach.  The mere mention of this city sends shivers down my spine.  Daytona Beach is home to beautiful beaches, a world-renowned race track, and one of my worst nightmares.

It all began when my son, Hutch, qualified for the 2014 Youth National Weightlifting competition.  Hutch had worked hard, and we were excited to travel to Daytona for his first big competition.  In planning the trip, I knew I would be traveling with all three of my children, so I wanted to make the trip as cost-effective as possible.  With the competition on Friday morning, I purchased tickets for a Thursday flight.  I didn’t want to arrive too early—that would mean more money spent on rental cars, hotel rooms, and food.

Due to a flight delay, our plane arrived in Daytona Beach at 9:00 PM.  By the time we got our rental car and drove to our hotel, it was 10:30 PM.  I arrived at the hotel to discover that our discount accommodations were shared by a number of partygoers loudly enjoying the beach outside the hotel.  We were exhausted, however, and attempted to sleep through the night.

Hutch’s weigh-in was from 7:00 to 8:00 AM.  To allow the kids to sleep as long as possible, I set the alarm for 6:00 AM.  At 6:30, we zipped through the hotel breakfast buffet, and left the hotel to drive to the venue, which was a mere 15 minutes away according to the Google Maps directions I had printed off.  Unfortunately, I turned the wrong direction out of the parking lot and didn’t realize my mistake until I had driven 30 minutes—in the wrong direction!

When I finally stopped to ask for directions, a kind man explained that I was about an hour away from my destination and that I could not possibly make it by 8:00.  I had an ungraceful panic attack, which was witnessed by my children, who then started crying because they were scared by my reaction.  I quickly turned the car around and sped to the venue, possibly breaking a few traffic laws along the way.

As I approached the venue, I still couldn’t locate it.  The competition was at a school that was tucked away in a residential setting.  After several frantic phone calls to Hutch’s coach, I located the venue.  I sped to the curb, yanked Hutch out of the car and ran to the weigh-in.  I then realized that we had left his identification documents in the car . . . back to the car.  Hutch made the weigh-in cut-off by SIXTY SECONDS.

I heaved a sigh of relief and handed Hutch his breakfast, which consisted of some muffins we had brought from the hotel’s breakfast buffet.  Minutes later, Hutch’s coach called him into the warm-up area to begin warming-up.  Breakfast would have to wait.

As Hutch walked back to the warm-up area, he asked me to get his gym bag out of the car.  I looked.  I couldn’t find it.  In our haste to leave the hotel, we had left his bag—complete with singlet and shoes—in the breakfast room at the hotel.  Hutch entered the warm-up area wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and Crocs.  I sped back to the hotel for his bag.

Fortunately, the story ended well.  I was able to retrieve the bag, and Hutch strapped on his weightlifting shoes just moments before walking onto the platform for introductions.

From this experience, I learned a few things that will make your experience much less stressful:


  • Arrive 24 hours early. Arriving 24-hours early—not the night before—will give you time to acclimate to the city and find the things you need.


  • Stay in one of the event hotels. USAW contracts with hotels to provide a discount rate and transportation, when necessary, to the venue.  You’ll be less likely to get lost traveling to the venue if you stay in one of the event hotels.  Plus, you’ll be more likely to have considerate neighbors when it is time to sleep.
  •  Visit the venue the day prior. Actually travel to the venue so that you know exactly where everything is located—the weigh-ins, the warm-up area, and the platforms.


  • Check weight on the scales. You might be surprised to learn that your home bathroom scale is not that accurate.  Do a pre-weigh on the official “check scales” the day prior to avoid unpleasant surprises on competition day.


  • Put your important documents where you’ll remember them.  You will need identification at weigh-ins (a passport or birth certificate).  Don’t leave home without one of these!


  • Pack extra everything: socks, underwear, singlets, shoes . . . okay, I realize most people don’t own extra weightlifting shoes, but pack extra of everything else if you have them.


