I've been in this game so long, I could probably write a book that would include at least 100 tips for success in competition dieting. My own knowledge has evolved over more than 30
years by trial and error, successes and failures, and by pure blind hits and misses. But unfortunately, since I have only a few pages with fitFLEX each month, I'm going to share just
a few of the methods by which I've found success - both with myself and with clients - and leave you to discover the rest as you gain your own experience in the contest game.
First and foremost, remember you're going to be only as successful onstage as you are in maintaining your diet. No matter how much muscle you put on in the preceding off-season, what
really counts is being able to see definition and shape. Don't listen to those chumps who say you should weigh a certain amount in shape this year or that you should come in looking
bigger for this or that show.
Look, if you believe nothing else of my advice but the next comment, believe this: A bodybuilder looks huge not because of scale weight but because of definition and detail. When you're
in shape, regardless of what weight you clock in at, you're going to look big. I try to convince my pro clients of this fact because, believe it or not, even some of them suffer from
the "scale-weight disease." I can scarcely believe a professional would still be operating under such a false concept, but the reality just goes to show you what a mental game bodybuilding
As your friends lie to your face in the posing room and declare you look as ready as you're ever going to be, deep down we all know what ready is and what it's not. We know when we look
at someone else, and we know in our hearts where we fall in the mix too.
Personally, I don't believe there's such a thing as blindness to condition. I think there's a step in between that we might conveniently forget about - the part where we actually caught
a glimpse of how we truly looked, but swept the image under the rug to justify the many weeks we had endured in food hell.
I also believe that, while not everyone is built like Flex Wheeler or has Ronnie Cole-man's potential for size, almost every bodybuilder could come into a competition in good lean shape.
The secret is just a matter of practice in finding the right foods for your system, dieting for the correct length of time, and learning how to avoid temptation along the way. I can help
you only with the last one. Here goes!
Take a bite and throw it away, or taste it and don't swallow.
The mere tasting of sweet food usually complicates matters mentally and/or physically during a contest diet. However, if you just can't get by without sweets and feel that passing them
up will mean a binge down the line, take a small taste and then throw the rest away, or chew up the bite-sized sample and spit it out without swallowing any part of it. This way you'll
get a few calories, but won't have to work them off later on the treadmill.
Don't aim for a specific weight on contest day.
Herein is one of the biggest reasons some of the top guys come in too soft. They figure because their body has put on roughly 20 pounds over the course of a year, they should weigh 20
pounds more in competition shape. This is not always true. Let the mirror be your guide and go down to the weight that allows you to look your best - no more, no less.
Get as much sleep as your body needs.
Recuperation is always important for the bodybuilder who's trying to add size, but it's equally important for the athlete who's diet-ing. Dieting fatigues the body and throws it into a
tailspin. Psychologically fatigue can cause you to feel you need a sugar pick-me-up. Want another great argument for sleep? Fewer hours to lament your diet - that is, of course, unless
you have gastronomic dreams!
Try to avoid sugar and spices that stimulate your appetite.
Avoiding these foods in your entire diet keeps the process simpler. Besides, super-sweet foods will get you craving carbs, and when you can no longer pound down the rice and potatoes,
you'll want to know your body isn't going to chemically crave starch.
Drink at least half a gallon of water daily.
About four weeks out from your competition increase that intake to at least a gallon. I re-commend adding a non calorie drink powder to your water jug, like Crystal Light or Sugar-Free
Kool-Aid, so that the water is more palatable and you feel you're getting something sweet. Whether you drink it straight or add powder, it will keep you feeling full and keep you from
retaining water. How you look in the mirror each day can mean the difference between cheating and resolutely staying on the straight and narrow.
Have someone diet along with you.
There's an unwritten rule in bodybuilding. If you go on a diet, your training partner should too. Well, okay, it's not a rule exactly, but it should be. Seeing your training partner hoist
weights like an ox while your strength is beginning to diminish from the diet is a bitter pill to swallow. To convince him the torture is worthwhile, remind him of how good he'll look in
Craving? Use people, places and things to distract.
When you feel hungry and start to get that edgy feeling like you're going to be angry because you can't have any more food for the day, try going for a walk, heading to a friend's house,
or going to the movies. Do something to take your mind off food and training. Sometimes substituting activity for food, like walking the dog, can quell cravings.
Save some calories until the end of the day.
If you get the urge to eat late at night, you'll have some calories left over with which to do that. Just make sure they're from the right macro nutrient group. You may not want to eat carbs
right before bedtime if you're close to a competition. Remember, drinking water is always a good way to fill up.
