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Diet For Competition

Dieting is probably the most grueling part of competition prep. A workout may last an hour or two, however dieting is 24 hours a day. You'll often hear fitness, health and nutrition professionals say that "abs are made in the kitchen." We asked athletes to share their diet experiences, weight loss results and overall satisfaction with various diet plans.

Macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins
Macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins

Figure Contest Prep Diet and Training
Author: MayLa Ash - IFBB Figure Pro,

Competing in a fitness competition was always one of my "Bucket List" items. But to be honest, what got me started in competing was a promise I made to myself and my surgeon after a serious injury. In May 2011, I chipped a bone in my foot and needed surgery to repair damage. My initial doctor informed me that even with surgery I would not be able to maintain the athletic lifestyle I always had.

More importantly, I would have to give up wearing heels!! Give up being active AND my heels!?!? Come on! Obviously I needed a second option. Well it was the third surgeon that finally told me he could get me back to being as active as I was before and back into my heels as long as I followed his unique recovery process to the letter. It was in that moment that I made the promise I would finally do a competition and that I would send him a picture of me competing in a sport that allowed my two passions (fitness and heels) to become one!

I had my surgery in August of 2011 and in May of 2012 I received a clean bill of health. Later that year in August, after doing a little research and attending my first bodybuilding competition - the Dallas Europa Supershow I developed my own training and nutrition program to start prepping. In October 2012, I entered my very first competition. Four competitions later, armed with an improved physique and presentation package, I achieved pro status at the 2013 Team Universe in New Jersey on July 6th. Earning the honor to compete with the world's best in the IFBB Pro League in less than 9 months.

Dieting for the Offseason Vs. Pre-Contest: First, I don't believe in an "off-season". When I was an elite track and field sprinter my conditioning coach trained us to understand that you are either competing or you are improving. So during my "Growth & Improvement" Season I normally allow myself to enjoy favourite naughty foods and snacks, but only three or four times a week and in slight moderation. Otherwise naturally stay with a healthy balance of carbs, protein and healthy fats in every meal. Another thing that changes is that I only eat about four to five times a day instead of six to seven.

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For my body I have found that carb cycling is the most effective eating plan to lose body fat while still building muscle. It works so well me for because it's an eating plan that you can really customize. Depending on how close I am to a show or how my body is progressing I can quickly adjust the cycle and restrict my carb level intake at any time.

I have not tried a large variety of eating plans mainly because I understand my somo-type. But I have been trying out different types of foods to use to create my meals. Some people believe that there is a very limited selection of what can be used to achieve the correct level of leanness. But I'm a strong believe as long as the food has the same, or a better nutrient breakdown, and falls into the same category then you should be able to get the same result. I love to cook but just because I don't mind eating the same thing over and over but I hate the idea of creating a dish the same way meal after meal.

Supplements: Since I am a figure competitor I'm fortunate enough that being extremely muscular and getting extremely lean are not requirements. As a matter of fact those works you against trying to achieve the ideal look judges are seeking. For this reason I can develop my ideal package mostly through using natural methods - training, food manipulation and natural based supplements. The following are natural based supplements I used daily and when.

* First thing in the morning:
Multivitamin, Fish Oil, Pyruvate Calcium,
Vitamin B Complex, Black Pepper Extraxt,
Fulvic Acid
Dandelion Root
* Before/After Workouts:
Whey Protein Isolate

* Lunch Time:
Fish Oil
Pyruvate Calcium
Dandelion Root Tea
* Before Bed:
Black Pepper Extract
Fulvic Acid
Casein Protein

Training: My work outs consist of moderate to heavy weight training five to six days a week and different types of cardio for 20 to 25 minutes twice a week during my growth & improvement season. However, when I am prepping for a competition I increase my cardio to 30 to 45 minutes depending on if my body fat levels are too high. As for my weight training, I keep a five to six days a week schedule but I switch things up and focusing each day on a major part.

As far as balancing training with my eating plan I try intake higher levels of protein while slowly reducing my carbs, fat and sodium. I do this to make sure that I am feeding my muscle enough protein to build muscle but also maintain a lean physique.

