As the new competitive bodybuilding season kicks off again, I thought in this article we could talk about the most important part of competing: the diet!
Now, there are a million and one different ways of losing weight, but from a bodybuilding perspective, the ultimate aim is to be displaying very low levels of body fat whilst not losing any hard-earned muscle.
Any gym goer will attest to the fact muscle is VERY hard to come by. The guys who get theirs right are probably around 4-5 % body fat (put in perspective, the average male is around 25%). Getting from 8% to 6% is totally different from 14% to 12%, as the body naturally wants to protect itself (this is how we have survived so long as a race!)
Preparation and dedication is key.
In my opinion, the less a ‘shock’ you can make weight loss, the better. It will be easier and more successful. Losing too much can cause all sorts of hormonal and metabolic problems. I often see guys having to lose 20 plus kilos to be in respectable shape, then watch as they crash it back on as soon as the show is over, resulting in even more excess body fat. Ideally, a 1lb (0.5kg) loss per week is a good target, and ensuring that you are at a sensible level of body fat before you even start should make getting ‘ready’ a lot simpler process. A good idea is to perhaps have a ‘pre-diet diet’, just to get to a respectable level that can be maintained before starting the scheduled diet, as rushing to hit the required levels for the impending show date is a massive mistake.
Focus on your diet.
When losing weight, I always say “let the diet do the cutting”, rather than going crazy, hammering the cardio all hours trying to get a loss. Put it this way – I’d rather snip 100 cals out of my daily diet, than sit on a bike or treadmill for 40 minutes! It’s a lot harder burning cals than it is simply tweaking them out of the diet. That’s not to say cardio should be ignored, but I only ever really use it in the final stages to really dial myself in.
Get the basics right.
The basics of food are simple – proteins, carbohydrates and fats (or macros as they are better known) can be manipulated to the required ratio dependent on the individual. Some people can handle higher fats, some are more carb sensitive, but the basic rule of thumb (for me at least) would be to get rid of all the ‘bad’ fats (junk food in other words), then simply reduce carbs and compensate the drop with an increase in protein. This is assuming the calories either need to be the same, or a drop is required to ensure a gradual weight loss. One gram of protein and one gram of carb are the same value (four calories), whilst fats are nine calories per gram.
The early stages of a diet should be relatively easy. You will notice you feel less bloated and have more energy, or at least feel less lethargic. Soon though, the body will start to make things a little less comfortable, as is only natural, as it only wants to ‘defend itself’. You will soon adapt to the new calorie levels, so don’t panic! And you will soon know what times of the day are worse. For me, if I was to do some paper work around 2.30 pm, I’d instantly feel drained and have to fight the urge to fall asleep! So, I made sure at this time of the day I was busying myself elsewhere! It’s little things like this you will soon be familiar with.
Using cheat meals to good effect.
One good method I use to keep me on track (and sane), is to have a cheat meal once per week, usually Saturday night. This can be whatever you fancy, as long as it’s not too excessive! I feel this works in two main ways: firstly, it gives me something to look forward to (and of course my partner has a night off too!) and keeps me on the straight and narrow through the week (and I guess somewhat ‘guilty’ from having something ‘off plan’ and keeping me focused for the rest of the week). Secondly, I feel it gives the body (or metabolism) a re-feed and almost a nudge to keep it moving along and not go into any sort of ‘starvation mode’.
This only happens as long as I am sure I am on track with the weight loss, so be confident in YOUR diet. It has never been an issue for me.
Get more strict with your diet as the competition approaches.
As the competition gets closer, the scale of this ‘cheat’ will change. My diet will always be made stricter and stricter as the weeks progress, until a few weeks out it is as tight as possible. At around 2-3 weeks out, I usually go for a hearty and fresh jacket potato, but have a large salad with dressings, tuna with mayo and cheese. Funny how cheese, mayo and salad dressings become a luxury!
The types of thing I remove from my diet are firstly any breads and sugars (I have a wrap for my mid-morning meal). The evening meal will always be the same (white fish, new potatoes and lots of vegetables), followed by no carbs after this evening meal (I always have whey protein and oats before bed when not dieting). Next to go will be any dairy (cottage cheese is also part of my normal diet). Tuna is used to replace the cottage cheese, as it is an excellent source of protein, low fat, and obviously, carb-free. Before bed I will still have whey of some type (usually a blend) but remove the oats, as they are quite carb heavy. It’s all about getting creative! A good tip is to semi-freeze my whey shake and have it as an ice cream, or as a chilled ‘paste’, before bed.
My diet looks like this at the final stages of prep –
||50g Oats, INFORMED WHEY®, handful of blueberries and a small glass of smoothie containing Creatine, 1g Vitamin C, Glucosamine Sulphate, Garlic Cap, Zinc.
||6 Almonds, handful of raisins, Goji Berries, Cranberries, 1 boiled egg, 1 apple and 1 banana
||1 chicken breast with oil blend, jacket potato and lots of vegetables
||1 tin of tuna with Omega Oil Blend
||150g white fish, new potatoes, lots of vegetables, 1g Vitamin C
||Whey Ice Cream (blend)
I’d add a post workout shake of AFTERMATH™ on training days with a chunk of Turkish Delight or similar type sweet for the simple sugars, and some BCAA before and after the gym.
The main thing to remember is that no two diets are the same. Advice is good, but remember it’s you on stage, not the person giving the advice. Any changes, be it macro splits, or even just food choices need TIME to come into effect. Never rush or panic to implement any new changes.
And finally, the most important thing is to keep at it! Consistency really is key with dieting. And when show time comes, you can be confident you are ready.
Train hard and diet smart.
About the Author
Matt Argall, a BULK POWDERS™ sponsored athlete, is a 3 time British, two time world and WNBF pro natural bodybuilding champion. Matt has a wealth of training and competitive experience behind him and is known for his consistency and his precise approach to weightlifting. Unlike many bodybuilders, he is in shape year round.