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Nutrition And Fitness Competing 101!

1st Place Winner in 1999 NPC Natural Carolina Open Fitness Championships! Learn to compete in fitness competitions.

Part One: Basic Guidelines!

Designing a nutritional program for fitness competing can be a little tricky. If you have not been dieting for competition, or if you have only reduced your overall calories to lose weight on a general level, and have not followed the basic formula for nutritional balancing of your diet, chances are you are not getting the proper nutrients that your body needs for the demands of training that you are putting yourself through. Following are the basic guidelines and tips to help you to design your nutrition around your training for optimal performance:

First and foremost your body needs food for optimal performance, and to function properly. For fitness athletes food provides nutrients for growth, and repair of muscle tissue due to the stress induced from above average training such as lifting, gymnastics, strength, endurance, and conditioning training. Supplementing your diet with additional food sources such as protein drinks, protein powders, performance bars, etc., will aide in helping your body meet specific nutrient demands required from increased physical activity.

Basic Nutrients:

Protein: The building blocks of muscle. Protein repairs and maintains the body's tissues, organs and promotes muscular growth.

*Excellent sources of protein are lean meats such as beef, chicken, turkey and fish.

*Amino Acids from protein are used to support your immune system.

*Athletes need more protein in their diets than people who are less active, or are inactive.

*Without adequate protein intake muscular growth is impossible, and the body will become catabolic if you train without eating enough of it.

Carbohydrates: Used primarily as an energy source.

*Activity is fueled by a mixture of carbs and fat with a small contribution from protein.

*The body's ability to store carbs is very limited. That is why we tend to gain weight if we eat them in excess.

*Carbs are classified in four ways: simple sugars, refined carbs, starches, and fiber.

  1. Simple Sugars are found in table sugar, honey, molasses, fructose, and corn syrup. Sugar is not a good source of carbohydrate intake, causing high sugar levels in the blood which shoot up fast and then drop dramatically causing a "crash" effect. It burns too fast, and causes the body to release high levels of insulin which promotes fat storage.
  2. Refined Carbs: Made from flour sources such as breads, baked goods, pastas, and cereals. The refining process causes them to be quickly digested and absorbed thus behaving like sugar. Not a good thing for athletes needing sustained energy sources.
  3. Starches: The most natural form of carbs found in foods such as oatmeal, beans, corn, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and brown rice. These forms of carbs are better for the fitness athlete due to the slow burn. They are not digested quickly, and they do not promote fat accumulation nearly as much as sugar or refined carbs which make them the better source.
  4. Fibrous Carbs: Come from vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, oat bran, and onions. These forms of carbs are very important because they slow down the release of insulin--so do egg whites, when digesting starches and limiting the amount to be stored as fat. Fibrous carbs aide in the digestion process as well.

Fats: Excellent sources of fats are found in olive oils, canola oils, and in Flax Seed Oil. Flax Seed Oil is an excellent source of the Omega 3 Fatty Acids which aide in fat loss. Make them a part of your everyday regimen. Avoid saturated fats such as butter, margarine, vegetable oils, cream, Mayo, egg yolks, salad dressings, or anything fried. Fat is not as an efficient source of energy for fuel as is carbs.

Water: Drink It, Drink It, Drink It!!! At least a gallon or two per day. That's just the way it is. A complete no brainer.

Designing Your Nutrition Program

1) Diet must have an adequate number of calories for optimal performance.

2) Diet Must have an adequate amount of protein, carbs, and fats. Macro-Nutrient Ratios for Optimal Performance: 30% Protein, 55% Carbs, 15% Fats, however with the constant demands and changes in a fitness athlete's training regimen, these ratios must be modified as needed.

3) The basic formula to determine your daily caloric intake is between 8-15 calories per pound of bodyweight. This varies depending on whether you are trying to gain muscle mass or lose body fat. **NOTE: Of course bodybuilders would use a much higher caloric formula, but since fitness is not bodybuilding to such a dramatic degree this formula will more than be adequate for your fitness goals in nutrition, gains, or losses. I have used this formula for a very long time, and especially when getting ready for competition, and I have found that it works best in general. During the course of your training, you will make appropriate adjustments to your diet as you learn what your body needs and how it reacts to certain levels of training and nutrition. Believe me, if you aren't getting enough of something, your body will let you know.

