Not all contest preps are going to be pretty. This has been a hot topic on the gram recently, but I just wanted to give my two cents.
Some athletes will be able to get stage lean on higher macros and minimal cardio, and of course these are the cases that coaches like to advertise for their business, but this just isn’t reality for most folks. Generally, lower fat and/or carb diets with higher amounts of cardio are going to be necessary to get to the appropriate level of leanness. And you don’t need to feel guilty or inadequate for that.
But don’t forget that contest prep isn’t meant to be healthy. Bodybuilding is an intense and strenuous sport that requires the utmost discipline to build a specific physique, and your body’s natural response is to fight against this, tooth and nail. Bodybuilding gets a lot of trash talk for this, but there are plenty of other sports that require less-than-healthy practices to prepare and succeed that people don’t really talk about.
HOWEVER, there are ways to execute your prep in the healthiest way possible, and you should always value your long term health over any plastic trophy. Here are some things to consider:
-Hire a coach who knows what they’re doing- inquire about their practices, talk to some of their current/previous clients, shoot, even read their reviews with the Better Business Bureau. Be very transparent and honest in your check ins about what is going on, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
-Consider a longer prep. A slower approach tends to preserve muscle mass and strength more effectively due to not requiring as severe macro and cardio protocols.
-Continue to train HARD. You have to fight to preserve your muscle size and performance. It can be helpful to split up your training per muscle group over more than one day per week with less volume per session. Fatigue will definitely set in, and training a muscle group at least twice per week can increase hypertrophy. Excessive MISS cardio can decrease hypertrophy, so if you reach a point where you’re doing lots of cardio, consider incorporating some LISS or HIIT.
-Consider getting DXA scans if they are available to you and affordable for you. They are a great way to track progress and changes in body composition (much more so than the scale which can be very discouraging as weight loss is not linear). Do note, however, that while it is possible to maintain or even build muscle during prep for some individuals, the more fat you have to lose in prep, the more muscle you’re likely to lose as well.
-Get lab work done- some to consider would be thyroid panel, cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, FSH, progesterone, DHEA, leptin. Your hormonal health is going to take a major hit in prep, and it’s important to see a baseline before your prep, the levels after your prep, and a recovery 3-4 months after your prep. Women who lose their menstrual cycles during prep often will see a return of their cycle, and a return to *mostly* baseline hormone levels 3-4 months post-show given they are increasing their caloric intake and fat mass- but this is not always the case! Taking hormonal birth control often lessens the likelihood that you will lose your period, but this comes with its own set of side effects, and some birth control medications can blunt hypertrophy.
-Have a solid post show plan. A structured reverse diet is important for your future in the sport and your post show health and body composition. This is usually the hardest part of a contest prep because the “goal” is in the past. Having a coach for accountability and guidance in your reverse diet is crucial.
All this to say… Bodybuilding is a hobby, and you should enjoy it should you choose to participate. But remember that prep is a HUGE undertaking, and you must take care of your body as much as possible through the process.
Happy prepping, friends!
-Katy Hair, RD, LDN, CNSC
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