Shredding Fat for a Competition
As a physique athlete, fat loss while preserving lean mass is the top priority while preparing for a competition.
What good are all the hours, months, years in the gym spent developing muscle if no one can see it because it is covered in a layer of fat?
It is for this very reason that competitors spend weeks and months dieting in order to achieve a certain level of leanness, in hopes to show off all their hard earned muscle.
In my opinion, leanness, sometimes referred to as conditioning, is one of the most if not the most important of the judging criteria.
Although competitors are judged on muscularity, symmetry, and presentation as well, being lean is a vital component because without leanness no one can appreciate your muscular development.
Getting stage lean certainly is not easy, but if you follow these guidelines it will lead you down the right path.
Track Your Calories and Macros
Although there are many ways to get the job done, I believe the most efficient and effective way to lose body fat is by tracking your caloric and macronutrient intake.
Unfortunately, just eating healthy is not enough when it comes to being stage lean. Although you may experience success in the earlier stages of dieting while cleaning up your nutrition, eventually you will need to adjust your diet when you hit a fat loss plateau.
How can you make a calculated adjustment without nutritional data? Are you taking in too many calories, carbs, or fats? Are you getting an adequate amount of protein to retain muscle?
Without knowing your current macronutrient and caloric intake, it is a shot in the dark at what may be hindering your progress and what needs to be done to get the fat loss ball rolling again.
By tracking your calories and macros you ensure that you can make the proper adjustments when necessary. I highly recommend using an app such as Myfitnesspal to track your calories and macros as it is very user friendly and has a huge food database.
During your preparation for a physique contest, there will be times where your fat loss may come to a complete stop or your rate of fat loss is has slowed to a minimum.
As you lose weight, your metabolic rate slows as well eventually balancing out your energy expenditure with your energy or calorie consumption.
When it comes to making adjustments, the solution is fairly simple, but it is important not to jump the gun. Usually, the solution to a fat loss sticking point is to increase energy expenditure, decrease calorie consumption, or both. However, adjustments are better served in small doses.
Adding too much energy expenditure through cardio or cutting too many calories, generally leads to two undesirable scenarios.
In one scenario, restricting and exercising too much could lead to the competitor breaking down and binging. In the other scenario, when the competitor needs to make another adjustment, it could potentially leave them with very little calories, an excessive amount of cardio, and muscle wasting.
Consuming too few of calories and over exercising in an attempt to shed excess body fat is a recipe for disaster. Not only is that strategy not sustainable for shedding body fat, it also risks muscle loss and a metabolic crash.
Adjustments are better served in small doses so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments as this will allow you to lose fat without sacrificing your hard earned muscle.
Take Your Time
Aiming to lose 1lb-2lbs a week may sound redundant, but a smaller caloric deficit like so is one of the most effective ways to lose fat while retaining muscle.
I also recommend giving yourself a few more weeks than you may need just in case you hit a fat loss plateau. This is especially true for new competitors whom aren’t familiar with getting themselves in competition shape.
If you believe you need to lose 20lbs of fat to be stage ready, I’d recommend taking about 25 weeks to prep. This may seem like an extremely long time, but if you’re new to competing you may need the extra time to adequately prepare as you may hit a few weight loss hiccups during your journey.
As you become more experienced with competition dieting or if you hire an experienced competition prep coach, you’ll be able to shorten your prep time because you or your coach will know how to efficiently prepare for a physique competition.
Keep the Heavy Weights
When it comes to muscle tissue the old adage “use it or lose it” speaks the truth. Therefore, as you are in the dieting stages in preparation for a physique competition, you need to be sure to keep up the intensity and the heavy weights in the weight room.
Instead of that old theory of lifting lighter weights and doing more reps to get cut, you should strive to keep lifting the same (or more) weight for the same amount of reps while letting your diet “cut” you up.
Although you will more than likely lose some strength during the dieting phase, the strength you do retain is a relatively good indicator of how much muscle mass you have preserved.
By retaining as much muscle as possible, you will be ensuring that you are improving your body composition and not just losing weight. By keeping the intensity up in the weight room and taking your time during the dieting phase, you will be more likely to hang onto the muscle mass you have worked so hard to acquire.
Cardio is a great tool for increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation during your contest preparation.
While high intensity interval training (HIIT) may be more favorable for fat loss and muscle preservation, the type and amount of cardio performed is highly individualistic.
Competitors whom are naturally thin may need fewer and shorter cardio sessions than their naturally heavy counterparts.
Generally, HIIT sessions only last 20-30 minutes while steady state sessions may last anywhere between 30- 60 minutes and in extreme cases done twice daily.
Some competitors may only have enough time for HIIT for cardio while others may just be too physically exhausted post workout to perform HIIT cardio.
My personal belief is that competitors should find what works best for them as the main focus of cardio is to help expend more calories and both forms of cardio do so.
The Bottom Line
Whether you are competing in bodybuilding, bikini, figure, or physique, as a competitor fat loss is essential to your success. By tracking your macros to make adjustments when needed, keeping your strength up, and doing cardio to expend extra calories, you be able to successfully reach your desired