As you get closer to your competition date, usually about 8-12 weeks out, these ratios will change in carbs and protein, with protein being the highest ratio going into the "getting lean" process. It is best to start your pre-competition diet at least 16-18 weeks out because you may need to gain mass before you lose fat. You need an adequate amount of time to do this in. The best time to gain for competition is when the season is over, that way you can concentrate on defining and losing fat weight 8-12 weeks out from competition. It also depends on how many competitions you plan to do in a year, and how far apart they are, and how much time you have to get ready between events.

Some Nutritional Strategies:

1) Meal Structuring: Refers to the composition of each individual meal. Each should be balanced according to the Macro-Nutrient Ratios.

2) Meal Patterning: How your meals are consumed throughout the day. The goal is 5-6 small meals spaced evenly throughout the day equals a more uniform supply of nutrients for recovery, glycogen, and restored energy levels. NOTE: as your body becomes stronger and more in shape, your metabolism is going to increase. By spacing your meals equally apart throughout the day it keeps your metabolism going, thus burning fat, so the importance of meal structuring is vital. If you miss a meal you will know it. Try very hard not to miss meals, or to go too long between meals. You don't want to start to feel too hungry, or let your blood sugar levels drop too dramatically because you missed a meal. You will feel lethargic, and tired and you're heading for a "crash". Get those meals into your body when its time. I know this is not always easy when you work everyday, so planning is very important.

Gaining Muscle Mass:

Starting out as a first time fitness competitor, you may need to gain some muscle for strength and body symmetry. Follow these guidelines to gain some muscle mass before transitioning to the "getting lean" phase of your nutritional program.

If you need to gain mass increase your caloric intake by 300 calories per day above the basic requirements. If after 1-2 weeks there is no significant weight gain, increase by another 300 calorie per day increments. Continue this process until you start to gain at least 1 pound every 1-2 weeks. A thinner athlete will get better gains from an increase in carbs, and the heavier athlete will get better gains from an increase in protein. Losing Body Fat and Getting Lean:

1) Change your diet to consume a higher ratio of protein, and less ratio of carbs. This is most effective 8-12 weeks out depending on your current metabolic rate. If your metabolic rate is slower, start at 12 weeks out. *Remember, the judges do not want to see striations in the muscle, or a too lean appearance in fitness competitions. Keep a close eye on your fat loss during these 8-12 weeks, being careful not to get too lean too fast.

2) Increase energy expenditure by performing additional aerobic activity. NOTE: Now would be the time that you would transition your aerobic activity to twice per day. a) Morning before meals, b) Evening for additional expenditure. Refer to Training to Compete in Fitness for more info. If you reduce caloric consumption after a few weeks, your metabolic rate will slow down to match the reduced level of intake, and weight loss will stall. Shock the body by flip-flopping calories each day more then less, and vice versa to keep the metabolic rate up, and the body from adjusting to those changes. Aim for 1-1 1/2 pounds of fat loss per week.

Trouble Shooting Problems:

1) Losing weight unintentionally--you need more calories, increase carbs and protein.

2) Feeling overtrained and losing strength--increase your protein intake.

3) Feeling fatigued or overtired before competition or before and during training--increase carb intake before and after the event, and before training--use a high carb drink such as Defend, Gatorade, or Poweraide. NOTE: You will increase carbs to a high level anyway when you carbo load before competition, which will give you a more than adequate supply of glycogen stores for energy.

4) Resistance training is failing to make gains in muscularity or strength--increase protein intake.

5) You're gaining fat--decrease carb intake, and increase protein intake.

6) Do not starve yourself thinking that is the best way to lose weight. Your body needs food to lose, not the opposite.

7) Change the content of your diet for variety. Don't eat the same things everyday at every meal. Allow one meal a week for a "cheat meal" so you don't feel deprived. Don't over do it. Drop this meal 10 weeks out. You can go ten weeks without a French Fri or a slice of pizza.

8) Take a Multivitamin geared more toward women with the RDA of calcium 1200 mg per day, and iron 15 mg per day.

9) Consume enough calories--make sure that your energy intake = your caloric expenditure. Do not take in more calories than you can burn off within that same day.

10) Avoid high sugar foods--sugar increases insulin levels which inturn promote fat storage.

Listen to and watch your body as it changes and progresses. Pay attention and combat problems immediately. When on stage you do not want to look tired, drawn-out, or underdeveloped due to improper nutrition, and over-training. Keep a journal of your progress.

Remember to train smart, stay focused and disciplined. Refer to Part Two of Nutrition and Fitness 101 - Putting it all Together for more information on designing a nutritional program.

Train for Success!!!