Like most, I read all the literature on the newsstands. I even referred to dieting techniques that I thought would give me that lean and full look that would make the judges notice. I made many mistakes along the way and after several adjustments, I tried again. Learning is impossible, I repeat, learning is impossible without making mistakes!
My First Crash & Burn
My first attempt at a "pre-contest" diet was to remove as much fat (saturated and unsaturated) as possible from my meals. Eating about 3-4 meals per day, I made sure that I only ate the leanest cuts of meat (to my knowledge at the time). In the morning, I would have 2-3 servings of Cream of Wheat, Ham, and Egg Beaters.
During the day, I made certain to run out for lunch and would pick up one or more of the following: Rice and Chicken (from a local Chinese establishment, 2 Arby's Roast Beef sandwiches and a salad, turkey or ham (processed and containing hidden sugar) from the nearest deli and a salad, and/or a Wendy's grilled chicken breast sandwich, a salad, and a small chili. As a post workout meal, 5 regular (plain with ketchup) hamburgers from Burger King!
Before bed, I usually had a huge plate of spaghetti with 96% lean ground beef (my favorite!). On the weekends, it was nothing for me to down a few "low-fat" beers. Although this may be appropriate for some off-season diets, I did this all the way up to the day of competition. All I knew at the time was that my fat intake was much lower than normal and I could see myself getting leaner. My weight went from 220 lb. to 198 lb. for the contest. At 5' 71/2", that was pretty solid. So I thought! When I competed that very first time, I quickly realized that not only size mattered but conditioning was important as well.
The diet strategy I adopted was not going to allow me to achieve a competitive physique, however, I looked better than ever (in my eyes that is). I knew that this diet was great for a person who just wants to reduce some inches and even see that hidden six-pack. To be a competitive bodybuilder, it was way, way off target. Believe me, my placing that day made it truly evident. Wanting to learn more and becoming intrigued by the complexity of the sport, I began my quest.
Fixing Your Problems
After my initial experience, I realized two important things. My diet was wrong and I had a hell of a lot more to learn. This is when my journey began. My next contest, I decided that, to prepare, I would reduce my fat intake even more. I skipped the post workout hamburger fest (feast) and replaced it with two additional (smaller) meals. These meals consisted of two tuna fish sandwiches on wheat bread prepared with low-fat miracle whip and a small bag of pretzels.
Again, my body tightened and my weight dropped to a contest weight of 194 lb. My abdominal area was more exposed and I looked even better. I had even achieved slight quad separations. Still it was not enough. I placed 2nd in a class of 5 light heavies. My saving grace was that it was a small turnout and other competitors were much like me.
Once again, I had adopted a diet approach that is great for a person wanting to reduce body fat but with no intent to be a competitive bodybuilder. What to do! Then with help from Bodybuilding.com, I found a plan that pushed me in the right direction. This time I increased my meals to 6 per day, I exchanged all the foods I had eaten up until that time with much more quality foods and I increased my unsaturated fat intake. The new plan called for high protein (1-1 ½ grams per lb. body weight), moderate fat (20-30 grams per day), low carbohydrate (75-150 per day). Before then, I consumed nearly 600-700 grams carbohydrates per day, 100-120 grams of fat, and 200 grams of protein. This was approximately 4600 calories each day. Great mass building diet but a terrible pre-contest diet. With my new plan, I learned how to manipulate my calories based on the carb/fat/protein content of the meals I consumed. I eventually accumulated nearly 26 different meal plans and was actually having fun creating them. The next few competitions I saw an amazing transition.
Each time my body became tighter and tighter, leaner and leaner until I finally achieved that winning physique. The best thing of all was that I had "learned" what diet my body responded to best. The learning continues. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to find a personalized diet plan that is appropriate for you no matter what your goal. No matter what you're trying to achieve, you will find that it is important to gradually adapt to a new dietary lifestyle. Extreme or crash diet programs will not last.
Your Dietary Lifestyle
Sometimes you even find that you gain more weight (fat) in the end due to a tendency to overeat following a crash diet. This makes it even harder to achieve results next time. What I mean by a "dietary lifestyle" is that what you currently have in your refrigerator, cupboards, etc., will and must change dramatically over weeks, months, even years. A signal that you have achieved a new lifestyle is when you can look into your refrigerator or cupboard and "junk" food stands out. Right now, in most places like these, the healthier food choices are the exception and stand out (and are avoided in many cases).
As I tell anyone who asks me for diet advice. You must first decide what you want. Next, make a list of all the healthy and unhealthy foods you eat and healthy foods you don't usually eat (rank the unhealthy foods from worst to the best of the worst). Now, determine what healthy foods you will include in your plan. With the list of healthy foods, learn how to shop for them by understanding their nutritional contents. You will succeed by knowing! The moment you realize that you are living a new lifestyle is when someone you know asks you, when they see you eating, "Are you dieting?" And your response is, "No, this is how I always eat."
Remember, be patient and committed and the results will come. Thanks for reading and please come again!