Are You Ready To Start A Contest Prep Diet?
Am I ready to start a contest prep diet?
Congratulations! If you’re reading this article, you have likely already made great strides in your fitness training program and you are considering taking the step towards competing in a fitness or bodybuilding contest!
Training for a contest is both challenging and rewarding and is not for the faint of heart. We commend you for considering taking on this challenge.
The contest prep diet, however, is unlike any diet you’ve ever been on, and more detailed and disciplined than you can imagine.
There is a big difference between getting ready for your next vacation or special event, and getting truly contest (aka stage) lean. It is often said in the industry that in the general population and in general day-to-day life, no one should ever get as lean as competitors get for their shows. It is not a sustainable body composition, and even competitors only look like that for a very short time (less than a day) and are preparing up until the moment they walk on stage (literally).
So all that being said, if we haven’t scared you away yet, there are some things you should be sure to do before you begin preparing for a contest.
Build your Foundation
Let us preface this topic by saying that it is totally okay, and in fact we love the idea of competing simply to get better, leaner, and to do it for yourself and to see what your body is capable of! But that being said, it is important to have a strong foundation of training set before you begin competing. This is both for safety reasons (not forcing your body into anything it isn’t ready for) and for you to feel confident and capable as you go through the prep process. You need to have developed a very strong mind-muscle connection to be able to develop the lean muscle tone you see in competitors.
Now if you are the competitive type, and you really want to do well and place in the top 5 (or take the whole cake) then it’s important to point out that if you are too new to training and dieting, your muscle mass will not be at a point where you can truly be competitive. We (and you) want you to go into the competition looking ready! If you’re not, it is easy to get discouraged, or worse, to give up on the sport altogether. An individual’s journey in training, and more so in competing, will evolve over time and we often don’t find our full potential for years or even decades into our training career.
So to summarize, you need a strong foundation before you begin contest prep training. How much of a foundation? Read on to find out.
How many years of training does it take to get contest ready?
The amount of training needed before a show is largely dependent on your genetics and how good of a training and diet program you get on in the beginning.
The general recommendations are listed below:
- The lower end refers to genetically gifted and/or those that had a quality coach from day 1.
- The higher-end ranges are for those that genetically need to work harder, and/or did not work with a good coach or any coach when first starting out.
- Note: Working with a coach is not a requirement, it can just save you time (potentially years) of figuring out what to do and what works for you.
|Division||Estimated Years of training needed|
|Bikini (women’s only)||2-3|
|Figure (women’s only)||2-4|
Other things to consider before signing up for a show
Are you mentally ready and committed to following a diet plan?
The prep diet is by far the hardest part of competing. Extreme hunger, fatigue, low libido, decreased thermoregulation (feeling cold), potentially poor sleep, and no pausing or ‘cheat day’ for life events (birthdays, weddings, vacation, holidays, etc). Doesn’t that sound appealing?
So here’s the hard/honest truth. If you haven’t been successful in following a nutrition plan at least 80% of the time, and if you haven’t already had success in being disciplined enough to drop a few pounds, then you are not ready to start training for competition.
Before you can realistically and successfully get into ‘stage ready’ shape, you will need to follow a training and nutrition program to get you within 10-20 pounds of your projected stage weight. Once you have that base, you are ready to start working on your contest prep.
Look at your finances
Like any sport, there are a lot of fees associated with participating in a competition.
- Entry fee(s)
- Sanction fee(s)
- Drug-tests (for natural contests)
- Self-tan or a spray tan
- Posing suit
- Professional makeup
- Prep coach, and any additional coaching fees
This can add up to be a pretty big chunk of cash as you compete, and it goes up and up the more shows you want to do each session.
Think about your upcoming life events and the impact on your spouse, family, and friends.
The stage is always going to be here and there are shows all year round in the US that you can jump into.
- Know how long you need to diet (how to do this at the end of this blog)
- Look at your life calendar and see if you have any big life events coming up that will interfere with your prep diet… big vacations, holidays, are you moving, changing jobs, going to school, having a kid, getting married, etc. You have to consider that you may not be able to attend certain events during your prep.