Female Figure Competition Diet
Author: Jodie Minear - IFBB Pro Figure competitor

Off season vs. Pre Contest: My diet changes between the two mostly with my carbs. I lean down mostly through cutting my carbs, so off season way more rice. My diet is mostly based on my blood type so I can utilize the best protein and carbs for my body. We all have different enzymes and we digest proteins and carbs differently.

I use fish as my protein source for dieting and it really helps me lean and maintain. Whereas off season I do more turkey and chicken so I can maintain and gain a lil more muscle at the same time. I get really jealous of people with the blood type o positive or o negative because they thrive more off beef whereas I cannot have any beef, and I love myself some steak.

Knowing your body will always be in my view the biggest step in dieting and exercising. Take the time to study your body and the best routes for it. It will make a huge difference in your results and you will feel tons better. I have tried so many diet plans that have failed, but its like anything try try try again. When you love something you keep going even when you fall. Cutting carbs completely out was one of my mistakes it left me very flat and small. Also I tried to less protein and a little more fat but that was a mistake for me too. Following a diet based on my blood type is really the best thing for me. I hope to have a great year and would love to help anyone else searching for the right diet.

Supplements - I'm a big fan of 1st Phorm and I love the Goddess product that helps you lean out. They also have a wonderful selection of protein powders, great flavors and really low in calories. This makes a huge difference. All the calories add up so try and remember to keep track of everything you put in your body. Even a piece of gum, I know it sounds extreme but it will work. I take them anywhere from 2 to 13 weeks out. I take them when I need that extra help getting lean and fighting cravings. I also take the powder post workouts, this helps me heal faster and keeps my strength up. Lets face it cardio and training really strips you so you need a lil help.

Weight Training - I love to rotate everything, even week by week I change it. Always keep your body guessing. Show it who the boss is. One week I might do legs twice and the next week Ill do shoulders twice. Analyze your body every week and try to see your weakness and do it double to compensate. For me its always my shoulders or legs. I find it a challenge to jump rope in between sets so I try to do that more and more to lean down. Jumping rope while weight training is also a good way to clean out any toxins in your lymps.
Training vs. Diet - Both are important, but I feel the diet will always play a bigger factor, and its harder so don't cut corners. I just always try and think happy thoughts and tell myself fish taste like donuts, haha. Remember the more meals you get down the faster your metabolism will be, so eat up. Smaller meals are better of course, you can even cut your meals in half and eat every hour in stead of every two to three hours. This helps a bunch. Thanks for reading my tricks of the trade and I hope I helped you at least a little.

Competition Diet Plan
Author: Brenda Boyd, Bodybuilder,
From off season to pre-contest: Off season I take in more carbohydrates. I eat oatmeal with apples and walnuts, lunch I have ½ sweet potatoes with 5 oz. ground turkey patty and dinner is salad with chicken breast. Snacks are handful of almonds, walnuts, cashews with raisins. I will eat this every day and take off on Friday dinner, Saturday lunch, and Sunday dinner because I’m with my family. Off season I run about 22 miles per week because I love how I feel after I run.

Pre-contest I will not run at all. Breakfast ½ cup oatmeal with 5 egg whites scramble, protein shakes 4 hours after that. Lunch ½ cup brown rice with8 oz. Alaskan cod with cup spinach. 4 hours later 4 oz. chicken breast. Dinner 8oz of Tilapia with cup broccoli. I will cheat on Saturday with lunch then back on diet. 6 weeks out no cheat meals.
I find that if I limit my starches to the first two meals I look really lean. I have never tried any other diet but the one I mention above. I would like to try the Ketosis or Paleo diet but I think I would be cranky and weak.
Favorite recipe: ½ cup oatmeal, 4 egg white, and 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder mix it then put it on waffle iron.

On or off season I work each muscle one day. A protein shake with apple after strength training. Cardio 30 minutes on the step mill. 6 weeks out 60 minutes on step mill, and 3 weeks out 90 minutes on step mill.

