Contest Dieting

Competing is basically about burning off body fat, retaining muscle, and displaying the physique to the competitor’s best advantage. Most competitors seems to start anywhere from 8 to 16 weeks in advance to get ready for a show. It really depends on how much fat needs to be burned. For example, a person needing to shed 20 pounds of fat will need la longer time for dieting than a person who only needs to shed 10 pounds of fat.

Competition Body Fat Percentages
The fat that surrounds the spinal cord, heart, and vital organs is called essential fat and is necessary to sustain life. The lowest body fat percentage a person can have is their amount of essential fat. Essential fat is approximately 2-3% of total body weight for males, and seems to be range between 7-10% for females. The difference in levels between genders is due to reproductive and hormonal factors. It is not likely for a competitor to reach the lowest possible body fat percentages though. If competitors can get within a couple percent of the lowest possible levels, they will display unbelievable definition. Most amateur regional level competitors don't even get that low. Fitness and figure girls may can come in at a wide variety of body fat percentages, largely depending on where and how their body holds fat, as well as the desired look of the competing organization, but generally speaking, body fat levels range from 9-15%, not nearly as low as female bodybuilders must go to show adequate definition.

How Long to Diet to Get Ready for a Show?
A common question people ask when starting out in physique competition is how long they need to diet to get ready for a show. Many gyms offer body fat testing. Calipers (skin fold measurements), bioelectrical impedance (painless electrical current through the body) and near infrared reactance (light absorption and reflection) are the most common methods for obtaining body fat estimates. With proper application and derivation, they can provide fairly accurate results that are useful for estimating time one would need to plan on dieting for to reach their desired contest conditioning. Here's how it works:

In this example, the competitor is a female weighing 152 lbs. She has set a goal to be at 11% body fat for her competition. Say her test yields 18.6% body fat. 18.6% of 152 lbs is: 0.186 x 152 lbs = 28.27 lbs, so she currently has about 28.25 lbs of body fat on her frame. A bodyweight of 152 lbs - 28.25 lbs = 123.75 lbs of lean bodyweight (muscle, water, bones etc.). Using algebra, (who said that stuff would never get used in the real world?) to find to her goal of 11% body fat:

123.75 lbs/ x = 100% - 11%, or simply 0.89, 123.75 = 0.89x, 123.75/0.89 = x, 139 = x, so about 139 lbs would be about the target 11% body fat. As a check, weight of 139 – lean bodyweight of 123.75=15.25 lbs of fat, and 15.25/139=10.97% or 11% rounded).

28.25 lbs of fat now - 15.25 lbs of target fat = 12.75 lbs to lose. Losing 1-2 lbs per week is a common rate of weight loss to shed body fat while maintaining muscle mass. Losing weight too quickly can come at the expense of losing muscle tissue. Figure on about 1.5 lbs lost per week for this example. It would take 12.75 lbs/1.5 lbs = 8.5 weeks of dieting to reach the target body fat level from this starting point. You can plug in your numbers and see how long you should allow for.

Note: When dieting, competitors should weight themselves first thing in the morning each time. Water weight can vary several lbs throughout the day. By recording weights at the same time of day, like first thing upon waking after about 8 hours of fasting insures more accurate weight readings when monitoring weight loss from one week to the next.

Once you decide to begin your dieting for a contest, it becomes more important to know your food intake. You pretty much have to be a calorie counter at this point, at least until you gain plenty of experience with dieting down. To determine the breakdown of foods, you can go to a local bookstore and pick up a nutrition or food guide that lists the amount of carbs, protein, fats, sugars, sodium, etc. in foods. Begin dieting by eliminating all the junk food, excess sugars and foods high in fat from your diet and piece together your meals using a source of lean protein, a source of complex carbohydrates, and some vegetables for fiber and vitamins/minerals. A good ratio to follow if not on a carb cycling type of diet when starting is around 60% carbs, 25% protein, and 15% fat. This may differ from individual to individual. Many people do fine with these ratios, others feel they must take in lower carbs when dieting for a contest. Your body type, metabolism and number of fat cells in your body (which is hereditary) can affect what works best for you. There is also speculation about blood type playing a role in what works best for an individual, but there doesn’t seem to be scientific evidence backing that theory. You can check into other books about these topics if you wish to explore them more thoroughly.

You should continue eating frequent meals, but the portions will likely become a little smaller the closer to the contest you get. As an example, say your normal food intake averages 3,500 calories per day. When you start dieting, you should maintain that number but use a stricter (cleaner) diet. Counting calories serves as a gauge for where to go next. If after the first week you don't experience any weight loss, you should then cut your calories back 10-15%. After another week you can gauge your progress and take it from there. For example, if you lose 5 pounds in a week, you should add some calories back to your daily diet. Ideally you should try to lose 1-2 pounds per week. Much more than that would probably be at the expense of your muscle mass, not the fat you want to get rid of. Continue adjusting your calories (or exercise amounts) as needed in order to continue losing 1-2 pounds per week up until the week before your show.


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