  • Know your child. Bring any comfort items your child needs in competition.  For instance, your child may have a favorite pair of socks or a favorite candy bar or he may need headphones to block out the noise of the other competitors.  Make advance preparations for these things.


  • Plan your meals. Before you arrive at Nationals, have a plan for the food your child will eat.  You don’t want to spoil your child’s hard work by sending him onto the platform fueled with greasy pizza from dinner and “whatever was on the hotel breakfast buffet.”  Bring foods that will help your child perform well.


  • Arrive early to the weigh-in. Weigh-in times are an exact component of the competition.  If weigh-ins begin at 8:00 and end at 9:00, with lifting beginning at 10:00, you will not be allowed to compete if you show up to weigh in at 9:01.

NOTE: Arriving early will ease your stress levels, but it will not put you at the front of the line for weigh-ins.  Names are called from a list.  However, if you are not present when your name is called, you will go to the “back of the line” and weigh-in after the rest of the lifters who were present.


  • Feed your child as soon as the weigh-in is complete. There are only two hours between the beginning of the weigh-in and the start of the weightlifting session.  Eating early allows food to settle before warm-ups begin.


  • Don’t  feed your child too much. Your child will be hungry after potentially skipping a meal before weigh-ins.  Provide some healthy foods that your child likes, but resist the urge to “make up” for the lost meal.  There will be time for a big meal after the competition.


  • Bring some sugar.   I said it.  Normally I’m not a fan of sugary drinks and candy.  However, they do offer an energy boost during a competition.  Just don’t overdo it.  One sports drink and two or three miniature candy bars are plenty.


  • Relax! Children can sense your emotions and will mirror them.  If you are anxious, your child will get stressed, too.



  • Turn your child over to the coach and take a seat. You child and coach have worked hard to get to this point.  Don’t send confusing signals by trying to co-coach your child during the competition—unless you are also your child’s coach!


  • Be proud. Your child has worked hard to get to this competition.  Regardless  of the results, take lots of pictures and let your child know you are proud of them.

Finally, don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  As hard as you prepare, something unexpected will always arise.  Fortunately, kids are resilient and can perform well, even in adverse circumstances.  After all of the mayhem in Daytona Beach, Hutch still pulled out an outstanding performance and managed three national records and a first place finish.  Thank goodness for good coaching (Boris Urman) and miracles!





Should I Go To Youth Nationals?

With Youth Nationals a mere five weeks away, and a registration deadline of May 17, 2018, it is time to make a decision: Go to Youth Nationals or Not?!

Participation in USA Weightlifting’s National Youth Championships, aka Youth Nationals, has exploded in recent years.  In 2017, around 900 youth athletes participated in the competition held in Atlanta, Georgia, making it the largest youth weightlifting competition in the world.

For some athletes, participation at Youth Nationals is a no-brainer.  Some youth weightlifters have been participating in the sport for years and look forward to the competition as a time to set new personal records, reconnect with old friends, and buy the latest weightlifting merchandise.  For newer athletes, however, questions remain:

  • Am I good enough to compete at the national level?
  • Will I fall apart under the pressure of such a big competition?
  • Will I embarrass myself in front of a huge crowd?

For parents:

  • Is it really worth the money to attend this competition?

For coaches:

  • Do I have enough experience to coach my athlete in such a large setting?

I spoke to Coach Wes Cravy of Pivotal Weightlifting Club in Santee, California, and his first-time lifter, Teagan, about their decision to participate in the 2018 National Youth Championship.  If you are on the fence about attending this year’s competition, consider their approach:

Set aside your fears, and embrace the privilege.  At only 13-years old, Teagan, has participated in soccer, gymnastics, CrossFit and weightlifting.  She recently qualified for the 2018 National Youth Championships.  When asked about her decision to participate in the competition, Teagan responded:

It is a privilege to attend this competition.  If you have qualified for Nationals, don’t pass up the opportunity to perform on the big stage.  You have worked hard to get to this point.  Don’t take that away from yourself.

