Getting really lean is an art form…and a science. It is NOT about starving yourself. In fact starving yourself would be the worst thing you could do.
The months before entering a physique competition are extremely difficult and require plenty of discipline and perseverance. Eating the correct foods in the proper proportions and at the appropriate time is vital to getting your physique primed for the stage.
The information presented here assumes the reader has a certain level of nutritional knowledge.
HOW MANY CALORIES EVERY DAY?
Calories: A VERY general rule of thumb is 16 x your bodyweight. So if your goal is to weigh 125 pounds that would be 2000 calories a day intake to maintain a bodyweight of 125. To lose weight eat clean and eat with a slight calorie deficit, about 200 to 300 calories below your maintenance level. Over time you will figure out the correct balance and will make adjustments accordingly.
PROTEIN: Eating the correct amount of protein is PARAMOUNT to helping you build and maintain a muscular physique, since proteins are the building blocks of muscle in your body. You should eat at least 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight EVERY day. Protein should be consumed at every meal.
CARBS: Fifty to sixty percent of your daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates until about three months before your competition. At this point, carbohydrate intake begins to be cut to 20 to 40 percent. Eating the right types of carbs will make all the difference in your physique. Whole-grain carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole grains and quinoa digest slowly in your body. As weeks progress and the number of allowable carbohydrate grams is reduced, you will be getting more of your carbohydrate calories from veggies and limiting fruits to 2-3servings daily.
FATS: Fat intake will be reduced when preparing for a physique competition. Most people can consume up to 30 percent of calories from healthy fats until about the three-month mark, then as weeks progress, gradually reduce fat intake to 10 to 20 percent.
You need to keep an eating log and record your food intake so you can make accurate adjustments. If you are very active you may have to eat more. If you are naturally obese and hold onto body fat easily you may have to eat less. The only way to really know (how a certain level of food intake will affect you) is keep an eating log and discover what effect eating a certain amount of calories for a month has on you. Ask yourself: Did I get leaner? Did I lose muscle? Did I gain fat? Then make adjustments.
** Remember metabolisms vary significantly from person to person – I am able to keep my healthy fats at ~25% during the leaning phase. I focus more on gradually cutting carbohydrate calories, and increasing cardio sessions as the weeks progress. I am also not as “carb sensitive” as some.
This basic template for macronutrient ratio’s works for me: Protein: 35-40%, Carbs 35-40%, Fats 25%. As I begin to cut carbohydrate calories, I may gradually increase protein, (to keep calories up) depending on the progress I am making.
Basic rules to lose body fat:
Eat every 3 hours. Six small meals a day. Avoid foods that spike your insulin levels (like bread, sugar, and pasta) or foods high in fat (bacon, cakes, butters, fatty meats). Focus on high fiber foods (vegetables, whole wheat, fruits) and protein foods (whey protein, egg whites, fish, lean chicken, low fat cottage cheese, and meal replacements). This increases your metabolic rate. Remember to consume 200-300 calories a day below maintenance level. Also eating every 3 hours tricks your body into thinking YOU ARE NOT DIETING (constant blood sugar level) so it does not store fat (go into famine mode).
As weeks progress, gradually decrease carbs without cutting calories. Eat more vegetables and more protein. Low carb intake lowers insulin levels, you store very little fat, and activate fat burning mechanisms in the body. Keep the calories up though. As you begin to decrease carbs, you will also increase cardio.
When your metabolism slows (from dieting), eat more for 1 to 3 days. Usually one day will do it. Exercise more (increase intensity) as well. Get your metabolism moving again. Usually 300 to 400 calories above maintenance will do it. Carb cycling works well for me when dieting. I incorporate 1 – 2 “re-feed” days per week; with the 2 higher carb days falling on the most strenuous training days (eg squat, leg days). Having these 2 days also helps to restore depleted energy stores (physically and mentally!)
