More and more people are choosing to take their fitness training to the next level and are entering either bodybuilding, figure or fitness competitions. Doing this is beneficial for a few reasons.
Advantages Of Competition
1. Specific Goal
First of all, it will give you a specific goal to work towards. Often the thought of being up on stage in a little bathing suit will give you motivation enough to put down that cookie that has been staring up at you all afternoon and go do your cardio workout that you've been putting off.
2. Passionate Immersion
The second benefit doing a contest has for you is that it allows you to fully immerse yourself in something you are passionate about.
Getting ready for a contest takes a lot of effort and time on your part but is well worth it when you are out there showing off all your hard work.
After their first contest, many people get hooked on them and will continue to keep coming back for more. If you've been feeling like you don't really have something in your life that is uniquely you, a hobby that you can get caught up in, fitness contests could just be the thing you are looking for.
3. Meet Fellow Enthusiasts
Finally, the last advantage to doing a fitness competition is that you will meet a whole host of other people who are just as interested in workout out and eating right as you are! It's a great way to develop new friendships and connections that will prolong your love of this lifestyle.
Preparing For The Journey
So how do you go about preparing yourself for your journey ahead?
The Main Areas You Will Need To Focus On Are:
- Your Training
- Your Diet
- Your Psychological Well-Being
Getting ready for a contest is a whole process that you will go through and it will affect everything you do. For a few months, your life will become very tailored to this goal so you have to be prepared to give it your all if you want to see the best results possible.
1. Your Training
Lets first discuss the training aspect. Hopefully, you have been using the months leading up to the contest to pack on some muscle mass.
This will enable you to create a better look after you have stripped away some of the body fat you are carrying to reveal your new and improved figure.
Since you still want to maintain your muscle size as much as possible, you still will want to keep weight training a large part of your focus.
How you perform your workouts may change slightly though. Since you are trying to get leaner, you will be looking for ways to increase your metabolism and burn the most body fat.
Incorporating principles such as supersets or a circuit training plan will help to get a good muscle pump while still stimulating and challenging your muscles.
You should still focus on lifting heavy weights however, as if you completely switch your focus over and start using lighter weights for a higher number of repetitions, you may end up losing a good deal of muscle mass and come in looking more long and stringy than full and muscular.
Another factor to consider is the fact that you will more than likely be on a hypocalorie diet during this time (more on this later). This means you may not have quite the amount of energy to train with what you are used to so the volume of your workouts may need to be reduced.
It is far better for you to reduce the volume, however, than the intensity (although in the very late stages of dieting intensity will likely be reduced as well).
Next comes the cardio portion of your training. While cardio is considered optional while you are in a bulking phase, for most people, it will be mandatory during pre contest preparation.
Some, who choose not to do cardio, can still get down to the low body fat levels necessary but it takes being extremely strict on the diet side of things along with a great deal of diet manipulation. The amount of cardio you need to do will largely depend on how relaxed you were during the off season.
For those with more fat to lose, cardio will likely play a much greater role than for those who are still relatively lean and just need to further define themselves.
It is also an individual thing. Some competitors find that performing twice a day cardio sessions is what works for them while others do alright with one cardio session a day on most days of the week.
Regardless of how many cardio sessions you are doing, it is still helpful to perform at least one or two of them at a high intensity nature.
While this will be harder for you since you are eating less and have less carbs stored for energy, pushing thru will be worth your while. This type of cardio will help boost your metabolism more and help to maintain more muscle mass.
Often, the competitors who chose to do two, 45 minutes sessions of steady state cardio 6 days a week are the ones who also lose a significant amount of muscle mass along with their fat. This is because the body will resort to burning some muscle during these extended sessions when available fuel is low.
Of course you will burn fat as well (since this is the point) but some muscle will be sacrificed. A possibly better option is to perform 3 or 4 longer cardio sessions along with 2 or 3 HIIT sessions and make sure you diet is at the best it can be. (since the main purpose of cardio is to burn calories to create a deficit and promote fat loss, but if your diet is close to perfect, it will already be doing much of the work for you).
Along with cardio and weights, if you are competing in fitness, you will be working on a routine as well. Since this will take up some of your energy, you will have to ensure that this is balanced in with your other training and you are still allowing time for your body to rest and recover.
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2. Your Diet
Now we'll discuss your diet. This is possibly the most critical change you are going to make in your contest prep. It is also the part that will likely take the most determination on your part.
Once again, this factor will depend largely on how much fat you have to lose. The more fat, the more strict you are going to have to be.
In the early stages of contest prep, I would still recommend keeping one cheat meal a week where you allow yourself something you are really craving in moderation.
This will help keep you psychologically sane and make the whole process slightly more bearable. Once you start getting closer you will likely have to tighten the reins on yourself and put off any more cheating until after the contest.
The biggest factor you are going to need to consider when putting together your contest diet is calories.
Since you are trying to lose fat, you will need to be consuming a hypocaloric diet, meaning you will be taking in less calories than what your body needs to support it's BMR (basal metabolic rate) and daily activities including exercise.
One important point to consider is that you don't want to bring your calories to low or else your metabolism will slow down significantly which will make losing weight progressively harder.
