A quick five minute search on any popular bodybuilding message board will find various threads and topics dedicate to bodybuilding contest diets and how to design them. After all, physique training is, by nature, an extreme sport. There is a bunch of conflicting information available and at the end of the day, the reader is left with more questions then answers.
It’s all in the preparation
Don’t get it twisted, when you see the winner or the person who gets all the magazine ads, it’s because they tracked every calories and every amount of fat, carbs and protein that went near their mouth. They never missed a training session and they didn’t whine about doing cardio. Do you know the biggest, most brutal thing that they faced? It was the mirror.
Be honest with yourself and you’ll get fantastic results.
Everyone assumes that a bodybuilding contest diet needs to be 12 weeks long. Simply because that’s what the pros do. Well in all honesty, that doesn’t make much sense. You need to examine how long that you need to diet to get the best results for you. If you have 30 pounds of fat to lose, 12 weeks might not be enough. Don’t miss this, the success of a diet depends on how much muscle you maintain. Drop your calories by more then 1000 more more then a few weeks and you’ll be in a world of hurt.
In my experience, you can lose 2 pounds per week consistently and keep all of your muscle. So give yourself enough time, if you try to push it to the upper limit for this rapid weight loss effect that doesn’t exist you’ll run the risk of losing your hard earned muscle. While 2 pounds is the upper limit, you should try to shoot to lose 1-1.5 pounds per week, just to be careful.
What’s your type?
Don’t be so quick to follow some basic template. If you’re an ectomorph that is lean year round, you really won’t need to push the diet until the latter part of the diet. If you’re an endomorph that has always been chubby then you know you need a little more time. Listen to your body and don’t rush into a basic bodybuilding contest diet.
Shreds over size
What does the typical person walking down the street want to have? A shredded stomach or to be huge? While there’s a small percentage that wants to be overly muscular, the majority will want the shredded stomach. Those dudes want a six pack diet. That’s the same for bodybuilding contests. Judges want you to be ripped and not the biggest dog. So your goal needs to be to retain as much muscle as size and lose as much fast as possible. Let’s take a look at how to manipulate the macro nutrients to get leaner.
Protein and bodybuilders go together like peanut butter and jelly. Enough of that, we’re talking about bodybuilding contest diet stuff, not sandwiches. The most important nutrient, protein is broken down to amino acids during the digestive process. Amino acids are needed so that protein synthesis and muscle building can occur. Protein spares muscle tissue during times of stress a.k.a bodybuilding contest diets, since it can be broken down to glucose.
What gets missed by most people is that protein isn’t as muscle saving as carbohydrates are. So the fear of carbs is misplaced. Your body wants to store protein, not burn it for fuel. As a result, protein has a great fat burning effect on the body. Protein can raise your metabolism.
The great carb fear
If you have probably assessed your body and have been honest with yourself then you shouldn’t have this immediate need of fear. If you want to lose the most fat in the shortest period of time then go ahead and get on a ketogenic diet, your body will switch from burning carbs to fat and you’ll lose fat but you’ll have a harder time maintaining muscle.
So if you can lose fat faster that way then why keep carbs in your diet? Carbs can spare muscle so much better then these moderate or high fat approaches. Even keeping a small amount of carbs in the diet can cause the body to store amino acids the way your body wants them to be stored and that’s in the form of new muscle.
Another issue with most bodybuilding contest diet approaches is that the guru doesn’t give any attention to maintaining exercise intensity. Even a small amount of carbs will give our body enough glucose to maintain optimal energy levels. If we jump to a zero carb diet, our body has to use amino acids for fuel and that increases the chances of muscle breakdown. How many carbs do we need? More to come later.
Yet another benefit of carbs is that carbs release insulin. Insulin is muscle sparing and also reduces stress hormones such as cortisol. These stress hormones want to eat up muscle tissue so we need to keep them low. Lastly, carbs keep our muscle ceels hydrated. A hydrated muscle cell is anabolic muscle cell. Think about it carbohydrate. Carbs hydrate the muscle cell.
Now I do like ketogenic diets for bodybuilding, please don’t get me wrong. I do think that they will result in the most fat being lost when compared to a low carb diet week by week. If we remember what our goals are for a bodybuilding contest diet, it’s to lose fat and build muscle. So we’re not just focusing on losing fat.
So I wouldn’t advocate a keto diet right away, if you have your precontest diet planned out then you might want to include a keto diet toward the end.
Know Your Fats
Yes, it’s true. Fats are involved in almost every single process in our body, they are needed. Our body wants to use fat for energy since it’s the best form of energy. Every 1 gram of fat will contain 9 calories. Good from a low carb stance but awful when you look at completely eliminating carbs from your diet. When we go on a low carbohydrate diet, our testosterone production will drop, which is why we need fats to synthesize more testosterone. On a low calories diet, our body will shut off the production of testosterone to “save” us.
Fat is needed to make cholesterol which then produces testosterone, so viewing fat is bad is incorrect and keeping it low in a diet is even worse. In that same breath, fat can be stored as bodyfat very easily. So we need to have a trade off of enough fat for energy and but not enough fat for adding bodyfat.
Most research studies done on fat in diets have shown that fat should be around roughly 30% of daily caloric intake in order to raise testosterone. With fat at 30% of your calories in your bodybuilding contest diet, you’ll be hard pressed to store bodyfat.
Don’t get so caught up on testosterone though, it’s a small piece of the puzzle and there are numerous other hormones that are essential for losing bodyfat and building muscle. Plus if you raise fat too much (above 30-40%) you won’t have as much of a need for carbs and fat, as you can tell from above, that would be a mistake.
So those are the basics of setting up a bodybuilding contest diet. Now onto actually designing a diet.
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