Water and Supplements
Water is one of the most important components of a competition diet and should not be overlooked. Aim to drink at least a gallon of water every day leading up to the competition. Avoid alcohol consumption. Certain supplements can aide you in the preparation phase as well. Consider taking supplements such as a multivitamin and mineral; antioxidants, including green tea; branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s); glutamine and glucosamine.
Knowing your body’s daily caloric needs is an important step in adopting a realistic diet and exercise plan that will help you reach and maintain your desired healthy weight.
To determine your energy needs specific to your age, weight and activity level, click on the attached link to calculate your daily calories. This is a basic guideline… Remember, no two individuals’ body composition are identical and activity levels vary for each person. But this number will provide an important starting point.
You now have a baseline number of calories to maintain your current weight. Next, determine how many calories you are taking in. This must be done before you modify or make adjustments towards your desired weight goal. Keeping a food journal or logging on to a web based calorie tracker such as www.fitday.com can assist in this task. I suggest you
track your calories for at least one week. Write everything down, including sodas and alcohol. Many people are surprised when they compare the numbers. They are surprised to find they are not taking in enough nutrition for their body. As a result, their metabolism has slowed and the weight loss has stopped. If you find that your total caloric intake is too low for your current weight, you must gradually up your intake some before you begin to cut again. This alone will jumpstart your metabolism.
This might sound scary, but you will have to eat more, to burn more….
And you will need to exercise (especially weight bearing to increase lean muscle). By restricting calories too much, the body responds by holding on… or going into “starvation mode” and will lock up from fat burning mode. It will store as much adipose (fat) tissue as possible .
It is not just enough to eat the proper foods, but nutrient timing is key to revving a stalled metabolism. To keep “the furnace” burning, it is optimal to eat small frequent meals (every three hours). By “fueling” up frequently with “Clean” and nutritious foods, you will prime your body to build lean muscle and in the process lose the unwanted fat. You also will not feel deprived because you will have something in your stomach all day long, which in turn will make it less likely for you to binge on unhealthy snacks.
Be sure that every meal contains quality protein, as proteins are more satiating than other foods and by increasing protein, you will decease you daily consumption of carbohydrates and fats, which are more readily converted to fat. Research shows that escalating protein levels in your diet results in weight loss.
So what percentage of total calories should be protein?
I hesitate here, again because we are all different. 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight is often recommended. For a 150lb person this equates to 120 grams of protein every day. Others prefer a macronutrient breakdown based on total caloric intake instead of body weight: -40% protein-40% carbohydrate & 20% fat or a 40-30-30 distribution of total calories for example. For the same 150lb person eating 1600 calories, this equates to 160 grams of protein a day. You get the picture. This is something you will have to experiment with to assess your response and make adjustments.
Once your metabolism is moving again & if your goal is weight loss, you will need to GRADUALLY and safely create a caloric deficit. This is done by a combination of eating fewer calories and increasing activity levels. Again, accountability comes into play. You need to track your progress. Stop guessing and measure everything that you want to improve.
- Keep a nutrition AND training journal
- Weigh and measure food and track your progress – weekly weights and body fat composition
- Take photographs
Finally, revisit and re-establish your calorie deficit. What worked for you before is no longer working, so it is time for a new strategy. Calorie needs and metabolism changes with weight loss. The trick to avoid plateaus is to adjust your food intake (calories in) and your exercise/activity (calories out)
each week to reconcile the difference between hypothetical (on paper) calorie needs and
actual (real world) calorie needs.
Antioxidants are vitally important for general good health, but have additional benefits for those who exercise regularly.
Antioxidants are directly related in the prevention of cellular damage in the body; a common path for cancer, aging, and a multitude of diseases. Free radicals form when oxygen interacts with certain molecules and start chain reactions that damage the cells. We are exposed to huge amounts of free radicals from pollution, cigarette smoke and automobile emissions. Every time we eat, we consume free radicals in the form of pesticides and preservatives. Antioxidants create a defense system to prevent free radical damage to the body and assist in slowing down the aging rate of these cells, thereby helping your body to recover from exercise.