Bikini Model Competition Prep Diet
Author: Julie DiPietro, Bikini Competitor,
Nutrition is the most important part of fitness success. There are many competition diets out there but it’s not about choosing the right theory. It’s about finding what works best for you, then creating your own nutrition theory based on your individual desires and needs. It is rewarding to come to understand your own nutritional needs. It will lead you to a place of lasting health and lifestyle changes.
My journey into the fitness world has lead to me clean eating. Clean eating is eating the way nature intended. It is the practice of eating whole, natural foods. I usually eat 5-7 meals per day every 2-3 hours and I try to eat clean all year round. My meals are balanced with protein, vegetables, starch, fruit and healthy fats. Adjustments are made only in the final weeks before a fitness competition. My clean food diet includes the basics:
Proteins such as egg whites, chicken breast, lean ground beef, fish.
Vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, spinach and green beans
Starches such as old-fashioned oatmeal, sweet potatoes and brown rice
Fruits such as grapefruit, berries, and bananas
Healthy Fats such as avocado, almonds, olive oil and Udo’s oil

Finally, I drink a lot of water! One gallon per day is ideal.

I allow myself cheat meals every once in a while. Cheat meals early in the day are the safest because you will burn it off during the day.

It is important for everyone to understand that no one diet works for everyone. Your body is like a science project. Everyone must find the food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through my journey as a fitness competitor I have made gradual changes that have enabled me to reach my health goals and I have learned concepts that have lead to a lifestyle change.

Making nutrition changes should be gradual. It is a lifestyle change. I have worked hard to reach my health goals in areas such as reducing food cravings, increasing sleep, and maximizing energy. I have developed a deeper understanding of the food and lifestyle choices that work best for me and I have been able to implement lasting changes that have improved my energy, balance and health.

Example of my competition prep diet:

Meal 1: 4 egg whites, 1 whole egg, ½ cup old-fashioned oatmeal, ½ cup blueberries
Meal 2: Protein Shake
Meal 3: 4oz. chicken breast, ¼ cup brown rice, strawberries
Meal 4: 4oz. Chicken breast, asparagus, 4oz. sweet potato
Meal 5: 4oz. Salmon, broccoli, 4oz. sweet potato
Meal 6: 4oz. Salmon, green beans
Meal 7: 4oz. Tilapia, asparagus, 1 tablespoon Udo’s Essential Blend Oil
Meals are usually consumed at least one hour prior to a work-out and one meal immediately following a work-out. These meals include a protein, vegetable and a starch.

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Contest Diet and Training
Author: Carol Michal, Fitness Competitor
My diet consists mostly of clean healthy foods. The main difference for me between off-season and pre-contest is the addition of being much more calorie and carb conscious during pre-contest. While training for this particular show, I was on a 1600 calorie per day diet. I ate 5 meals per day every 3 hours. During contest prep, my meals are redundant, but I prefer it that way because it is easier for me to follow the correct meals and calories needed to achieve my goal. My meal plan looked somewhat similar to the following:
Meal 1: egg whites, coconut oil, banana, spinach, oatmeal
Meal 2: protein powder, oatmeal, strawberries, peanut butter
Meal 3: chicken or tuna, sweet potato or brown rice, peanuts or coconut oil, apple
Meal 4: Greek yogurt, apple, peanut butter, oatmeal
Meal 5: chicken stir-fry

Here are the ratios of each food group I used:
Meal 1: 4oz protein, 30g carbs, 7g fat, 1 piece of fruit, veggies
Meal 2: 2oz protein, 15g carbs, 7g fat, 1 piece of fruit, veggies
Meal 3: 4oz protein, 30g carbs, 14g fat, 1 piece fruit, veggies
Meal 4: 2oz protein, 15g carbs, 7g fat, 1 piece fruit, veggies
Meal 5: 4oz protein, 14g fat, veggies

I flavored my meals with lots of spices to keep them from becoming too boring. I also like to snack on raw veggies such as cucumbers and bell peppers.

I think the correct supplements can play a vital role in a training regime. I definitely suggest a good multi-vitamin. Other supplements I love are CLA, fish oil, AGG/PAGG, and L-Carnitine. When I need the extra boost and energy for pre-contest training, I will opt for something like Hot Rox Extreme in addition to these other supplements. Be very careful with thermogenics though, because if you are sensitive to them, they can make your heart race.

My training style during pre-contest is total body weight workouts and lots and lots of cardio! My weight routine is done in a fast-paced tabata style which keeps your heart rate up and therefore burning the maximum amount of calories. My cardio increases up to 2 hours a day the closer I get to contest date. My cardio is usually done in the mornings and evenings. During pre-contest, my routine looks like this:
Sunday: active rest
Monday: cardio and weights
Tuesday: cardio
Wednesday: cardio and weights
Thursday: cardio
Friday: cardio and weights
Saturday: cardio

Balancing training and diet becomes difficult towards contest date as the cardio usually increases and the diet becomes even more strict. To get through the training, I would tell others to always keep their goals and visions in place. Envision what you want to look like on stage and that should help you keep focused during the last few weeks. It is difficult but completely worth it all!