Welcome the opportunity to learn new things.  Although Coach Cravy is new on the weightlifting scene, he is not letting a national competition intimidate him.  Cravy says:

Competitions are the fun part for a coach.  They are the payoff for the long hours spent training.

As for being a new coach, Coach Cravy is not worried:

I like to learn from other coaches, but I don’t let their competition strategies interfere with what I am doing.  As a coach, you have to focus on your athlete and your plan.  Don’t worry too much about what others are doing.

Take a leap of faith.  Recently, Teagan made a tough decision to give up gymnastics training to focus more on weightlifting.  She really enjoys weightlifting and wants to see how good she can become once she devotes more time and attention to the sport.

Similarly, the decision to attend Nationals for the first time requires a leap of faith. It may be intimidating to compete against other youth athletes in front of a large crowd, but the feeling of accomplishment once your performance is complete will be that much more satisfying.  Your confidence will grow from the experience, and you will be more motivated to train harder.

Incorporate the competition into a vacation.  Weightlifting offers travel opportunities like no other sport.  Use the trip to Nationals as an opportunity to explore a new part of the United States. Experiencing a new city will create a great memories and inject future training with enthusiasm.  Teagan says:

I am excited about the experience and the travel that Nationals offers.  My favorite part about out-of-town competitions is staying in hotels.

For ways to enjoy Grand Rapids, Michigan once the competition is done, consider these ideas.

To register for USAW’s National Youth Championships, click here.

See you at Nationals!

Sleep vs. Training: Which is More Important?

It is 5:00 AM, and my phone alarm begins playing a soft melody, attempting to gently coax me out of a restful sleep while bluntly reminding me: “You are an adult. This is not a vacation. Get up and face reality.”  I roll out of bed, wake up my son and daughter, and try to put on my best parent/coach face along with whatever workout clothes are on top of the stack.  Weightlifting training begins at 5:15 AM.

Some mornings, however, I do not want to get out of bed.  I find myself questioning the early morning training sessions and wondering . . .

  • If an athlete is tired, is it better to sleep than to train?
  • How much sleep does a young athlete need?
  • What is the worst that could happen if an athlete trains tired?

And I always vow to go to sleep earlier the next night . . . which rarely ever happens!

Recently, I discovered some great articles written by Tuck, a sleep consultant firm, that contain research on sleep and athletes.  Of particular interest to youth weightlifters:

An adolescent athlete needs at least 9 hours of sleep per night.

Thirty-second Snatch Grip Lift-Off Holds are a favorite way to develop the posterior chain. They can be done with minimal weight (50 to 65% of snatch max) and build strength in the first pull.

Sleep allows the body to recover from the physical stresses of the day, as well as process new information and commit it to memory.  During sleep, the body experiences higher activity levels of cell division and regeneration, which speeds up muscle recovery.  The stress hormone, cortisol, is also regulated during sleep.

In addition, during REM sleep, the Hippocampus works to transfer recently learned information to the neo-cortex for later recall.  In other words, you are creating so-called “muscle memory” during REM sleep.  “Muscle memory” is the ability to quickly recall how to conduct frequently performed tasks.  This is important in a sport like weightlifting, which requires fast reaction time.  Fractions of a second can be the difference between missing and making a lift.

The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a study in 2014 that found adolescents who played a game after getting fewer than 8 hours of sleep were nearly twice as likely to get injured.  

Lack of sleep can shorten an athlete’s career.

A 2013 study published in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine followed 80 Major League Baseball players over three seasons. Their sleeping habits were recorded before the start of the 2010 season and ranked according to a sleepiness scale. Players who scored high for sleepiness were less than 40 percent likely to still be playing three seasons later, compared to 72 percent of players who scored low on sleepiness.

Growth hormones are released during deep sleep.  

Human Growth Hormone (hGH), which promotes muscle strength, tissue repair and recovery of the body and muscles, is produced during deep sleep.  An natural increase of hGH can be promoted by both exercise and sleep.

