Can You Eat Out on Contest Prep or a Diet?
Is it acceptable to eat out when on a contest prep diet?
Note: This sushi meal was the only meal I had for 38 weeks before my bodybuilding show, and I brought a food scale to measure it all out. The salad in the photo was after show #1 of 4 for the year; had salad and steak.
The question is not always as straightforward as a yes or no with many things in fitness or bodybuilding. More often than not, “it depends” is often the answer, and it’s no exception for this one, but I will state that for most people, as you get towards the end of your contest prep, you won’t be able to eat out.
Here are some questions we can ask:
- Consistency – Will you be able to stay on your macros and not overeat if you go to a restaurant?
- Have you done a contest prep before and experienced a prep diet?
- How long have you been dieting, and what is your experience with intuitive eating? Are you willing to bring a food scale to the restaurant?
- How far out are you from your goal contest date?
- Are you the type of person that stays lean all year round or is it more of a challenge for you?
- Are you willing to be “that person” that asks for all the special foods at the restaurant?
- Does your diet even allow you the ability to eat at many restaurants in the first place?
- Why do you want to eat out in the first place?
- Are you lean ahead of schedule or are you scrambling to lose weight every day up until the contest?
- What do I do when I’m in contest prep and want to eat out?
The fast Yes or No answer – The simple answer would be yes with a jumbo-sized but… Consistency – Will you be able to stay on your macros and not overeat if you go to a restaurant?
For many first-time competitors, the temptation of overeating the one-off plan is too much to handle if you go to a restaurant. It can be straightforward to stay on your meal plan every day until one of your friends sits down in front of you with a big plate of chicken wings, blue cheese dressing, deep-fried cheese, and whatever else that restaurant is confined to put into the deep fryer and on that plate. (LOL) The temptation to stay to your plain chicken breast and plain salad may be too much for you to handle. Also, if you cannot eat your entire meal due to its caloric value, will you be able to stop yourself halfway through when you are hungry from dieting in the first place? This is an excellent place to be, and it’s an excellent ability to have to be able to go out to restaurants and not overindulge. This is the goal for many of my clients, but this takes a lot of time and consistency with your diet in the first place.
Have you accomplished a contest prep before and experienced a prep diet?
The more experience you have with dieting, the better you’ll understand your body and the better you’ll be able to “intuitively eat” and still reach your goals.
Have you experimented with eating out before? If you’ve done prep diets before and you’ve incorporated a few times of eating out in the past, seeing that it doesn’t affect your look, the way it makes you feel, or your body weight the next day, then it might be an option for you.
If you have never tried it and you are a few weeks out from your contest, you would not want to risk the chance of setting yourself back. This is why the more data you can have from past contest preps, the better off you will be and the easier each prep gets for you.
How long have you been dieting, and what is your experience with intuitive eating? Are you willing to bring a food scale to the restaurant?
When I asked how long you have been dieting, what I meant by this is how many years of experience you have with “dieting,” I.e., losing weight, gaining weight, or even maintaining your weight do you have. This could be huge for you if you lost 50 lbs to look better and you’ve been dieting for over ten years off and on, either gaining or maintaining your body weight. Now you decide you want to do a contest prep. This will be different than if somebody has never consciously tried to change their body weight before and want to do a contest prep where they need to lose 20 to 30 lb. The person that has lost weight is a more experienced dieter assuming this person has used an “ If It Fits Your Macros” approach to dieting.
Are you willing to bring a food scale to restaurants? If you are willing to go to the restaurant and bring a food scale to weigh out your cooked chicken breast, potato, and then your side salad (Would not need to weigh out, most likely) and you can stick to the plan fully and stick to the portions needed, then this would be a viable option for you to go out and eat and still stay on track.
Note: Sorry to say this, but contest prep is, in a way, a significant planned eating disorder period for most people. This is why I would consider it okay to bring a food scale to a restaurant. I would not ever recommend a general population client to bring their food scale to a restaurant. This is not healthy behavior to keep up with for the long term, but if you have an extreme goal of getting to an extreme look, then it would be acceptable.
Are you willing to be “that person” that asks for all the special foods at the restaurant?
Okay, so I’m not the most loved person by most waiters. I like to ask about every ingredient in the food that I’m eating. I always ask for no oil or butter (I always double and triple-check that they did not put oil or butter on the food). I will often ask for a nutritional breakdown of the meal. I always ask to make substitutions for everything on the menu, and if something that I ordered came out with butter, oil, or cheese, you better believe I’ll be sending that back. – LOL
So if you’re willing to be the person that asked for everything special, and if you’re just willing to ask for a plain chicken breast grilled with no added oil, a vegetable salad with no cheese croutons, bacon bits, or dressing, and if you’re willing to screen to see if your baked potato is skipped or smothered in oil before cooked. Then I don’t see any reason you couldn’t make a reasonable choice at a restaurant.
How far out are you from your goal contest date?