An insight on my diet...
Author: Lyndsi Karp, NPC Bikini Competitor,
My contest and off season diet differ pretty extremely. The first half of my contest prep diet I do a carb cycle where I have 2-3 carb servings a day for 4 days and then zero carbs the other 3 days. I do this up to about 4-6 weeks out depending on my results and the rate of fat loss I am seeing at my weekly body composition updates. For the remaining weeks I do zero carbs. My body works well on a low carb/high fat diet. I take in roughly 1050 calories per day the last 4 weeks. My keto diet ends up looking a little something like this:

Meal #1: 6 egg whites, 1 scoop peanut butter
Meal#2: 6 egg whites and a baked onion
Meal#3: 4oz. tilapia and lettuce w/mustard
Meal#4: 4oz. tilapia and a baked onion
Meal#5: 4oz. tilapia w/lettuce
Meal#6: 2 servings of peanut butter

Off season I add carbs back in, having about 3 servings a day. My calories also go up to about 1500-1800 per day. My goal on off season is to build more size and muscle so it is required that I eat more during this time. During contest prep I don’t use a whey protein but I do add it back in during off season. I try to keep my diet as clean as I can. However, I do allow myself an occasional frozen yogurt treat (my new off season love!).

The only diet plan that doesn’t really work for my body thus far for fat loss is one that contains many carbs. Luckily for me I have a great trainer and coach, Aaron Orton, who is extremely skilled in contest prep diet, and I haven’t had to worry too much since he’s wonderful at keeping on top of me and makes changes as needed when needed.

As for supplementation, I do have a list of them I take. I find it critical to take a good mutli vitamin since being on a restrictive diet makes it hard to get all the nutrients my body needs. I also take BCAAs, CLA, ANIMAL Omega, glucosamine, glutamine, psyllium husk and a fat burner. The fat burner I find that works best is OxyELITE Pro. I start taking that at about 6 weeks out from show time.

My contest prep workout schedule is pretty intense. I do a 7 day split. My weight training days look like this:
Monday: back
Tuesday: shoulders
Wednesday: core
Thursday: legs
Friday: arms
Saturday: core
Sunday: legs

I do cardio 7 days a week. My main cardio is on the stairmill. I do cardio 45-60 minutes every day. Come 2 weeks out I up my cardio to 90 minutes a day. I also start adding in sauna sessions 3 weeks out to help rid any water retention. My prep is pretty time consuming, as I work as a personal trainer and am training myself up to 3 hours a day. I stay extremely focused while preparing for a show tho, so nothing is too big of a challenge for me. I am willing to do what the other girls won’t. Being on that stage and making it in the top 5 is what makes it all worth it. I live this lifestyle and I love this lifestyle.

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Figure Competitor Diet
Author: Jennifer Searles - IFBB Pro Figure competitor.
Eat every 3-4 hours. This translates to roughly 4 or 5 meals per day. One should be able to consume a good breakfast, lunch and dinner, with one to two snacks.

CALORIES: Find out your BMR. This stands for your Basal Metabolic Rate, or the amount of calories your body burns at rest. This also translates to the number of calories your body burns just sitting around all day and doing little of anything else but breathing. I always try to consume a couple hundred more than my BMR. When cutting, I consume a couple hundred less. Exact numbers you want? Well, that's one of my specialties! For more specifics, send me an email, and I can give you a personalized program to get you into tip top shape!

PROTEIN: How much do you weigh? Then in order to maintain lean mass (muscle) I suggest that you eat .8-1g of protein for every pound on the scale that you weigh. If you weigh 130 pounds, then you should consume roughly 100-130g of protein each day from sources such as chicken, turkey, fish, lean meats, egg whites and protein powder.

CARBOHYDRATES: Think of your body as your car, and carbs as gas. You really only need gas when you will be driving your car. Therefore, I suggest eating your starchy carbs (ie: rice, potatoes, oatmeal, yams, whole grains) in the meals that fall before and after your workout, and for breakfast. Every other meal can be comprised of veggies and protein.

