There must be 10's of thousands of articles and opinions on what the right pre-contest diet is. In this article I am going to go through the steps to create your own pre-contest diet and go through my own pre-contest diet. First of all, when figuring out any meal plan the first thing that needs to be done, is to figure out approximately how many calories your body is burning each day. This is known as your basal metabolic rate or BMR. Next, take that number and use it accordingly. For example if you want to gain weight add to this number. If loosing weight is your goal than you subtract from this number.
Ok, obviously if you are getting ready for a bodybuilding contest your goal is to loose as much fat off your body as possible. At the same time you want to retain as much muscle as you can for the competition. I'm going to go over my own pre-contest diet plan to use as an example. But remember, everyone's quantities and numbers will be different.
My basal metabolic rate is 2225 calories. I found this using several calculators found on the web, as well as using my own knowledge. For example on my off-season, I know if I am taking in 3000 calories my weight from week to week stays approximately the same. This is also taking my physical activity into account (Approximately 2 hours of physical activity per day). Because bodybuilders need a few more calories than normal from protein as well, I burn more calories than the average person during a workout I am going to use 2500 Cal as my BMR. That is step one. Once I found how many calories I burn per day I can move on to step 2.
Step 2 is subtracting an appropriate number so that I ensure I am loosing the fat I've put on all off-season. In the past I have taken 8 weeks for my pre-contest diet. Some people need longer, but others shorter. However I am fairly lean on the off-season staying around 12-14% body fat.
I am going to subtract 500 calories from my BMR. This is more than enough. With the increase in cardio done in pre-contest preparation I am burning even more calories than I am in the off-season. This leaves me with 2000 calories. Once I have this number, I can move on to step 3: where the calories come from.
Step 3 involves finding how many calories will come from which macronutrients and where they will fit in your diet. Obviously because my one of my main goals is preserving my muscle, I want protein at the top of my list. As a general rule 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is sufficient. However, just to be safe, I consume 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day.
Don't go overboard however; excess protein in your system can be converted to fat, although not as easily as carbohydrates, it can be done. Ok, so this gives me 292 grams of protein per day. Because there is 4 calories per gram of protein, I can subtract (4 X 292 = 1168 Cal) 1168 cal from my pre-contest calorie total (2000 - 1168 = 832), 2nd in importance is carbohydrates. Too many people cut their carbs too low and end up sacrificing muscles. When you think about it, if you are doing 2 - 45 minute cardio sessions per day and an hour plus of strength training you are already carb depleted.
For the first 5 weeks I consume approximately 150 grams of carbohydrates. With 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate this gives me a total of 600 calories from complex carbohydrates. (150g carbs X 4 cal per gram = 600 cal) Now, I subtract this number from my total pre-contest caloric need. (2000 - 600 = 1400 cal) Then I subtract my calories taken from protein from this number (1400 cal - 1168cal = 232 cal). Now, I have my protein taken care of at 292 grams per day, and I have my carbs taken care of at 150 grams per day. And I have 270 calories to derive from fat.
That's right fat. I feel it very important to supplement my pre-contest diet with omega 3, 6, and 9 Fatty acids. The product I use is Health From The Sun The Total EFA. I take two tblsp per day which equals exactly 270 calories. This gives me 30 grams of good fat (polyunsaturated) per day. However, once again, I cut this out after week five. My weight will have dropped significantly by week 5 and therefore my caloric need will have reduced as well. As a result, by tapering my carbs and cutting out my fats I am compensating for this. Now, hopefully you are still with me on this. This takes us to step 5; figuring out what foods my diet will consist of.
Protein - For my pre-contest diet, my source of protein must be low in fat. Low fat proteins include egg whites, boneless skinless chicken breasts, tuna, lean steak, and fish. As for my carbohydrates, I want to use polysaccharides. This means the chain of carbohydrates is longer and there is more than one (poly). Monosaccharides are what I want to stay away from because they provide little energy and it is short lived.