- Talk to your spouse, family, and friends about what you’re doing and explain why you are doing it, how long, what it’s going to look like, that you can’t go out to eat, and that your training and diet is going to be very important and take up a good amount of time. Remember you will have to take extra time for training, cardio or increased steps, meal prep, posing, and all the little things that you need to do in prep that you may have not done in the off session.
Preparing your mindset
Your mindset going into a prep is going to be the biggest thing that you can do to succeed throughout your prep.
- For prep, instead of looking at the top of the mountain, you need to look at the small rocks directly in front of you and just keep climbing.
- Go into it with a clear mindset that you are going to give it your best effort; not to win the whole show especially if it’s your first time on stage.
- Go into prep with a mindset that you are competing against your past best physique and you’re going to do everything in your power to beat your old self.
NOTE: Don’t start a prep as a way to lose weight because you can’t do it without a show planned.
Are you ready for the ramifications that come with the extremism of contest prep?
As already discussed, contest prep is the most extreme you will likely ever need to be with your physique goals.
This comes with many ramifications:
- You may never look at food the same way
- You will likely always feel fatter or a bit overweight no matter what or how lean you stay
- Your hunger may stay elevated for months or even up to a year
- You may get post-show depression once that show date is done and you feel you’re not working to get anywhere
Your metabolic capacity
You need to consider where your body is at metabolically when you start.
Are you eating 1,200 calories and doing 45 minutes of cardio a day, but still have 10-20 pounds to go? If so, know that you’re NOT going to go to 950 calories and add in more cardio! Doing so would be a metabolic disaster and you would never be able to gain the lean body mass needed to compete successfully.
Things that need to be established metabolically before starting a contest prep:
- Hunger needs to be low (you should not be starving all day before starting a prep diet
- You need to be eating a high amount of calories
- You need to be strong in the gym
- You need to be doing little to NO cardio
- Your steps should be moderate to low
- You need to have a good amount of energy and not be drinking gallons of coffee & caffeine every day to get by
- Most importantly your hormones, sex hormones & thyroid being the most important, are in a good place before you start any diet.
You cannot do a prep diet if you are injured. You never want to restrict calories if you’re recovering from an injury, and it goes without saying that you likely won’t be able to train to the level required to be successful.
Think about attending at least one competition
You should always go see at least 1 show (ideally the show you would like to do) this way you can see who you may be up against. A lot of times people look at Pro, NPC, or Mr. Olympia level physiques and not the local drug tested novice level physiques that they would actually be competing against. Go see a show and look at how it’s run, the lighting, the music, the posing of the competitors, and try to talk to people at the show or the promoter. If you go to multiple shows you can see which looks the best to you also.
How to find your length of diet needed
Figure out an (estimated) amount of weight you need to lose
Figure out a safe and appropriate rate of loss (ROL) I use a percentage-based approach of 0.5 – 1% weekly)
Then see how long you’ll need to diet. Let’s say we have a small female that is looking to start a prep. She is currently 120 pounds and we look at her stage photos from 3 years prior. We see that she’s built some nice new muscle mass (maybe 4-5 pounds), but also has gained some fat… as she should have, and all competitors should after a show.
Her last stage weight was 100 pounds, but she was not quite as lean as she wanted to be. We are setting the goal stage weight at 100 to 105lbs so she needs to lose 15 to 20 pounds; she has 12 to 16% weight to lose. Since she’s smaller we’ll do a 0.5 percent weekly loss… that’s 0.6lbs / w 20lbs divided by 0.6 = 33 weeks. So we’ll look at shows that are 30 to 40 weeks away.
(Current bodyweight ➖ show weight 〓pounds to lose)
(Pounds to lose ➗ Weeks to show 〓Rate of loss)
(Pounds to lose ➗ weeks to show 〓amounts of pounds lose needed per week)
As you can plainly see, there is a lot to consider when it comes to the art of bodybuilding and physique competition. It is a sport unlike any other, but the reward goes beyond competition, as bodybuilding offers habits to help shape a healthy lifestyle going forward. Thank you for reading, and I hope you learned something! If you have any questions at all feel free to reach out email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Coach Hunter Covelski