FATS: I like to take these in sparingly. I always make a point of keeping my fat intake to around 15-20% of my total daily calories. I rarely use anything else except olive oils, peanut or almond butters, or fats that are found naturally in my animal proteins. Stick to the good fats found in fish, nuts and olive oil - Omega 3 and Omega 6's. Saturated fats are pretty much good for, well, nothing.

WATER: You honestly can't drink enough! Well, maybe you can... aim for at LEAST 64 oz per day. I personally aim for no less than a gallon (128 oz). The stuff keeps you hydrated, and helps everything in your body work better. It doesn't make you burn fat, but it definitely helps your body's processes move more smoothly and that may aid in weight loss. Also, dehydration isn't healthy… so don't put yourself in that position.

Sample weekly workout in off-season (also appropriate for those wishing to lose a little fat and look sexy, toned and trim)
Note: I already have quite a bit of muscle, so my focus is to maintain what I have, and stay lean. For those wishing to build muscle, the workout would be a little different. HOWEVER, I find that most women (unless if you are a competitor) really want to maintain muscle and keep the fat off…. If that's you, then this is a GREAT weekly routine! I can also help with gaining muscle. If that's your interest, contact me and I can set something up for you!

Monday- Full-Body Circuit Weight Training
60-90 Minutes of Cardio

Tuesday- Pilates Class
60-90 Minutes of Cardio

Wednesday- Lower Body Weight Training
60-90 Minutes of Cardio

Thursday- 60 Minutes of Cardio

Friday- Back/Shoulders/Lunges or Step-ups in Weight Room
60-90 Minutes of Cardio

Saturday- Yoga Class
30 Minutes of Cardio

Sunday- REST!

Figure Model Diet
Author: Ashley Cooper - NPC Figure Competitor,
My diet changes drastically between on and off season. I am always trying to accomplish something, obviously in “on” season, my goal is to lean out and get ready for the stage. In order to accomplish this goal, I eat clean, cut carbs, and depending on the time line from the show, I will eat more protein in order to sustain my muscle, then eventually I have to cut that back as well. I never have ONE cut down diet, it all depends on where I am starting out from physically. For instance, I just came back from having a baby, during my pregnancy I lost some muscle as I was not eating enough protein to support it. So I kind of had to cut down AND add muscle at the same time. I was on a very low carb diet, but got to enjoy lots of fatty meats like salmon and steak. I also kept in my green veggies (that pretty much stays the same with any diet I do). My supplements included a lot of liquid amino acids though out the day, as well as whey/casine shakes, I also got to try (and LOVED) “Carnivore” beef protein.

I have mostly had success with my diet plans, I have a great team of people around me who are extremely well educated in nutrition. The only time I can recall a diet “failing” me, is when I did a diet that was not specified for me. It is so important that fitness athletes find someone who is not going to give them a cookie cutter diet. We all have different bodies and different capabilities, no one’s body processes foods the exact same way. So I am very serious about not taking short cuts when it comes to finding a program that is just right for me, not someone else.

I am happy to say that I do not take weight loss supplements. The closest thing to it would be CLAs which help the body properly break down fats. This is not a fat burner or a weight loss supplement though, it is a nutrient that has an effect on controlling fat levels in the body, and interestingly, it is itself a form of fatty acid, present in our diet at highest levels in beef and dairy products. I feel that fat burners can be risky, especially with woman who are already cutting down and putting their bodies through diet war fare. They can have a nasty effect on your kidneys and liver if you are not careful. If you eat clean all the time and train hard, there is no reason for a weight loss supplement.

Like my diets, my weight training programs are rarely the same, or even similar. It all depends on if I am cutting down or gaining muscle. My favorite time of the year is “bulking”. I love this time because I get to be very competitive with myself and pick up heavy weights. During this time it is important that I not only take in enough protein to assist me in gaining muscle, but it is important to eat enough complex carbs as well. Sweet potato, brown rice, and oatmeal are the three basic carbs I eat when I am gaining muscle. Not only do they provide me with a great and long lasting source of energy, but they help me to gain "clean" weight. Simple carbs do not offer a long lasting energy source and they turn to sugar once digested, which turns to fat.

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