Doomed to Diet: Nutritional Stratigies for Months of Competition by Jean Jitomir
I just finished my competition and I am planning on doing another show in Sept. What do you recommend that I do about my diet until I start preparing for the contest?
Ahhhh…the endless diet; I know it well!
In contrast to bodybuilding, particularly male bodybuilding, figure competitors can reasonably do several shows a year. As a consequence, a figure competitor may spend ¾ of the year on a contest diet and never really have an “off-season,” which is a misnomer anyway. A good, natural physique competitor always has a nutrition and training plan, whether the next show is the following week or the following year. The competitor who asked the question above should already be preparing for her next show; the approach will depend on what she needs to improve.
1. The condition you were in at your first show
A. A few pounds short of sculpted—Not in shape yet
I started dieting for my very first contest back in April of 2005, with the intention of competing in June 2005. I pulled out of the show 2-3 weeks beforehand, thankfully. I wasn’t in terrible shape but was not at my best either. After a summer-long diet (with flexibility), I finally competed and won my class and the overall title in September 2005.
If you are the sort of person who easily gains weight, particularly fat weight, and have trouble getting into contest shape in 12 weeks, you may need a lot longer to be lean. Many women start competing in the spring and look substantially better after several months of staying on their clean contest diets. In fact, I think this is true of the majority of women, given that your calories are not too low.
In this scenario, stay on a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and lean meats throughout the summer (perfect timing! everything is in season). It is extremely important to increase calories before and after workouts, however. Essentially, make sure that you are giving your muscles everything they need to survive through an extended diet period.
Specifically, have about 0.25-0.5g/lb body weight carbohydrates and 0.15-0.25g/ lb body weight protein about 1 hour before the workout. Also include 5g BCAA, 5g creatine, and 5g glutamine in some kind of “hold your breath and drink it real quick-like” concoction. After the workout, have roughly the same amounts of carbohydrate (higher end of range) and protein (lower end of range), while limiting fat completely. I will also take the BCAA and glutamine again. 1½ -2 hours later, eat a meal that emphasizes protein. In terms of carb and protein sources, I’m a huge believer in food (as many registered dietitians are), so I typically stay away from whey shakes and maltodextrin. For instance:
Pre-workout: 25g oatmeal with 75g berries (I weigh all of this on a digital scale—totally worth the $35 at Target) and 1 cup no-sugar added soy milk (high in antioxidants which may prevent muscle breakdown) with about 9-10g protein.
Post-workout: 3-4 large dates (they are high GI and a natural food) with 1 cup yogurt, low-fat (not part-skim) or fat-free ricotta (this is whey based), or fat-free milk.
B. Looked Like a Barbie in a Lineup of Greek Goddesses—Not enough muscle
In this case, you need to build more muscle before the next show. This will take time, and you will need to gain weight, though maybe not more than 5-10 pounds, before dieting again.
Follow the guidelines above for nutrient intake before and after workouts, but take in carbs and protein on the high end of the ranges for both meals. Also, you should increase your portions of lean meats throughout the day by 1-2 oz and absolutely minimize your cardio. Lots of cardio ACTUALLY TELLS YOUR GENES TO NOT MAKE BIG, STRONG MUSCLES. Over-dieting and extensive cardio are completely contrary for someone who wants to gain significant muscle. After a period of dieting for a contest, a clean diet with good workout supplementation will allow you to gain muscle, but your body needs fuel and rest in order to do so.
C C’mon my size and conditioning are always spot on
Maintaining a physique that you are happy with is tricky, but doable for a certain period of time. However, extended dieting when you are already in peak shape puts you at risk for over-dieting and loosing a ton of muscle. As such, be sure to supplement your workouts properly and eat enough extra, clean food to gain weight at a snail’s pace (like ½ pound a month)! This way, you won’t be all stringy for the next show several months away, but you will still be close to contest condition.
2. The amount of time you have before your next contest
The above advice was written for someone who has several months. If your contest is weeks away, the approach will be different. For someone who still has weight to lose, plug through your lower-calorie contest diet until the show. A competitor who is already is good shape should follow the strategy above, but return to the contest plan about 2-3 weeks out. A woman who has significant muscle to gain should consider delaying her next contest until she has taken the time to gain enough muscle mass and diet back down again. This could very likely mean waiting a full year to compete.
3. Who’s judging the next show—what level are you competing at?
Strategize! A lot of times, you can know who is judging the show ahead of time, especially for the larger contests. LOOK UP THE PICTURES FROM OTHER SHOWS THAT JUDGE HAS DONE! Do the class winners look softer or harder? Do they have natural-looking hair, suits, and make-up or are they super-glamorous. You have to do what’s best for you, but pay attention to trends too! If your concept of a nice, classy hairdo hasn’t changed since the prom in ‘86, then it’s time for an update—these things matter a whole lot and are easy to modify. How is your posing—for most it can be better. Did you smile the whole time? Can you walk well in heels? Do your suits fit? These things are all remedied quickly and should be modified appropriately before the next show!
Also, what wins you an overall title at a local show may go completely unnoticed on the national stage. Do your best to emulate physique conditioning and suit style, based on the level of competition.