“Getting stage-ready lean is an art form made up of one part discipline, two parts science, three parts planning, and a whole heaping of heart, passion, focus and tenacity!”
~ Utenge “T” Utuk
Sculpting your physique for competition takes weeks of disciplined dieting, training, and commitment.
The 12-30 weeks before stepping on stage to compete can be very difficult and it requires a lot of discipline, perseverance, and daily consistency not only physically but mentally and emotionally. All parts of your training regimen need to be dialed in, but most importantly your diet. Eating the best fat burning/muscle building foods in the proper proportions and at the appropriate time is essential to getting your body into stage-ready conditioning. In my experience, what and how you eat accounts for at least 70% of the total process and getting into great conditioning
Contrary to a lot of popular “bro-science”, beliefs on getting stage-ready lean naturally are not about starving yourself and sacrificing your health for a look and a trophy. It’s actually about eating more food than you may have ever thought possible and having great health as well! Starving yourself is actually the worst thing you could do to get ready for a competition because you will end up losing all the hard-earned muscle you worked so hard to build. Competing is more than just stepping on stage, hitting a few poses, and looking fit. It’s truly about mastering your mind and body. It’s about learning your body down to the slightest detail so much so the relationship your build with your body allows you to take it to levels of fitness and aesthetic conditioning that is unbelievable to most. But I must warn you this process is not for the faint of heart.
***Note: The information presented here assumes that you the reader has a certain level of nutritional knowledge. To get a baseline knowledge of nutrition and fat burning download my ebook “Bodytalk”
How many calories to eat?
A general rule of thumb is 15x your bodyweight. So a 200lbs individual would be consuming approximately 3000 calories per day to MAINTAIN their body weight of 200lbs. To burn off fat in a healthy way (which keeps you from losing muscle) you need to be in a slight ENERGY deficit by about 200 to 300 calories below your maintenance level. I stressed ‘energy’ because you don’t need to cut calories from your diet to do this. This can be attained two different ways: 1. Decrease your caloric intake by 200-300 OR increase your activity level by 200-300 calories per day. Personally, I prefer a combination of the two. Over time you will figure out what combination of eating vs. activity is needed and most effective for your body to shed fat daily.
How many macros?
Eating enough protein for your body is ESSENTIAL to you building and maintaining a balanced aesthetic muscular physique. Simply put, proteins are the building blocks of your muscle. A simple rule of thumb for the competitive athlete is to eat at least 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight. Yes, every day. For the best results, you should consume quality protein with every feeding you have. For more on protein check out “Why Protein”
Carbs are a highly efficient ENERGY SOURCE for your body. Approximately 50-60% of your daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates. Your carbs are the highest at the onset of your competition prep and will decrease gradually as the weeks go on and you get deeper into your prep. This is paramount to getting your body fat levels down effectively in order to be ready for your competition. As your carbs decrease, eating the right types of carbs becomes more important. Whole-grain complex carbohydrates and naturally occurring carb sources like quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potatoes are the best options because they digest slowly in your body. This is huge because these types of foods give you the lasting energy you need while helping to regulate your insulin and blood sugar levels which aids in consistent body fat burning and keeping you emotionally/mentally stable. As the weeks progress into your prep, your daily total complex/simple carbohydrate grams are steadily reduced as your fibrous carbs (veggies) are increased. This will add more nutrients, more volume of food, and the increased thermic effect will boost your fat burning up to new levels.
Fat in your diet does not mean fat on your body. A certain amount of dietary fat actually helps your body to burn more stored body fat. Prior to your prep, aim to consume 25-35% of your calories from healthy fat. Once your prep starts and as the weeks progress, gradually reduce your fat intake to 10-20% of your total calories.
If you are not going to keep a strict daily diet (which is my preferred option of choice…one less thing to think about) you need to keep a food log to make sure your calories and macros are where they need to be each day. These numbers vary and are very person specific. If you are an active person you may need to eat more. If you are a naturally heavier person and carry a higher body fat you may need to eat less. But regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, you need to know your numbers. The only way to really know how the intake of certain foods affect your body is by keeping a consistent diet and tracking with a food log. This will allow you to compare weekly and monthly results to measurable cosmetic changes (eg body fat, tape circumference measurements, weight). Using these methods will allow you to clearly see if you got leaner, lost muscle, or gained fat. Always keep in mind that your body is tracking your calories and macros daily regardless of whether you are. If you want to really be in the driver’s seat of your physique this is a necessary thing you need to do.
***Always keep in mind that metabolism varies significantly from one person to the next. Tracking your numbers and your weekly results are what allows you to get a better sense of how many calories your body requires and what macronutrient ratio is good for you relative to your physique goal. The basic template for my macronutrient ratios is Protein 35-45%, Carbs 40-45%, Fats 20-30%. At the onset of my prep, I normally reset my macros to 40/40/20.
5 rules to fat burning
I go into more detail about this in “Top 5 Nutrition Secrets for Fat Burning Success” and “Top 5 Steps to Build Muscle” but here’s a quick summary of the rules I use to optimize the fat burning process:
- Eat every 3-4 hours (about six small feedings each day)
- Eat foods that are naturally occurring and are minimally processed.
- Avoid foods that spike insulin levels like bread, sugars, and refined grains/ pasta and food high in fat like fatty meats, bacon, butter, ice creams, cakes, and other pastries.
- Drink at least 1 gallon of water daily.
- Sleep 6-8 hours each night
I don’t personally use protein powders, bcaa’s, creatine, etc. so I cannot recommend any. This is not to say that use of these supplements is bad, I am just a “foody” and choose to get my nutrients as my source of nutrients. I do use powdered greens and concentrated oils that boost the nutritional value of the food I’m already eating.
A balanced diet can provide all the necessary nutrition you need. However, get some blood work done to be safe. If you have known deficiencies that you have yet been able to rectify with your diet, make sure you address these issues. It may be adding a fish oil supplement or as simple as a multi-vitamin. If your schedule doesn’t allow for you to eat often during the day a simple meal replacement shake that meets your calorie and macro needs will do just fine.
When it’s all said and done you need to make sure your body is getting the proper nutrition it needs so that your body does not get too run down which can and will lead to injury. As we all know, injuries just suck! Make sure to plan in advance. There are a lot of moving pieces that you need to keep track of and that’s why I put them all in one place with The Foody Way: Competition Prep 101. It is your job to plan ahead of life. Never be caught without your meals. Learn to have a short memory. Every day isn’t going to be perfect but your goal is to make as many of them as close to perfect as you can. When/If you falter, don’t wait to rebound starting the next day. Realign your focus and start with the very next meal, training session, or cardio session. And regardless of everything else you do, remember these three steps and you will position yourself for your best physique imaginable…train dirty…eat clean…sleep like a baby!