This is a huge one if you are doing a long contest prep, as I like my athletes to do. Let’s say that you’re 35 weeks out from your contest and you’re right on track, maybe even ahead of schedule a little bit. Would it affect you if you consistently hit your macros and go out to eat at this stage and prep? Most likely not, and if it affects you, you still have time to make changes or pull it out altogether. Compared to someone two weeks out from the contest and if you haven’t been eating out your whole prep. Do you really want to risk the fact that you could gain weight on the scale the following day from extra sodium or added fats that you did not account for?
So the farther out from contest prep you are, the more leeway you can have to eat out, and the closer you get to the contest, the less you might want to eat out.
Are you the type of person that stays lean all year round, or is it more of a challenge for you?
Unlike myself, if you’re the type of person that stays lean relatively quickly and frequently, a slightly higher calorie meal in your plan doesn’t affect you as much. If you were to go over calories, you would quickly recover from that by getting back on the plan or just pulling back a few calories and adding in extra water. If you have a body type like mine that gains weight relatively quickly, then a day out may take you a whole week to recover from, get back down to your base weight, bring water retention down, and get yourself losing weight again. Trust me, if you think that a whole week to recover from one meal out is an exaggeration, then you probably are the type of person that stays lean or you have never gotten your body below your “set point” of comfortable body fat.
Does your diet even allow you the ability to eat at many restaurants in the first place?
Are you on a meal plan that requires you to eat certain foods at certain times of the day?
Does your coach specify that you cannot eat out on the plan?
Do you have specific allergies that make it more challenging to eat out?
Are you just so deep in the contest prep that most foods you would be able to eat are just not available at most restaurants?
So for specific points in your diet, I see a reason why and for many people, at some point, you will not be able to eat out on your contest prep diet.
Why do you want to eat out in the first place?
Are you wanting to eat out because you are bored of cooking and eating your food, or are you thinking about going out for a special occasion or because some friends asked you to go out on a specific date? Understanding why you want to eat out and just trying to keep it to a minimum is often the best idea. So let’s say it’s your mom’s birthday, and they are going out to eat instead of being the bro that brings Tupperware into the restaurant, which most restaurants don’t even let you. Trust me. I have tried many times.
– LOL So you are 5 to 6 weeks out from a contest prep and everything that you had scheduled, and they could be excellent if you had a plain chicken breast and a salad and then just made up for the carbohydrates later in the day if you are eating carbohydrates. But this should be talked over with your coach if you’re working with us or if you’re working with someone else. Most of the time, for you, the answer will be, “yes, go ahead and go celebrate with your mom,”… cuz if your mom is not happy, she might end that contest prep by giving you an iv of the straight Cinnamon Bun when you’re sleeping. Trust me, Moms can be crazy when they want you to gain weight – and I don’t even want to talk about grandmas!
Are you lean ahead of schedule, or are you scrambling to lose weight every day up until the contest?
If you’re lean and you’re ahead of schedule. Then in this scenario, it might be okay to go out and still hit your macros. It might be a nice mental break to have a meal with your spouse and not have to prep that meal. Also, you won’t have another piece of plastic, eat more of the dry chicken that you eat every day because you’re a terrible cook, and then have to clean your kitchen. It can be nice to have a similar meal, like chicken and salad, out at a restaurant prepared for you and served on a nice plate, and all the dishes are washed for you. If you get a little extra fat from all that food from the meal and you go up half a pound on the scale, no big deal. You’re still already ahead of schedule. The stress reduction that comes from that meal will most likely outweigh inaccuracy.
What do I do myself when I’m in contest prep and want to eat out?
So what I tend to do when I’m on the contest prep is avoid eating out for the most part unless it is for a special occasion. When I do go to eat out, I will go ahead and bring my food scale with oh, I will try to eat as soon as possible to what I had planned anyway, and I will enjoy that meal. It’s that simple. Let’s say that I go out and I get a grilled chicken breast, and I ask for no seasonings or added oils; I get a side salad with no dressing, cheese, croutons, or even boiled eggs if I am pretty low on fat, and I will ask if they’re baked potatoes are cooked with oil or if they are playing if I have extra carbs for the day but most of the times when I go out I tend to try to do a protein and a vegetable it tends to be the easiest for me to stay on track and not worry about ancillary fats that may be added to the carbohydrates. Since oils are so dense in calories and kind of hard to detect whether they’re in foods or not. It’s often a good idea to try to avoid it altogether. Trust me, the chef in the back doesn’t care about your fitness goals. He cares that the food tastes good so that you will come back. 90% of people who go to the restaurant don’t care if it makes them skinny. They care how it tastes, and since you can never trust a skinny chef in the first place, most likely, that chef doesn’t have the most healthy eating habits.
So as I started going out for a lean chicken breast is a good option. Here are a few others that I will do on contest prep – sushi (good for refeeds), steak, salad, steamed veggies, baked fish, salmon, or eggs/egg whites cooked with Pam.
You always want to ask about added sugars, oils, cheeses, and butter.