Brace yourself, the following may be a rude awakening for some of you who are on a fitness competition diet. There are many schools of thought when it comes to dieting down for a competition or photo shoot. The old school way of training for competition is based around eating a very low carb diet in the last 12 weeks of preparation, restricting water intake, restricting salt intake and doing endless hours of cardio. Please, if you are given this plan by your personal trainer, burn it and hire someone who has a nutritional education background and understands how to properly nourish the body prior to competing. I learned the hard way, don’t make the same mistakes I did.
What I’ve Learned
I have never competed in a fitness competition, but have dieted down several times for photo shoots and there have been so many learnings along the way. My first photo shoot I followed the meal plan I was referring to above. Very low carbs, low water and salt intake, and way too much cardio. I was completely burnt out by the time I got to my photo shoot and my hormones were out of control. I had not only damaged my hormonal state but I had also suffered metabolic damage due to the hours of cardio. I promised myself and my husband I would never do this again. So I took matters into my own hands. I went back to school to study nutrition and I hired a coach to keep me accountable to a new fitness competition diet. I ended up boosted my caloric intake from 1200-1500 to 1800-2400 calories a day. I also started lifting heavy and reducing my cardio from 1-2 hours a day to 20-30 minutes max, 3 times a week. I was amazed by the results of this different approach, and my family was actually able to live in the same house as me during this period.
The Successful Fitness Competition Diet – Carb Cycling
Prior to my last photo shoot, I did a lot of research on carb cycling, and ended up introducing this method into my meal planning. Carb cycling is an eating plan that mixes up high and low carb days. On high carb days you are stocking up your body with the fuel it needs, so that when the low carb days hit, your body burns calories like crazy. My routine was based on 3 low carb days in a row, 1 medium carb day and one high. I saved my higher carbohydrate days or when I wanted to train my legs really hard, and my lower carb days for when I trained my upper body or during recovery. The higher level of carbohydrates on your heavy training days will give you energy to push harder, while burning your carbohydrate stores, and producing the glycogen that your muscles need for recovery. This method is widely used and approved, and I would highly recommend it to coincide with your current fitness competition diet.
Know When To Reduce Fat!
Eating healthy fats is one of the most important things you can do to increase fat loss and boost good hormones. The only time you want to reduce your fat intake is on high carb days during the carb cycling process. By lowering your fat consumption on those days, it makes more room for carbohydrates which you will need for your muscles to refuel and recover properly. Don’t worry, on your low carb days you can fill up on all those wonderful fats your body has been missing.
Pay Attention To Calories
Although your calorie intake is going to vary on low to high carb days, you will need to add up what your weekly calorie intake needs to be and spread it out throughout your week. In order to lose 1 pound of fat you must burn or decrease your calories by 3500 in one week. That’s reducing 500 calories per day! Using the carb cycling process, you are going to have more variety with your eating program. Stick to higher calorie intake on your high carbohydrate days by increasing calories 200-300 and decreasing your calorie intake on your low carbohydrate days.
Example – 2000 calories/day (14,000 per week)
2 High Carb Days – 2300/day (4600 total)
4 Low Carb Days – 1825/day (7300 total)
1 Medium Carb Day – 2100/day (2100 total)