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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 you eat.

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 recorded carefully.

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 feel, etc.

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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