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Pre Contest Diet
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Bodybuilding and Fitness Pre Contest Diet Made Simple
by Mike Prevost, Ph. D.
Pre-contest dieting is hard, especially for the drug free bodybuilder.
How many times have you seen a bodybuilder, who is huge in the off season,
reduced to a mere shadow of himself by contest time? To the novice, the
concepts may seem simple: "Just cut back on the calories and lose weight,
right?" Or, "as long as I keep working out I won't lose muscle." Unfortunately it doesn't work that way.
Your brain is the problem. No, I'm not referring to your intelligence.
Your brain uses only carbohydrates (not fat) as a source of energy, and
your body will protect the brain at all costs. During a diet when blood
sugar levels can be very low, the body will release the hormone cotrisol.
Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that converts muscle proteins to carbohydrates
to feed the brain. This leads to the loss of muscle mass often seen with
pre-contest diets. But don't despair. The answer is a logical, conservative
approach to dieting, along with accurate daily data collection.
You will need an accurate scale, a notebook, a good tape measure, a
food scale, a food nutrition content guide, a mirror and a pair of skinfold
calipers. The dieting process should begin at least three to four months
before the contest. This may seem like a long time, but the drug-free bodybuilder
needs a more conservative approach.
Assessing Body Composition
First you will need an accurate assessment of your body composition. Have
your body fat percentage measured at a health club, a local university
(by the exercise physiology department), a local hospital, or do it yourself
with skinfold calipers. You will be aiming for 5-8% body fat by contest
time, so you must determine how much fat you have to lose. For example,
our hypothetical bodybuilder weighs 200 pounds with 20% body fat, so he
has 40 pounds of fat (200 times 0.2). To get down to 5% body fat, he would
need to lose 30 pounds of fat.
Calories Needed for Your Weight
Next, determine how many calories you need to maintain your current body
weight. Record everything you eat for at least one week (two is preferable).
Use your food scale and food nutrition content guide to determine the calorie,
fat, carbohydrate and protein content in all the foods you eat. Calculate
the average number of calories you consume daily (number of calories total
divided by number of days).
Calculating Caloric Deficit
Now apply some math. Assuming that 3,500 calories is one pound of fat,
multiply 3,500 by the number of pounds of fat you need to lose. Continuing
with the example of 30 fat pounds to lose, this would give you 105,000
calories. Believe it or not, this is the approximate energy content of
that 30 pounds of fat.
In simplified terms, you need a caloric deficit of 105,000 calories
by contest time in order to lose the 30 pounds of fat. If there are four
months before the contest, divide 105,000 by 120 days and you'll need a
deficit of 875 calories per day. However, since every calorie you burn
is not gauranteed to be a fat calorie, it is a little more complicated.
You must be very careful of what you eat and you must be strict about measuring
your body composition, as mentioned below.
What To Eat
The next step is to determine what to eat. The most important nutrient in our pre-contest diet is protein. Muscle is made primarily of protein and water, and without adequate protein, muscle mass can not be maintained. Research has shown that the requirement for bodybuilders is probably somewhere between .5 to 1 gram per pound of body weight. Let's assume 1 gram for simplicity.
Going back to our hypothetical bodybuilder, let's say he typically eats
4,500 calories per day, and he wants a caloric deficit of 875 calories.
He now needs 3,625 calories per day. Since he weighs 200 pounds, he needs
about 200 grams of protein. At 4 calories per gram of protein, this gives
him 800 calories. As much as 90% of the additional 2,825 calories should
come from complex carbohydrates, with as little as possible coming from
fat. Use your nutritional content guide to determine what is in the foods
Monitoring Your Progress
It is very important to monitor your progress accurately. Track your weight
with a scale, your measurements with a tape measure, and your body fat
percentage with skinfold calipers (all bodybuilders should have a pair
of calipers and know how to use them).
Even if you are doing everything right, your body doesn't always behave
like you want it to. This is why it is crucial to continually monitor your
progress. You may find that the fat is not coming off as quickly as you'd
like. If this occurs, add aerobic exercise to your routine (3-4 times per
week initially). Or perhaps the weight is coming off too fast with an accompanying
muscle loss. In this case you would slightly increase your protein and
carbohydrate intake. Any changes should be done in small increments and
Every pre-contest diet will be a learning experience. To make the most
of this experience, you must accurately record every detail - what you
eat, your body weight, your body composition, your measurements, how you
If this process seems simple, that's because it is! Dieting is not supposed
to be mystical. If you track your body composition weekly during your diet,
you will have a good assessment of your progress and avoid the panic dieting
that can strip you of your hard earned muscle mass.
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assume any liability for the information contained herein.
The Information contained herein reflects only the opinion
of the author and is in no way to be considered medical advice.
Specific medical advice should be obtained from a licensed
health care practitioner. Consult your physician before you
begin any nutrition, exercise, or dietary supplement program.