Are you thinking of competing in your first show? What is the diet really like? How long should I "diet"? Do I just eat less?
So many questions and so many different opinions. Here is the bottom line on contest prep and what's really involved.
How far out from the show should I start?
There is no one answer, as this is entirely dependent on how much body fat is needed to be lost.
How much body fat should I lose?
On average, you are aiming for an initial goal of 10% body fat for men and 15% of body fat for women. As body fat is lost, we decide how low to go to obtain the desired look. Generally speaking, a bigger athlete will compete at a higher body fat level, compared to a smaller athlete to get a similar look. But, this can vary from person to person.
First, we must calculate your current body fat level using calipers or bioelectrical impedance scale.
Then we calculate what percent of body fat is ideal to compete.
Subtract the desired amount of body fat from the current level of body fat.
Finally, we divide that amount by 3 pounds a week to give us an idea of how many weeks are required to reach a desired competition weight.
Example: A competitor is currently 180 pounds with 24% body fat. That is 43.2 pounds of fat. His body fat percent on stage should be approximately 10%, which is 18 pounds of body fat.
If we had more time, he could lose 2 pounds a week instead. It would take 12.5 weeks to do so.
Things to consider:
Different divisions require different amounts of apparent muscle tone. For example, a figure competitor will need less body fat, compared to a bikini competitor. A physique competitor will require even less. Classes that require a softer look equates to higher body fat percentages on stage.
How do we drop body fat each week?
First we take a look at your current diet. If it is already very clean, we often begin by cutting fats and carbs to bring the ratio of calories taken in to be 60% from protein, 30% from carbs and 10% from fats.
1 gram of carbs or protein = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
If the current diet has some junk food, then we just cut those out and the weight should start dropping off. Junk food is calorie dense, and high in fat and sugars.
The objective of manipulating carbs and fats, while keeping protein high, is to maintain muscle during times of calorie deprivation.
First Four Weeks:
The first four weeks of contest prep, you should cut out dairy and reduce fats and sugars. Add cardio, if needed.
Second Four Weeks:
Start to reduce carb intake. Many competitors cycle carbs with high, low and medium days. Add cardio, if needed.
I personally like to incorporate an "off day" once per week to have a cheat meal. This helps maintain your metabolism. I follow that with low card day to lose some related water retention from excess sodium found in the food.
Last Four Weeks:
This is when the last few pounds will come off. At this stage concentrate on posing, cardio, and lifting moderate weights.
Two Weeks from Show:
Your goal is to be at your lowest body fat percentage two weeks out from a show. Then the diet changes again, increasing carbs so that your muscles fill out. Your skin will have a tight look on show day.
At two weeks out, body fat should be where needed. As your body fat levels are now low, injury becomes a higher risk with any heavy lifting. You may seem flat, but we have time to slowly fill up now. We fill up by decreasing cardio and slightly increasing complex carbs.
One Week from Show:
During this final week, some people carb deplete and carb load. Legs should not be trained during this week, as leg separation is much better when they are fully recovered with no lactic acid build up. Competitors should be practicing posing year round, but increase the frequency the week leading to the show.
Online you will find a lot of programs that claim they can get you in shape in 12 or 16 weeks. The truth is, it depends on what your starting point is and how hard you are willing to work. A qualified, experienced personal trainer who is knowledgeable about contest prep can help you determine how long it will take to build the muscle you need and lean out so that you can be considered contest ready on stage. This can be done either face-to-face or with an online assessment.