Don't use food to reward diet discipline.
This practice defeats the purpose. Body-builders are so accustomed to using food negatively, either rewarding themselves for a successful contest outing with a binge or yo-yoing up and down
in the off-season, that many of them - not surprisingly - have eating disorders. (Read: binge disorders). Instead of using dessert as a means to make yourself feel good after a successful
week of dieting without a cheat, buy yourself something inedible.
Keep a diet log.
Write down everything! If you took a taste of something, write it down. Keeping track of what you eat reduces the likelihood that you'll want to go off your diet. Reading the deplorable
details in black and white the next day can be a horrible dose of reality if you've cheated.
Weigh yourself once a day at the same time.
Bodyweight fluctuates constantly throughout any given day and you don't want to freak yourself out by being hyper vigilant over the scale. If you can get away with weighing every other day
in the beginning of your diet, try doing that. You'll feel much saner. As competition day nears, start weighing every day.
Skip the Tupperware and eat your food off real plates whenever possible.
Because I start work at 4:30 in the morning, and continue until 6 or 7 at night, I have to pack my food for the day in plastic containers, but most people don't. Avoid this practice if you
can. You'll feel more like a normal human being if you're eating from a real plate, using real metal cutlery.
Don't shop when you're hungry.
And don't shop alone! Take your training partner, coach or significant other along. Someone's got to keep you honest as you drool over fattening foods on store shelves. This is the best
insurance policy you'll ever have.
Don't shop for food late at night.
The store is emptiest then, and you'll be tempted to linger in aisles of forbidden foods that you'll swear are beginning to call your name! After 12 weeks of eating chicken breasts and rice,
almost anything else looks good. That's okay if it's the same nutrient category, but anything processed isn't worth your attention - particularly close to com-petition. Moreover, late-night
Muzak can put you in a trance that may draw you inexplicably to the Haagen-Dazs display!
Don't go to restaurants if you can help it.
In Venice, California the Firehouse, Fresh-to-Go and Koo-Koo-Roo, which serves flame-broiled chicken, are all within walking distance of the major gyms. Eating in these places is never a
mistake (unless you're a couple of weeks out from a competition or are well behind where you should be) because they offer menu items specifically for the competition dieter. But you can be
pretty sure your favorite diner in Omaha won't serve it up clean!
Brush your teeth if you crave something sweet.
If you're desperate, don't eat too much toothpaste!
Sports drinks and energy bars should be off limits.
When you're in the off-season, having that drink or sugar-packed bar is okay, but when you're on your diet, you should avoid both. They'll only keep weight on you and if you begin eating them
at the start of your diet, you'll try to justify eating them too close to the show on the grounds that you actually look good anyway.
Keep plenty of raw vegetables in your refrigerator.
Crunchiness can be surprisingly welcome, even if it comes in the form of a raw vegetable. Until about six or eight weeks out you can have a small amount of air-popped, fat-free popcorn on
hand too. Just make sure there's no butter and that you're not eating a roomful and still calling it a light snack.
Make the kitchen off limits except at meal-time.
If possible, have someone prepare your meals for you. If you have a supportive spouse or live-in, he/she might be willing to help you out for those few months if you're nice in return. Don't
take advantage, however, or you might end up coming home to just a trophy!
Never skip meals.
This may not sound like a difficult rule for most bodybuilders, but I've run into more and more competitors who hate eating the volume of food required to stay on a diet. Once the metabolism
fires up to full capacity, eating even more becomes a necessity. (You need a ton of clean food for enough calories to sustain a 250-pound body.) Try to keep the engine burning by not missing a
A FINAL THOUGHT ABOUT COMPETITION DIETING
A great way to make sure you stay on your competition diet - in fact the most important - is to ask yourself well ahead of time whether you're doing this for you or for some other person or
reason. Dieting as strictly as success in bodybuilding competition requires is no small matter. Embarking on a weeks-long course of deprivation just to please a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse,
parent, or group of friends is silly. Worse still is getting up onstage with something to prove or merely to bathe in the limelight without being prepared.
When you enter competition for the wrong reasons, not only will you likely experience disappointment or all-out dismal failure, but you'll also be less likely to try competition again. The sting
of not appearing at your best stays with you for a long time. Displaying your wares with nothing but a triangle or two of fabric to cover your naked body is a major challenge. Better to make sure
you're ultra prepared.