What your contest preparation sources have not realized, or revealed to you, is that there are some secrets to contest preparation that go completely against the grain of conventional bodybuilding wisdom. Some of the top competitors in the business are employing these techniques with great success and consistency. At the Beverly International Sports Nutrition Center extensive clinical studies have been made into the diets, supplementation, and training habits of athletes preparing for competition. At the Center we have looked into the logical basis underlying bodybuilding folk lore, and have developed techniques that basically "take the guesswork" out of contest preparation.
Following Bernard Sealy's third place finish at the 1988 IFBB World Championships, I discussed with him some ways in which we could harden him up for 1989. Bernard, by age 37 had been training drug-free for 18 years, always had trouble cutting his legs. He realized that in order to reach the pro ranks he needed to harden up a physique that already had great symmetry and the muscle maturity from his years of training. After deciding that our techniques would assist him in his quest, he followed them all the way to his title win in 1989. Later in this article we will use Bernard's assault on this title to help to illustrate some of the techniques that we employ that will help any competitive bodybuilder's contest preparation.
The solution to this problem is that the precontest diet should be performed in such a manner that the athlete is no more than 5 to 10 pounds over his contest weight at least 16 weeks prior to the show. The diet should then be geared so that you arrive at your contest weight two weeks prior to your show. If this gradual dieting approach is adopted you will have time for the skin to thin out (a process that does not happen quickly). Another benefit of this is that you will be able to keep your workout energy at the level it needs to be, since you will not be crash dieting.
At the Center we utilize an off-season diet that is basically 65 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein, and 10 percent fat. The carbohydrate sources come from predominantly complex sources (i.e., grits, oatmeal, rice, potatoes, and pasta, with some green vegetables), the proteins should have a P.E.R. of 2.5 or higher (i.e., chicken, fish, turkey, egg whites, etc.), and the fats must be mainly unsaturated and high in essential fatty acids (Note: chopped English walnuts are extremely low in saturated fat and are an excellent source of GLA - gamma linoleic acid). Dairy products should be omitted or severely limited due to the presence of lactose, a simple sugar, which seems to make its presence seen in the lower abdominals. This off-season diet when eaten in sufficient quantities will provide the basis for a hard quality off-season physique.
As contest time approaches we slowly step down the calories by moderating carbohydrate intake until it comprises 50 percent of the diet approximately four weeks prior to the show. Carbohydrate levels should never drop below this point. Throughout this time we ensure that nitrogen levels are maintained by keeping dietary protein intake around 1.25 grams per pound of bodyweight. Fat intake must not change from the proportions used in the off-season. If dietary fat intake drops much below 10 percent the body in a survival mode the body will actually fight to store its fat reserves. Another recent source of confusion regarding fats deals with the precontest usage of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). Although the merits of using MCTs in the off season gaining diet appear to be valid it has been our continued observation that athletes that have utilized them in their precontest diet had a great deal of trouble cutting. In fact when the MCTs were removed from the diet these same athletes dropped bodyfat immediately.
If the previous precontest dieting method is followed then a rough estimate can be calculated of the total daily calories needed for the final four
weeks. Using the protein intake rate we can calculate the grams of protein required as:
1.25g x Competitive Body Weight = Total Protein Required (grams)
Knowing that the total of fat and carbohydrate intake will be 60 percent (10% for fat + 50% for carbohydrates) then by implication protein calories will comprise 40 percent of the calories in the diet. In addition, a gram of protein contains 4 calories. Using a minor bit of algebra (trust me, if you will) we see that:
Total Protein Required (grams) x 10 = Total Daily Calories needed
For example, a bodybuilder wishing to compete at 185 lbs. would need 231 grams of dietary protein. From the results above, he would then reduce his calories until he consumes approximately 2310 calories per day for the final four weeks prior to the show.
In addition to the dieting strategy, extensive supplementation is used to provide: necessary co-factors to support metabolism (a balanced high quality vitamin/mineral pack); high quality building blocks to fill in deficiencies in the diet (amino acid tablets or capsules with a large amount of the essential amino acids, additional branched chain amino acids, and desiccated liver); catalysts that will promote a reduction in fat (ferulic acid, lipotropics, L-Carnitine, and GH releasers). It is extremely important that the supplements that are used at this time be of the highest quality. The Essential Fitness supplements that we use at the Center have a long track record of success with competitive athletes.
Finally, have you ever noticed that not working out does not improve your physique. Then why is it that bodybuilders stop training several days before a show? Understanding that following intense exercise muscle size is restored within 48 hours tells us that we should make our last hard training session two days prior to the show. Perhaps Thursday for a Saturday show. The day before the show should be used for some final practice posing.
Should you drink only distilled water at this point? I honestly believe that most competitors think that spring water comes directly from the salt mines judging by the way that they avoid it just prior to a contest. In fact there is only 5 mgs. per cup of sodium in most spring water. Based on our evaluations of precontest diets of competitors, most competitors tend to show a potassium to sodium ratio of 3 to 1 or greater. This ratio should be no higher than 2 to 1. Since we observe that the average precontest dietary potassium intake is on the order of 4000 mgs. then it is hard to imagine that spring water would have even the slightest adverse effect on the competitor. In fact it is interesting to watch competitors who are cramping take extra potassium when in fact their cramping was most probably due to too much potassium in the first place.
Finally, it is extremely important that on the morning of your show you consume a small amount of complex carbohydrates to give your body the energy it needs to compete and to make the muscles look full. In addition, if you have been using high quality supplements (that should not have the large amount of sodium that is hidden in some products on the market) you should take them the morning of the show.
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