A Scientific Approach to Contest Prep

The critical aspects of preparing for a bodybuilding contest

The sport (or culture) of bodybuilding is older than much of the nutritional and metabolic science we take for granted today. For decades, traditions have been passed along during small talk between sets and, perhaps even more significantly, through bodybuilding magazines. In this day and age, however, with scientific information just a click away, I thought it would be good to address some of the critical aspects of preparing for a bodybuilding contest—namely diet and supplementation, from a research-based perspective. 

A recent paper published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition did an excellent job of addressing the important questions that come up when preparing a precontest diet. One of the biggest questions, and the first that must be addressed, is how many calories should be consumed. Obviously, this is going to depend on your body size and body composition, but regardless of your size, the same principles apply. The first principle is that the greater the caloric deficit you impose, the more muscle you will lose. Aggressive dieting that results in sudden and dramatic weight loss can lead to equal amounts of muscle and fat being lost at the same time. Keep in mind that the body can break down muscle tissue five times faster than it can build it, so you want to do everything you can to protect all your hard-earned muscle as you prepare for your contest. Research on the subject indicates that a rate of weight loss equaling no more than 0.5–1% of bodyweight per week is going to reduce the loss of muscle mass. For most bodybuilders, this means no more than one to two pounds per week.

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