We all agree that exercise is extremely beneficial to our health; but it also increases production of extra free-
radical oxygen molecules. During weight training, certain compounds such as lactic acid build-up in the muscles and generate free-radical damage to cells which further breaks down muscle tissue. Our bodies need antioxidants to keep oxygen working in a healthy way. This is especially true for any person who is trying to exercise to help improve their fitness and weight loss.
Although our bodies produce antioxidants, we manufacture insufficient amounts to ward off the internal damage produced by the toxins in our environment. This is why ensuring a well balanced diet is so vital to overall good health and well-being. 5-9 servings of fruit or vegetables per day, along with a balanced exercise program is recommended to meet the needed nutrients for a fundamental antioxidant system. For most of us, it is a challenge to meet these basic, daily nutritional requirements. In this case, supplementation may be a benefit. Many vitamins and minerals contain anti-oxidant properties.
Those of us who participate in weight controlled sports and/or do not consume a well balanced diet may be at risk for vitamin deficiency. Sport nutrition experts suggest that those who exercise regularly take antioxidant supplements daily, particularly vitamin E (400 IU) and vitamin C (1000 mg). Vitamin E supplementation has been shown to protect against exercise-induced oxidative damage and to enhance recovery following intense exercise. Studies also suggest that vitamin C may quicken recovery time, and decrease muscle soreness. Other than vitamin C, E, there is no clear scientific evidence that most antioxidant supplements aid in defense against exercise induced oxidative damage.
Foods sources then are our best source for antioxidant.
Small red beans and wild blueberries top the list of foods that have the highest concentrations of disease-fighting antioxidant compounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In general, colorful foods are higher in antioxidant properties, as well as in vitamins, minerals and fiber.
The top 20 ranked foods that interfere with or prevent damage from free radicals are displayed in the table below:
|Rank||Type||Food item||Serving size||Total antioxidant capacity per serving size|
|1||Beans/Legumes||Red Beans (dried)||Half cup||13727|
|2||Fruit, Berry||Wild blueberry||1 cup||13427|
|3||Beans/Legumes||Red kidney beans (dried)||Half cup||13259|
|4||Beans/Legumes||Pinto beans||Half cup||11864|
|5||Fruit, Berry||Blueberry||1 cup||9019|
|6||Fruit, Berry||Cranberry||1 cup (whole)||8983|
|7||Vegetable||Artichoke (cooked)||1 cup (hearts)||7904|
|8||Fruit, Berry||Blackberry||1 cup||7701|
|10||Fruit, Berry||Raspberry||1 cup||6058|
|11||Fruit, Bery||Strawberry||1 cup||5938|
|12||Fruit||Red Delicious apple||One||5900|
|13||Fruit||Granny Smith apple||One||5381|
|15||Fruit, Bery||Sweet cherry||1 cup||4873|
|17||Vegetable||Russet potato (cooked)||One||4649|
|18||Beans/Legumes||Black beans (dried)||Half cup||4181|
Protein is a critical part of a healthy diet, and eating the right amount helps with everything from higher energy to stronger muscles.
The trick is knowing the healthiest sources of protein and the right amounts for your body. Every cell in our body needs protein to carry out all metabolisms that sustain us. Our nerves, tissues, bones all are made up of proteins,. Proteins play all sorts of roles in maintaining our health and functionality.
- Build Muscle. Since you need protein to build muscle, eating enough protein ensures your body has what it needs to build new one.
- Maintain Muscle. Getting your body the protein it needs will improve muscle recovery and prevent muscle breakdown from exercising.
- Fat Loss. Protein has the highest thermogenic effect, which means your body burns more calories digesting proteins than carbs or fat.
Eating protein rich foods with each meal helps reduce the appetite, plus the body uses energy to convert protein to carbohydrates.
If too much protein is consumed regularly, it can be converted to fat and stored, the same as carbohydrates can be converted for fat storage. However, protein contains Nitrogen, an important chemical essential for the production of antibodies, so the body prefers to hold onto this Nitrogen. Therefore, protein is more likely to be converted to carbohydrates rather than fat. These complex chemical reactions use up extra energy and help us burn more calories at rest!