As well, if not used can be easily converted to and stored as lipids. Foods high in polysaccharide carbohydrates are pasta's, rice, yams, grains and potatoes. This is what my menu consists of during my pre-contest phase; egg whites, shredded wheat, tuna, brown rice, mixed vegetables, chicken breasts, steak, and yams. Occasionally, (once a week) I supplement with fresh fish, such as salmon, or haddock. The key to getting the diet right is the amounts of these foods. Here is a look of my daily meal breakdown during pre-contest dieting.
Meal 1: 7:30 A.M.
10 boiled egg whites
2 shredded wheat biscuits with water.
Multivitamin and 1 tblsp. Health From The Sun The Total EFA.
Meal 2: 10:00 A.M.
1 Can of tuna
1.5 cups of brown rice
Meal 3: 12:00 P.M.
1 8oz boiled chicken breast
1.5 cups brown rice.
Meal 4: 2:30 P.M.
1 can tuna
1 cup of brown rice.
Meal 5: 5:00 P.M. (pre workout meal)
8oz of lean steak (boiled)
1 medium size yam
? cup of mixed veggies
Meal 8: 8:15 P.M. (post Workout meal)
8 oz chicken breast (boiled)
2 cups mixed veggies
Meal 9: 10:00 P.M.
1 can tuna
I get these amounts from adding calories of certain foods. For foods without a nutritional label check out; http://carbcounter.thinner.com, this site lists almost every kind of food on the market. This will be the most annoying part of figuring out your diet. Now, the next step is preparing foods.
Here are some tips of methods I use to ensure I am cutting out the saturated fat. When cooking my meats, I cut off any excess fat before cooking. Then I boil it. By boiling it I separate any fat from the meat. You can see the fat floating to the top of the water. As for tuna, I drain, rinse, and drain again. This rids it of unnecessary sodium and takes away that horrible taste.
One of the worst parts of the diet is the bland taste everything has. A lot of condiments are out of the question because of their calorie content and sodium levels. However, some are ok to use in moderation. Salsa is my lifesaver; it has almost no carbs, low sodium and gives a good taste to everything. I honestly put it on everything from my tuna, to my steak. Ms. Dash and some equal or sugar twin is ok to use as well, however it's a good idea to cut this out the last week or two.
Raisins are great too... One "recipe" I use to keep me sane is combining rice, tuna, salsa, and raisins in a dish, and heating it up. Trust me it's like candy compared to some of your other meals. I also will take something I love like some gummy worms and put them in my mouth, chew them up and just spit them out. It sounds stupid, but you're getting the taste of them, without having to officially "cheat".
Water is extremely important. Especially because I drink at least two coffee's throughout the day. The caffeine is a natural diuretic. On top of this supplement with an ECA stack. This leads me into my next topic; supplements.
You may have noticed I don't use any protein supplements. This is because I cut out all dairy and dairy related products. Even whey. I sometimes supplement a low carb protein shake for the first two weeks, but after that I cut them out.
As for other supplements, I use an ECA stack such as Dymetadrine Xtreme three times per day, once before my morning cardio, once after lunch, and one before training. I supplement with Glutamine for all 8 weeks, this will help retain muscle mass, and help with recovery. I use 5 grams of creatine for the first 6 weeks to help keep my strength up, but I cut this out the last two weeks due to creatines water retaining effect. As always I use a good vitamin and mineral supplement daily. I take extra Vitamin C (2000mg) for its antioxidant effect. All of these supplements are available at Bodybuilding.com at amazing prices.
So, this is the process used to figure out your pre-contest diet. The right way. Everyone is different, and will use different foods and different amounts. Use this method for yourself and I guarantee you will see results. You'll have noticed my diet changes the last two weeks. This is when it all comes together. I will have an article on the last two weeks diet, and my training tips to help you get shredded soon. If you have any questions or concerns please don't hesitate to e-mail. Keep training hard and good luck!
Best of luck!