Some top-level athletes attempt to gain a competitive advantage by taking supplements of human growth hormone.  However, hGH is prohibited both in- and out-of-competition under section S2 of WADA’s List of Prohibited Substances and Methods.  You can encourage your body to produce more hGH naturally by getting extra sleep.

hGH is a powerful hormone.  Maximize your body’s ability to make it by getting more sleep.

More sleep = better athletic performance.

The researchers at Tuck presented four sleep studies performed on athletes.  In all four instances, increased sleep led to improvements in athletic performance:

  • Swimming: In 2007, researchers asked a group of swimmers to sleep 10 hours a day for six to seven weeks and found notable improvements. Swim times were faster, and reaction times and turn times in the water improved. Kick stroke count increased as well.
  • Football: A similar regimen (10 hours of sleep per day during heavy training) for football players also produced improvements. Sprint times for both 20-yard and 40-yards declined by 0.1 seconds. The players also reported improved mood.
  • Tennis: When women’s tennis players increased their nightly sleep to 10 hours, they also experienced improved sprint times by 1.5 seconds as well as their serve accuracy by 23.8 percent.
  • Basketball: A 2011 study of basketball players found that getting two hours more of sleep each night boosted their speed by 5 percent and their shooting accuracy for both free throws and three-point shots by 9 percent.

Bottom Line: Sleeping less to train more is the equivalent of trying to fill a bucket full of holes with water by turning on the faucet to full blast.  No matter how much water you put in the bucket, you will not make progress until you stop to fill the holes.  Similarly, sleeping less to train more will produce sub-optimal results.  Sleep allows the muscles to recover and rebuild, “filling the holes” of the body’s water bucket, and allowing a weightlifter to make gains.  

If you want to improve your weightlifting performance, try sleeping more!

As for my family, we are going to experiment with 10 hours of sleep.  5:00 AM minus ten hours–ooh, that means bedtime moves to 7:00 PM.  Is it even possible to go to sleep at 7:00 PM?  I will keep you posted.

For more research on sleep and athletic performance, review these articles by Tuck:

Sleep and Athletes

Sleep and Human Growth Hormone

Are You Doping?

Me?  Doping?  Of course not!  I don’t manipulate doctors for unnecessary prescriptions, buy from shady characters in dark allies, or even buy generic supplements.  I only buy brand-name supplements from reputable manufacturers at legitimate retailers.

If these are your thoughts, keep reading . . .

On March 29, 2018, Abby Raymond, a 14-year old weightlifter from Roselle, Illinois, was sanctioned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for consuming the illegal performance-enhancing drug, ostarine.  Ostarine is an Anabolic Agent that is prohibited under the USADA Protocol for Olympic and Paralympic Movement Testing, the United States Olympic Committee National Anti-Doping Policies, and the International Weightlifting Federation Anti-Doping Rules, all of which have adopted the World Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List.

How did a 14-year old athlete get her hands on ostarine?

On February 15, 2018, Raymond provided USADA with an out-of-competition urine sample, which tested positive for ostarine.  In the course of the USADA investigation, Raymond provided information on the supplements she used.

One of the products was tested by a WADA-accredited laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The testing results confirmed the presence of ostarine, although the label did not list ostarine or any known synonym on the Supplement Facts label.  The supplement was subsequently placed on USADA’s High Risk List – Supplement 411.

So … please … stop reading this article for a second, go to USADA’s High Risk List – Supplement 411and confirm that none of the supplements that you are taking are on this list.

As a result of the positive drug test, USADA rendered Raymond ineligible to compete for three months from the date the sample was collected.  Raymond was also disqualified from all competitive results obtained on and for three months subsequent to February 15, 2018, including forfeiture of medals won and records set at the American Open I Series (March 1-4, 2018) in Columbus, Ohio.

In determining the period of ineligibility, USADA applied the contaminated product rule set forth in its Code, which provides a substantial reduction in the period of ineligibility if the athlete can establish a reduced degree of fault or negligence for the violation and establish that the positive test resulted from use of the contaminated product.