So How Much Protein Does a Person Need? The United States RDA is 0.4g/lbs. This is only about 80g protein per day for a 200 lb person. But this recommendation is based on studies done on non-active, sedentary people.
For those who train regularly and want to build or maintain lean mass while trimming fat, the recommendation is .8 – 1 gram protein per pound of body-weight per day. That equates to 160-200g daily protein for a 200lb individual. This amount can be easily reached by eating frequently and including a whole protein source with each meal.
Best Sources of Protein
It is important to vary your protein sources to get the full range of amino acids and nutrients from your foods. Here are some of the best & most popular protein-rich foods.
Seafood is one of the best sources of protein because it’s usually low in fat. Salmon contains more fat but it is the heart-healthy kind: omega-3 fatty acids.
White-Meat Poultry (Chicken & Turkey)
Stick to the white meat of poultry for excellent, lean protein. Dark meat is higher in fat. The skin is loaded with saturated fat, so remove skin before cooking.
Milk, Cheese, and Yogurt, Cottage Cheese
Not only are dairy foods — like milk, cheese, and yogurt — excellent sources of protein but they also contain valuable calcium. Choose skim or low fat dairy to keep bones and teeth strong, prevent osteoporosis, and enhance weight loss.
Eggs (Egg Whites)
Eggs are one of the least expensive forms of protein. One egg white is just 16 calories and has 3 grams of protein. One whole egg is about 75 calories, has double the protein and 5 grams of fat and 22 mg of cholesterol. To cut back on calories , fat and cholesterol, try using one whole egg to every two whites.
One-half cup of beans contains as much protein as three ounces of broiled steak. Plus, they are loaded with fiber to keep you feeling full for hours.
This great and versatile white meat is 31% leaner than 20 years ago.
Twenty five grams of soy protein daily can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Combine soy protein foods like tofu with a healthy low fat diet.
Lean beef has only one more gram of saturated fat than a skinless chicken breast. Lean beef is also an excellent source of zinc, iron, and vitamin B12.
Protein on the Go
Grab a meal replacement drink, cereal bar, or energy bar. Whey protein shakes supply 30 or more grams of protein per serving. Check the label to be sure the product contains at least six grams of protein, and is low in sugar and fat.
Food journals provide awareness and accountability for what we put into our bodies.
Members at my gym; family and friends often approach me for advice on how and what they should eat in order to lose the weight, trim the fat, put on muscle mass, etc. The first thing that I recommend; no matter what their goal ….is to keep a food log.
Food journals provide valuable insight to what foods the individual likes and dislikes. It shows eating and snacking patterns and most importantly establishes a baseline to work off of. A food log assesses patterns for what and how you are eating now and provides direction in going forward in designing a plan that will work for YOU. By keeping a food diary, you will not only be able to track your calories and specific breakdown of protein, carbohydrate, fiber and fat grams; you will be able to keep up with portion sizes, determine reasons (other than hunger) for eating, identify lapses in eating and target areas for improvement.
Food diaries are effective because they determine whether you are taking in enough (or too many) calories. They also show if you are consuming enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins and to maintain the protein-carb-fat ratios in healthy proportions specific to your goal.
Tips for Keeping a Food Diary
- Write as you go. Don’t wait until the end of the day to record what you ate and drank.
- Focus on portion size. Practice at home with measuring cups, measuring spoons, or food scales. Be aware that people tend to underestimate how much food they’re served.
- Use whatever type of food diary works for you. It doesn’t matter whether you use scrap paper, computer program or PDA, or a notebook. The key is to RECORD EVERYTHING… and be consistent.
- Cook at home. You’ll have more control over what you consume, and you know what that food contains, and how much of it you’re eating. That makes for a more detailed entry in your food diary. When you dine out, still log your foods and beverages.
There are many free online programs available that make food and nutrient tracking easy.
Here are a few to check out: