Sunday, April 15, 2012

Contest Preparation Part 2: Diet

Without a doubt, the hardest part about competing is the diet. Eating so little calories that you are constantly starving and staring at the clock waiting for your next meal does not appeal to most people. However, just as it is the most difficult aspect of competing, it is also the most critical.

Eating relatively healthy and watching your calories is one thing but to compete, you need to go much further than that. You need to be prepared to count every single gram of carbohydrate, protein, and fat you consume. You can't ever miss a meal because if you do, there will be someone at your show who didn't and they will beat you. If you are not in shape, it doesn't matter how much size you have. Of course, the more muscle the better, but a smaller guy in better condition will beat a bigger guy not in condition 9 times out of 10.

Calorie Deficit

Obviously, when you are dieting, you will be in a calorie deficit. As I mentioned in part 1, you should be aiming to lose 1 pound per week. To do this, you should eat 500 calories below your maintenance amount of calories. Your maintenance calories is the amount of calories it takes you to maintain your current weight at your current activity level which includes your workouts and cardio. If you want to lose more than 1 pound per week, simply increase your caloric deficit. Once you have your maintenance amount of calories, the next important step is to determine the macronutrient breakdown of those calories.


Protein is the most important macronuritent for bodybuilders whether they are trying to gain muscle or lose fat. This is because just like it is essential to build muscle, it is essential to preserve muscle too. When you eat protein, it increases protein synthesis which in turn helps preserve muscle. You should take in a higher percentage of your calories from protein when you are dieting than when you are bulking. Whereas I recommend 1 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight when bulking, I recommend to 1.30 to 1.50 grams per pound of body weight while dieting.


Fats are essential for survival. Among their functions, they are responsible for hormone synthesis. The hormone we are most interested in is testosterone. When you eat in a caloric deficit, your testosterone levels will drop. Your body suppresses the release of testosterone in order to spare nutrients. Basically, your body rather use the nutrients you are taking in for energy than use them to make hormones. However, since fats are required to make testosterone, lowering them too much will severely lower your testosterone. You can't avoid a slight hit in testosterone levels when dieting but by eating enough fat, you can minimize the damage. I recommend taking in between 20% and 30% of your calories from fat when dieting. It seems like a big range but it's because everybody is different. I wouldn't go below 20% of your total calories because at that point your testosterone can really take a hit but there is no additional benefit above 30%. It comes down to what amount of fat gives you the best performance. Personally, I go as low to 20% as possible because my body can handle low fat but I know other people who can barely move on such low fat. Shoot for the middle of that range and adjust as you see fit.


People look at carbohydrates as the enemy while dieting but the truth is they are farm from it. Just like protein is muscle sparing, carbohydrates are muscle sparing as well. In fact, carbohydrates are actually more muscle sparing than protein. When you workout, carbohydrates are used to produce energy. Your body gets carbohydrates from your muscles as stored glycogen. If you are eating a low carbohydrate diet, your glycogen stores will be somewhat depleted. Instead of your body burning carbohydrates for energy, your body will begin to convert amino acids to glucose and use that for energy. Your body will get the amino acids from either protein you ingest or from muscle tissue. If your body uses muscle tissue to create energy, you will experience muscle loss.

Carbohydrates are also important for performance. Carbohydrates enable you to keep a higher intensity in the gym. If you aren't taking in enough carbohydrates, your energy could be low and your performance can suffer. You may find yourself weaker and by continuing to lift lighter weights than you are used to, you increase your chances of losing muscle. Additionally, depleted glycogen stores will lead to feeling more fatigue both physically and mentally. Carbohydrates can have a strong impact on your mood and you may find yourself irritable and cranky without enough carbohydrates.

That being said, everybody is different and some people feel better on lower carbohydrates than other people. If you are someone who functions better on low carbohydrates, then you should eat more fat. If you function better on higher carbohydrates, then you should eat lower fat. There is no calculation for carboydrates. Just fill in the remaining amount of calories after you have decided how much protein and fat to eat.

Decreasing Calories

When it's time to make a calorie adjustment, calories should be lowered from either carbohydrates, fat, or a combination of both. You need to decide which of the two macronutrients has been giving you better performance and keep that macronutrient as high as possible. For me, I function better on higher carbohydrates so I lower fat when I need to decrease calories. I'll lower my fat until it hits 20% of my total calories and then I'll begin to lower calories from carbohydrates instead. If neither of the two macronutrients seems to give you an advantage over the other, then lower them equally. You can always play around with it to find out what works best for you.


As you diet, an important fat burning hormone called leptin drops. It's your body's way of trying to preserve body fat as you get leaner. Refeeds are used to not only boost this hormone, but to also give you a boost both physically and mentally.

On a refeed, you should keep fat as low as possible since fats have no impact on leptin levels. You should also reduce protein to 1 gram per pound of body weight since you will be eating more carbohydrates which are more muscle sparing than protein. You should increase your calories to maintenance or even slightly above for the day and increase your carbohydrates by 50% to 100% of what you have been eating. Try not to eat fructose since fructose doesn't impact leptin levels. Although not recquired, it is beneficial to have a refeed on the day you train your weakest body part. This is because a refeed is pretty anabolic and the increased carbohydrates will give you more energy for a higher intensity workout.

The leaner you are, the more often you can refeed. If you are below 12% body fat, you should refeed once per week. If you are close to contest shape, it might be beneficial to do two smaller refeeds per week instead. If you just started your diet or are above 12%, I wouldn't refeed until you feel like you need one. Signs of needing one would be feeling lethargic, decreased performance in the gym, and stalled weight loss.

A refeed can give your metabolism a kick start and you may actually lose more weight the next day despite eating at maintenance for the day. This would be a perfect scenario. Otherwise, don't be alarmed if you gain a little bit of weight the next day. It's only water weight from the glycogen and you should notice a drop in your weight within an extra day or two.

Food Choices

Although hitting your macronutrient intake each day should be your primary goal, my opinion is that your food choices should be clean, more so than if you were bulking. The reason is that on a calorie deficit and at a low body fat, your immune system is compromised. You don't want to get sick so you should try to eat as many quality calories as possible with the small amount of calories you are consuming. Also, you will be hungry all the time and healthy foods are generally more filling than less healthy foods.

For protein, you should consume: fish, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, whey protein, casein protein, and cottage cheese. For fat, you should consume: nuts, olive oil, fish oil, egg yolks, and peanut butter. Your carbohydrates should come from: oatmeal, brown rice, , whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, vegetables, fruits, whole wheat bread, and bran cereal.

Although not required, I find it beneficial to eat the same foods everyday. If you vary your foods too much, your sodium intake will vary and your body will be holding varying amounts of water each day. As a result, you won't be able to get accurate weigh ins. Contest preparation is a mentally tough process already. The last thing you want is the scale to be all over the place.

Check back next week for part 3 on training and cardio.


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