USADA also considered Raymond’s age.  Brad Horn, USADA Communications & Media Relations Director, explained, “In all USADA cases where there is a strong evidence of contamination, the result is a significantly reduced sanction. The typical sanction range for an adult with a contaminated supplement is in the 6-9 month range.  This is the first contamination case we have had featuring a minor. Because of the athlete’s age, the slightly lower sanction length is warranted.”

If you think this could not happen to you, consider this–

An examination of the products placed on USADA’s High Risk List in 2018 include the following product claims:

  • No: Artificial flavors, colors, fillers, binding agents or synthetic ingredients.
  • Manufactured in an FDA Inspected Facility
  • 100% NATURAL

If you spotted a new, all-natural supplement line at your favorite store, with claims that the products would boost your performance, would you buy them?

You would likely research the products and ingredients.  If everything seemed to check out, you probably would buy the products.  You would have no reason to suspect banned substances in the products, and you certainly wouldn’t hire an outside laboratory to double-check the products’ ingredients against the Supplement Facts labels.

The moral of this story . . .

You can get punished for taking a banned substance even if it was a mistake!  Raymond received a three month sanction.  However, other athletes have received much longer sanctions for mistaken use of the same drug.  For instance, in  February 2018, a 33 year-old UFC athlete received a 9-month sanction from USADA for testing positive for ostarine from a contaminated supplement.  Will you get a three month sanction for making the same mistake?  Don’t count on it.  USADA evaluates the circumstances of each situation independently, and you may not be so lucky.

How do I prevent this from happening to me?

Examine the supplements you are taking.  Are you very, very, VERY sure they contain no banned substances?  You may think you are protected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a government agency that protects the public health by assuring the safety of our food supply.  The FDA, however, regulates dietary supplements under a different set of rules than conventional foods.  Per the FDA website:

The [FDA] does not analyze dietary supplements before they are sold to consumers. The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that the “Supplement Facts” label and ingredient list are accurate, that the dietary ingredients are safe, and that the content matches the amount declared on the label. FDA does not have resources to analyze dietary supplements sent to the agency by consumers who want to know their content. Instead, consumers may contact the manufacturer or a commercial laboratory for an analysis of the content.

If I can’t rely on the FDA to keep me safe from banned substances, who can I trust?

You are liable for what you put in your mouth.  Period.  Only use stuff you trust.  This is easier said than done, though.  How are you supposed to only use “stuff you trust?”  Are you supposed to set up a laboratory in your basement and test every supplement before using it?!  Surely there is an easier way.

There are a few solutions to this problem:

Do not use supplements.  Brad Horn, USADA Communications & Media Relations Director, advises:

All athletes have a responsibility to investigate the supplements that they are using. From USADA’s standpoint, any supplement use should be avoided, as athletes assume some amount of risk that a product could contain a prohibited substance due to the unregulated nature of the industry.

Look for the “NSF Certified for Sport icon on supplements.  Products that display this emblem have undergone a certification program, which verifies that:

  • The products do not contain any of 270+ substances banned by major athletic organizations.
  • The contents of the supplement match what is printed on the label.
  • There are no unsafe levels of contaminants in the tested products.
  • The product is manufactured at a facility that complies with the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practice and is audited twice annually for quality and safety by NSF International.

Use only supplements from trusted manufacturers.  This is a viable alternative, but carries some risk. You are relying on personal relationships and trusting that the manufacturer has taken every precaution to ensure no intentional or unintentional contamination of their products.


Finally, remember that supplements are not substitutes for good habits.  Show up to practice consistently, train hard, fuel your body with healthy foods, and get adequate rest.  These habits will take you further than any chemical substance ever could.



















Preparing for College Weightlifting

If you love weightlifting as a youth athlete, you may want to continue the sport in college.  Vance Newgard, head coach of the weightlifting program at the Northern Michigan University Olympic Training Site, offers some advice for preparing for life as a college weightlifter:

Northern Michigan University weightlifter, Bret Pfeiffer, caught Coach Newgard’s attention as a 12-year old lifter.