Also, what will you do once you reach a plateau in your weight loss? If you are just barely eating enough food to scrape by as it is, are you going to cut it down even more? This is just putting yourself in a very unpleasant and hungry situation.
A good idea in the beginning is to decrease your caloric intake by about 250 calories and bump up your exercise by about 250 calories so you will create a 500 calorie deficit in total. This should accumulate to about a loss of one pound a week.
After you have been following this for a while, you may wish to step it up slightly to a 500 calorie deficit in calorie intake to speed up the process as the competition grows nearer.
Just try and keep in mind that you don't want to be following a very low calorie diet for too long as you will have a hard time ensuring you are getting enough vitamins and minerals for optimal health.
After you have your calorie values figured out, then next point to consider is the macronutrients. In general, your total fat intake should stay relatively similar to what you normally take in (assuming you follow a healthy diet off season).
Granted it will be slightly less since you won't be eating quite as many calories, but you will want to keep the percentage of total calories the same. Most people, when thinking about fat loss may think that they should try and cut all the fat out of their diet.
This is a big mistake because healthy fats are required for proper functioning of the body as well as for keeping you feeling satisfied after meals.
When combined with the other macronutrients, dietary fat will also help to keep your blood levels stable and help prevent large swings in both energy and mood levels. The final benefit that keeping fat in your diet has is that it will help to keep testosterone levels in check as dietary fat is critical to it's formation.
What you do want to do, however, is eliminate all the unhealthy added fats to your diet, such as any butter, sauces, most baked products and fatty meats and dairy. This would also include trans fats that are commonly found in highly processed foods.
Carbohydrates on the other hand, are one macronutrient that you will want to change around. When you are going on a calorie reduced diet, this is probably the biggest source where the reduction will come from.
This does not mean you should go and declare: Carbs are the devil!
It just means you need to be more selective in the types of carbs you consume and at what time of day you do so. You will want to focus your starchy complex carbohydrates in the morning and right around your training.
This will provide your body with the energy it needs and reduce the risks that excess carbs will be added as body fat. These sources should include oatmeal (the unsweetened variety), sweet potatoes, brown rice, and possibly, depending on how restrictive you get, whole wheat pastas and bread. The rest of your carbohydrates should be of the fibrous kind that come from vegetables (excluding corn and peas, as these are more starchy).
Good Choices Include:
- Carrots (in moderation)
- Bok choy
These will all help to provide bulk to your diet, thus helping to fill you up and keep cravings at bay.
The other major source of carbs comes from fruit. Some competitors choose to cut fruit out of their diet as it does have a tendency to increase blood sugar levels, while others keep one or two pieces in.
Often, these people will choose sources that are lower on the GI index such as apples and oranges. The one notable exception is immediately post workout.
Often, competitors will mix 1/2 a banana in with their post workout shake as this will help replenish their glycogen stores quite quickly since it is quickly digested.
The final macronutrient to consider is protein. While fats you keep relatively stable, carbohydrates you decrease, protein on the other hand you want to increase.
The reasoning behind this is because when you go on a calorie reduced diet lower in carbohydrates, your body will start to turn to dietary protein for energy. This means that there will be less protein available for use by the body for one of its primary functions, to repair and rebuild muscle tissues.
By increasing your protein intake, you will help to ensure you still have enough to meet both needs and reduce your risk of losing muscle mass.
An added benefit is that protein will also work in combination with dietary fat to keep you fuller longer, so those intense hunger pains (these are a series of muscle contractions, sometimes painful, in the stomach when there is no food present) are less likely to become an issue for you. Be sure to include a lean protein source in each one of your meals when planning your competition diet.
Also consider meal timing when you are getting ready for a contest. The more meals you can have in a day (within reason) the better off you will be.
This will ensure that your metabolism is working as fast as it can (as every time you eat something your body expends energy in the process of digestion) and will also psychologically help you deal with hunger since although your meals may be quite small, knowing that another one is coming in 2-3 hours is comforting.
Water and Supplements:
Water intake should be high while in pre-contest phase. This will help clean your body out of toxins and encourage good skin and complexion (which is also important since you will be on stage). The added water will also help reduce bloating due to salt therefore giving you a leaner appearance.
During pre-contest dieting, some competitors choose to use supplemental fat burners. These will help to speed up your metabolism as well as give you added energy needed for working out.
Glutamine is also another popular supplement choice as it helps you retain more of your hard earned muscle mass while in a dieting phase.
A final point I would like to make is that for the few weeks right before the contest you may wish to cut out certain foods from your diet even though they are considered clean and healthy because they may be slightly problematic for you in terms of bloating and holding onto that last little bit of fat. The foods that most commonly cause this problem are dairy products.
As you go through more and more contests you will begin to learn what foods your body reacts to and what you wish to stay away from for that short period of time. Everyone's bodies are different so this will be an individual thing that you will just have to play around with to find out what works best for you.
The diet and training portions of getting ready for a contest are probably the most difficult to master in a skill sense. Also playing a huge role in your success however is how you mentally deal with the process and how well you can hold yourself together and stay motivated.
In the second part of this article we will look at psychological component of preparing for a contest, what you should be doing in the week just before the contest to ensure you are at your optimum and what you can expect after the contest is finished.