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This past November, I put on a pair of posing trunks and competed in the 2009 Musclemania America & World Championships. Musclemania invaded the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for its annual natural bodybuilding and fitness weekend. Over 500 competitors competed in the various men and women's divisions including bodybuilding, fitness, figure, and sports model.
This was my first bodybuilding show in five years. I had taken some time off to open a private personal training business and to continue my formal education in both fitness training and nutrition. It was time to put that education to the test in the real world and get back on the competitive stage.
I'm happy to say I accomplished my goal and won the American bantamweight championship. Standing on stage for the overall posedown, however, I realized there are a lot of improvements I need to make if I am going to be competitive at the higher levels of natural bodybuilding.
In the following article I would like to share with you the pre-contest plan I used for the show -- diet, training, supplements, etc. I would also like to share with you some of the mistakes I feel I made along the way, the lessons I learned from those mistakes, and how I intend to improve upon the game plan in 2010.
I've read a lot of pre-contest protocols to see how other bodybuilders prepare for shows, and each time I learn something new. I hope you learn a thing or two from me.
Bodybuilding is my passion, and as a result I've read a ton of information on nutrition -- from published research journal articles, to nutrition certification curriculum, all the way down to commercial diet books, and everything in between. I've also studied the works of some of the great bodybuilders and contest prep coaches (Aceto, Norton, Klemczewski, Abel), many who are contributors to this site. Chances are if you've read it, I've read it.
In putting together my diet for Musclemania America, I attempted to take the relevant pieces from credible resources and put it into a practical plan. I started the diet about 14 weeks out from the show. Not much changed throughout the entire pre-contest period. The plan looked like this:
- 1g of protein per 1lb of lean body mass (total bodyweight minus body fat)
- 1g of carbohydrate per 1lb of lean body mass
- Roughly 1/3g of fat per 1lb of lean body mass
For me this ended up being about 150g of protein, 150g of carbohydrate, and 35-50g of fat. I spread those nutrients out over 5-6 meals per day.
My protein sources included the following: Whey protein isolate, egg mixtures (1 egg yolk for every 6 egg whites), salmon, shrimp, chicken breast, turkey breast, top round steak.
I only counted starchy carbohydrate sources towards my total carbohydrate allotment. My starchy carbohydrates included the following: Jasmine white rice, white basmati rice, yams, oatmeal, and rice cakes (post-workout only). I did not count vegetables towards my macronutrient totals. My vegetable carbohydrates included the following: spinach, broccoli, cucumbers, cabbage, and toasted nori (seaweed).
Most of my fat intake came as by-product of my protein sources -- lean meats, salmon, and egg yolks. If I ate mostly lean protein sources on a particular day, I would add some monounsaturated fat in the form of 1-2 tsp of macadamia nut oil.
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I Attempted To Take Pieces From Credible Resources
And Put It Into A Practical Plan.
I varied my diet and rotated foods from the above list regularly, but a good sample day looked like this:
Breakfast - 6 AM:
- 1 Scoop Whey Protein Isolate
- 1/2 Cup Oatmeal
Midmorning - 9 AM:
- 4oz Chicken Breast
- 1/2 Cup Mashed Yams
- 1-2 Tsp Macadamia Nut Oil
Postworkout - 12 PM:
- 1 Scoop Whey Protein Isolate
- 3 Rice Cakes
Lunch - 2 PM:
- 4oz Chicken Breast
- 1/2 Cup Rice
- 1-2 Tsp Macadamia Nut Oil
Dinner - 5 PM:
Night - 8 PM:
- 1 Whole Egg
- 6 Egg Whites Scrambled
I also drank about 1 to 1.5 gallons of water every day.
I trained for the show using a four-day split, hitting each body part once a week.
Although I would rotate exercises, I stuck mostly to basic bodybuilding fundamentals. Here's a good idea of a typical week:
|TERMS YOU'LL NEED TO KNOW|
Day 1 - Back/Traps/Calves:
- Pull-Ups: 3 sets to failure
- Bent-Over Rows: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Seated Cable Rows: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell Shrugs: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Donkey Calf Raises: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Day 2 - Rest
Day 3 - Chest/Biceps/Abs:
- Flat Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Machine Flyes: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Standing Barbell Curl: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Hammer Curl: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Machine Preacher Curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Hanging Leg Raises: 4 sets to failure
Day 4 - Rest
Day 5 - Quads/Hamstrings/Calves:
- Leg Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Squats: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Lying Hamstring Curls: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Stiff Leg Deadlifts: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Leg Extensions: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Standing Calf Raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Day 6 - Shoulders/Triceps:
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Side Lateral Raises: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Bent-Over Laterals: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Cable Triceps Extensions: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Skull Crushers: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Bench Dips: 3 sets to failure
Day 7 - Rest
As you can see, I didn't do anything fancy, just in the trenches basic bodybuilding. Unlike most pre-contest plans, I kept the rest between sets longer -- roughly 2 minutes. As an ectomorph, I wanted to keep lifting heavy through the entire contest preparation period to maintain as much muscle mass as possible. I didn't want to rush through the workout for increased fat burning effects. I figured I would let the diet, and to a lesser extent cardio, take care of fat loss.
I used good technique and form -- my rep tempo on most exercises was 3-0-1-0. This translates to a 3 second negative/lowering, no pause or lockouts in bottom or top positions, and a relatively explosive/fast lift.
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I Wanted To Lift Heavy Through The Entire Contest
Preparation To Maintain As Much Muscle As Possible.