Get Noticed.  The easiest way to get noticed as a weightlifter is to perform well at competitions.  However, competition results are not the only thing weightlifting coaches consider when evaluating potential team members.

Q: I am new to weightlifting but have a strong athletic background.  Will college weightlifting coaches be interested in me?

A: Yes!  According to Coach Newgard, general athleticism and a strong commitment to weightlifting are just as important as high rankings within the sport.  

Says Newgard:

The most successful college weightlifters are not necessarily the kids with years of experience.  General strength training is extremely important.  Athletes should come in with a solid strength base, good work capacity and explosive power, which can be developed through general physical preparation.

Reach Out.  Write letters or emails to team coaches.  Let them know of your interest and accomplishments.  Team coaches can give you specific details of their programs and any available financial assistance.  They may also invite you to visit to meet them and view their programs first-hand.  Says Newgard:

I want an athlete to want to work with me.  I invite them to visit for a day or two and do a couple of one-on-one workouts.  Usually once I do that, they are really interested.  They see the value that the coach can add.

From my point of view as a coach, if I don’t get to know the athlete, I can’t tell if the athlete will be a problem.  It is good for both the athlete and the coach to see if they will work together.

Colleges that currently offer financial assistance for athletes in their weightlifting programs include:

Northern Michigan University: US Olympic Education Center 

Louisiana State University at Shreveport: High Performance & Development Center

Lindenwood University

East Tennessee State University

Brewton-Parker College *

* Newgard will initiate a new weightlifting program at Brewton-Parker College in Fall 2018.

Other colleges with club programs may not offer financial assistance, but they could be a good option depending on your school preferences.

Prepare Mentally.  Being a collegiate athlete is a part-time job.  Between training, mobility, sports medicine, and nutrition, a college weightlifter may easily spend 20 hours per week devoted to the sport.

According to Coach Newgard, the biggest mistake new collegiate weightlifters make is underestimating the time commitment required:

If you are going to do a sport in college, you have to passionate about it because it is your job.  You have two part time jobs—academics and your sport.  You have to commit.  It is not a physical thing; it is a mental thing for most people.  It will be difficult.  You have to really want to do it.

Q: Can I still be a collegiate weightlifter if I have a job in college? 

A: Yes.  Coaches understand that athletes have different circumstances and will try to work around them.  

In Newgard’s case:  

I take an individualized approach.  I understand that not everyone is on a full ride scholarship.  A kid might have to work, go to school, and train.  I treat all of my athletes as individuals and try to help them succeed with their circumstances. 

Prepare Physically: Experience in competitive weightlifting will help you get noticed and may help you get a scholarship.  However, general physical preparation is just as important.  Says Newgard:

Early specialization in weightlifting is not necessary for success at the college level.  I would rather see an athlete who has a strong base of general strength and athleticism than an athlete who is mentally and physically beat up after years in the sport.

As a youth weightlifter, step away from the barbell occasionally and develop athleticism in other areas: run, jump, throw, climb, push, pull, and walk on your hands.  It is fun, and it will improve your athletic abilities.

Develop Good Habits Now: College students are notorious for staying up late studying or partying.  With no parents around to impose curfews, students can easily fall into a reckless routine of overnighters.  These sleepless nights will manifest in the weight room with decreased focus and performance.  Practice good time management skills now to set yourself up for success in college.  Says Newgard:

I expect my athletes to go in a different direction that the rest of the student population.  They have to go in thinking, “I am a student athlete,” and make decisions that support this commitment.  Part of this commitment is getting enough sleep, eating enough, and showing up to training sessions.

Be coachable:  Every coach does things a little differently.  Your college coach will be no exception.  Even if you have been weightlifting for years, drop the attitude and trust your new coach.  It is his job to help you succeed in weightlifting, and he will do that if you let him.  Says Newgard:

If you have doubts about your college weightlifting coach, you probably shouldn’t join that program.  Once you commit, be coachable.  Communicate with your coach if an exercise isn’t working or is causing you pain.  Communication is key to a good coach-athlete relationship.

Feature photo courtesy of Lifting.Life.