So you’ve been bodybuilding for some time now, grinding away in the gym, late nights and early mornings, chasing the physique you’ve envisioned for years. Maybe it’s been two years, maybe it’s been 10 years, but now it’s time to take it to the next level and compete in your first bodybuilding show! This article is dedicated to you, the motivated individuals who want to get out there and compete in their first show. In this article I’m going to cover dieting topics and information you need to know before you get up on the big stage for the first time!
DO NOT cut calories too fast.
Rule of thumb is to start dieting by cutting your baseline calories (amount of calories it takes to maintain body weight) by about 500 to put yourself in a caloric deficit and start chipping away at that “off-season” body fat. Where I see many competitors go wrong is when they aggressively cut unnecessary amounts of calories right at the start of their diet. You have to understand that to lose body fat, you must be in a caloric deficit, and there are only two ways to achieve that. One is by decreasing the amount of calories you are consuming via daily food intake; the other is by increasing caloric expenditure via increasing weight training volume and cardiovascular exercise. When you slash large amounts of calories all at once, you are limiting the future effectiveness of one of the two options you have to create a caloric deficit. What you should be doing is starting with a 500-calorie deficit and only cutting calories by 100 to 200 when your current weight loss stalls or is not progressing fast enough. Achieving the greatest amount of progress from the smallest amount of change should always be the goal.
One thing at a time.
A mistake I see very often is competitors making a wide variety of changes to their program, all at the same time. What I mean by this is that they might increase cardio, cut calories and increase training volume all at the same time. When you do this, you have no way of actually knowing what one of the three changes you made to your program is having the greatest effect on your current fat loss. Also, you possibly could have achieved the same effect by only manipulating one of the three previously mentioned conditions, and now you have unnecessarily depleted your ammunition in your battle against body fat. Make one change to your program at a time and monitor your progress over the next few days. This way, you can actually see if the change you made is having a positive effect on fat loss or not.
“Peak week” is a scam!
Do not buy into the sensationalism of peak week. If you look amazing two weeks out from your show, do not buy into the peak week garbage and try to come in “shredded’ or “dry” – you are only going to sabotage you own progress. Stay the course and do not do anything drastic. Do not start drastically manipulating your diet, water or sodium. That is all a recipe for disaster when you are a rookie competitor.
Give yourself lots of time.
You will see scattered around the Internet that the average contest preparation is generally 12 weeks or so. This is your first time dieting – you are going to make mistakes, and you are going to be learning along the way, so I suggest that you take as long as you possibly can to diet for your first show. If you think it’s going to take 12 weeks, then you better start at 16 weeks. You don’t want to be a month out from your show, realize that you are behind in your fat loss progress and aggressively try to accelerate the process the last few weeks. This will work against you for several reasons. The human body wants homeostasis; if you drastically change things in one direction, the body will fight just as hard to stay where it is. Also, aggressive calorie restrictions could leave you looking like a flat, deflated version of your true self when you hit the stage. So give yourself minimum 16 weeks to prepare for your first show.
Those are my dieting tips and tricks for making your first contest prep as seamless as possible! One thing I will say is don’t expect everything to go perfectly. This is your first time and it will be an amazing learning experience. You will make mistakes, but you will also learn a great deal about yourself and hopefully this article will help minimize some of the more prominent and detrimental mistakes you could have made!