Like most bodybuilders I believe you should do as little cardio as necessary to reach your goals. This is especially true for ectomorph body types. Luckily I have a fast metabolism and don't have to do much cardio to get lean. We can debate slow cardio vs. HIIT all day, but I prefer the former. People will argue that HIIT has many of the same benefits as weight training -- so why not just weight train? But that's bodybuilding, we are all different, and you should experiment with a variety of protocols to find what works best for you.
For me, I mostly just walked outdoors. The first 8 weeks of contest preparation I would walk outside for about 45-60 minutes on my off days -- Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday. Since I was trying to make weight (a mistake I'll address later), as the show got close I added a little more cardio. I can't stand ellipticals and StairMasters -- they're just too boring and repetitive. I used to train in the Brazilian martial art capoeira. The last 4 weeks before the show I practiced capoeira for about 20 minutes after upper body weight training days.
I could write a completely separate article on the reasons why I used certain supplements in preparation for the show, and maybe I will as a follow-up, but for now I'll just give you my supplement schedule.
I didn't use a fat burner during contest preparation simply because I enjoy drinking coffee and tea. I would have a 12-16oz coffee before workouts (100-200mg caffeine) and green tea 1-2 times a day.
With my personal training business, my schedule was pretty hectic leading up to the show. I didn't have a ton of time to tan naturally. I would sit out in the sun for 20-30 minutes when I could, but most of my tan came from two products sold on Bodybuilding.com.
I started using Pro Tan's Two Minute Tan one week prior to the show. I used one coat a day, every day. The day of the show I used Dream Tan (Golden Brown) backstage as my bronzer. This product has posing oil already mixed in, so I didn't use any additional posing oil or spray.
I've competed a few times in the past and done a few photo shoots, but never seem to hit my peak properly. I attribute this to the fact that I had primarily been following the last week protocols' of non-tested bodybuilders. This time out I figured I would do some more research and look at the advice of experienced natural bodybuilders.
In the past I've tried all kinds of crazy things like severe carbohydrate depleting and loading, potassium loading, and cutting water for 2-3 days. This time, I decided to follow a more simple approach.
My personal situation was unique because I was trying to make the bantamweight cut-off. Weigh-ins were Friday morning and pre-judging was Friday night. I kept my water intake high -- roughly 1-1.5 gallons of water a day -- all the way up until about 6pm on Thursday night, where I cut it out completely. After weigh-ins, I sipped on water only as necessary.
I used a little bit of sea salt on most of my meals during the entire contest prep period. I kept salting my meals normally up until Tuesday. On Wednesday, I cut my salt intake in half. Beginning Thursday morning, I cut out added salt completely. I still took in small amounts of natural salt, mostly from egg whites.
Beginning Monday, I cut my carbohydrates down to about 0.75g per 1lb of lean body mass, which for me was a range of 100-125g per day. I maintained this level until I weighed in on Friday morning. After making weight, I started to carb-up on about 50g of carbohydrates (rice) every 2 hours, along with small amounts of protein (chicken or egg whites).
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My Personal Situation Was Unique Because I
Was Trying To Make The Bantamweight Cut-Off.
Each time you compete you learn more about your body. As you go through the competition prep process, you take notes about the mistakes you made and what might work better next time. You'll probably learn just as much, if not more, from my mistakes than from my competition plan. Here are some of the mistakes I made and how I plan to correct them in the upcoming 2010 Competition season:
1. Making Weight Class
I've competed in the past as a lightweight, which traditionally is 155lbs. For Musclemania 2009, they didn't have that weight class. They had the bantamweight class -- 145lbs, and their version of the lightweight class -- 165lbs. Twenty pounds is a big difference between weight classes. I've seen what a top-level, ripped 165lbs natural bodybuilder looks like, and I don't believe I'm at that level yet. As a result, I believed my best bet at being competitive was to drop down to bantamweight.
I believe I over-dieted and over trained a little bit to try and make the weight class. As I moved deeper into the contest preparation period, I had dropped most of my body fat and my metabolism was running red-hot. I probably should have added some calories at that point, either upping the protein, upping the carbohydrates around my workouts, or both.
To make weight, however, I kept my calories and macronutrient totals the same, even though I knew I was losing some muscle. In addition, I shouldn't have added the extra cardio sessions.
This year I will not focus on making any particular weight, I will just focus on bringing the best package possible. I will adjust my diet through the contest preparation period as necessary. If I've dropped most of my body fat in the initial preparation period, I will add calories and focus on maintaining/gaining lean muscle.
2. Not Enough Calories
As an ectomorph, I believe my contest diet was set at too low a calorie and macronutrient level to begin with. Although I got ripped (my final read out on the Tanita Body Composition Analyzer was something like 3% body fat), I definitely lost some muscle mass. I looked small and somewhat flat at the show. Since my metabolism is fast, I should probably be dieting on more calories. This year I will up my starting point to:
- 1.5g of protein per 1lb of lean body mass
- 1.5g of carbohydrate per 11lb of lean body mass
- 0.25-0.35g of fat per 11lb of lean body mass
3. Not Enough Carbs
I'm not a big guy, so I knew I wasn't going to out-muscle anyone on stage. I wanted to focus on being as lean and ripped as possible. As a result, I was too conservative with my carb-up approach. I did not want to over-carb and end up blurring my definition. I should have started increasing my carbohydrates the afternoon before prejudging, not the late-morning of pre-judging.
4. Tanning The Face
The Dream Tan Bronzer looks really weird on the face. I have to figure out how to find a better way to make the color blend better from the body to the face.
This article was the bare-bones basics of my natural bodybuilding contest preparation plan. It's a real-life strategy you can use to get ripped for the stage, for a photo shoot, or just for the beach. It is just the basic plan of what you should do to get in shape. In future articles I will get more into the science behind natural bodybuilding and fitness training and nutrition. I'll show you the reasons WHY you should be doing it.
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