I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t diet! I don’t really count calories, and I don’t get overly concerned about numbers. But at the same time I have no problems getting down to sub 5% body-fat levels when needed. So what’s the secret?
Getting ready for a competition does not need to be a hellish experience and should actually be a process you enjoy. 12 weeks of steamed chicken, brown rice and broccoli with no condiments, sauces and NO pepsi or coffee, I don’t think so. If that is what was needed to compete, then I would not do it. And the best part is, you don’t need too!
DIET – the 4 letter word!
I hate this word with a passion. For me, nothing sets up the possibility of failure quicker then the act of ‘dieting’. For me, diet = restriction, which equals = pain. Pain is unnecessary and can easily be avoided when you have the right mindset.
Too many competitors believe the more restrictive your nutritional plan is, the better. They really do think eating nothing but steamed chicken, brown rice and broccoli is the BEST option. Restrictive in calories yes, but you don’t’ need to live the Spartan lifestyle to succeed.
My wife is a chef and believe me, I like my food. And with a little careful planning there is no reason that you cannot eat a varied diet consisting of all the foods you enjoy all the way through your preparation, and still get to extremely low body-fat levels. In fact, it is the variety that saves me.
You don’t need to make things tougher for yourself. You’re not going to be awarded first place just because you followed the most ‘hardcore’ diet possible. You are awarded first place because on stage, you have the best physique. How restrictive your eating plan isn’t a concern, it’s just the end result.
When I talk about nutrition and training, you will see I use the word ‘perception’ a lot because it really does boils down to how you see things. Talking with a lot of competitors, some will go super-strict because it helps them to stay more focused and better able to say no to the temptations out there. If that works for you then stick too it, but I could not do it. When you understand it is not what the food is, but what it is actually comprised off it will all make sense. It lets you have your cake AND eat it too.
GO the macronutrients
Getting ready for competition isn’t about counting calories (I will get to that though) but is about giving you body what it needs, when it needs and in the amount it needs to achieve the desired outcome. There are no tricks and nothing out of the ordinary; just a simple philosophy that I feel makes the dieting process enjoyable.
When it comes to macronutrient selection, this is what I construct my plan around:
- Quality choices or lean protein. Highly digestible protein sources pre and post training (ie: whey protein) and lean meat choices for the other meals of the day (ie: beef, chicken, fish, kangaroo)
(Personal insight – when I am getting ready for a show myself, I like to keep things as varied as possible to break up the monotony. When it comes to meat, my main focus is on quality first and foremost, then preference. I might eat beef for a few days, then swap to chicken. If there is a sale on fish I might stock up on that too. But this year though, I can not get enough Kangaroo. Of all the meats, I don’t believe Kangaroo cannot be beat and I rely exclusively on Naturoo products. It is low in cholesterol; 99% fat free; high in protein and iron and has no chemicals or growth hormones. In regards to supplemental protein, I also go for quality. Optimum Nutrition 100% WHEY Pre training and 1 hour after training, and I also use pure BCAA’s directly after training.)
- What I classify as ‘functional’ carbs due to their specific need. High GI carbohydrate choices pre and post training (ie: dextrose) and Low GI versions for the rest of the day (ie: vegetables etc)
(Personal insight – For no sound reason, carbohydrates always get a bad wrap with competition dieting. People treat sugar like the plague, when it fact if it is used correctly is an extremely effective training tool. I will consume straight dextrose pre training, during and after training. Additionally, my first solid meal after my training session will consist of Jasmin rice as the carbohydrate source. But once that meal is done with, the only carbohydrates I will eat for the rest of the day will come from low GI sources - vege’s and oats.)
- Fats are another that mostly get a bad wrap, but if you want to get shredded to the ‘nth degree then they need to be part of your nutrition plan. Essential fats are involved in a range of activities such as energy production, strengthening the immune system and acting as having an anti-inflammatory effect, just to name a few.
(Personal insight – I am a big believer in essential fats, but I am just not a fan of flaxseed oil - which has been a bodybuilding staple for quite some time - but I won’t struggle with it. My sources for fats are quite varied. I add crushed flaxseeds to my oats for that nutty taste, eat salmon whenever I can, naturoo is full of CLA (the richest source in all the meats), and also supplement with fish oil and sesamin which is comprised in one of the MAN products that I have access too.)
- Just drink up to stay well hydrated.
Counting Calories – mmm, not really!
Probably the most unorthodox approach I take is that I refuse to count calories (in the traditional sense that is – I just watch portion sizes). I do not know anything more mind-numbing than standing in the kitchen weighing every gram of food I am going to eat, and sitting at my table with a calorie counter in hand doing the figures. I tried it once and after about 2 weeks I just gave up.
I suppose I do count them in a way, but it is by way of consistency. I will explain that in a second. I want to share a view with you first.
How the body works – well through my eye’s anyway…
When it comes to contest preparation (or anything for that matter), we tend to overcomplicate the issue. We think that numbers and exact calculations are the keys to success, but fail to follow the one simple fundamental and the only one that will GUARANTEE success, and that is to listen to our body. Your body is what is going to tell you if your diet is working or not, not what the calculations say.
The reason I don’t believe counting exact calories work is because I don’t believe the body works in ‘exacts’, but instead on averages. Lets say you go into the gym on Monday for a heavy leg session and you are ‘busting it’ for an hour, using all the big exercises such as squats and lunges. At the end of the day you would have burnt ‘X’ amount of calories right? Then you go into the gym the next day and work forearms and abs. Do you think you will have burnt the same number of calories over the course of a day – no way! This is what I carry over into my nutrition plan and gives me an area of freedom.
I doubt I would ever eat the same number of calories each day. Some days I eat a little more, and some days I eat a little less. Again I go by how I feel. When preparing for a show and I am sitting in front of a bowl of food and I cannot get it all down, I won’t force myself. I eat what I can and call it quits. Obviously, that is my body’s way of saying “I don’t need anymore to get the job done”. Additionally, if I eat everything I have and am still hungry, I will go and get more. I just make sure that I have a definite hunger. It’s not about what I want, but what I need.
Which leads into my ‘NO Dieting’ Philosophy
I decided long ago that I didn’t want to spend the day focusing on what I cannot eat, because that just makes me want it even more. Even though the physique always comes first, nutrition is still a dominant part of the game and you need to know your stuff. So what I focus on instead is taking care of the fundamentals. I ALWAYS make sure that I feed my body what it needs, when it needs it. At the end of the day, food really is just a fuel to get us from point A to B.
This way I have no stress, no uncertainty and no guilt. When I am in contest mode I continually take assessment pics. At the same time each week, after the same session, same location, same camera settings, same posing briefs and same poses. This way, the only thing that changes is my physique. If I can see progress from the previous week and I am on target to reach my goal by D day, then I will not change any part of my nutrition plan. If I am losing fat too quick, I will add in some extra food. If I need to lose the fat a bit faster, I will reduce some portion sizes outside the training window. What I won’t do though is say “ok, time to reduce the plan by 300 calories per day”. That will happen automatically if I just reduce the size of a couple meals. This still gives me a reduction, but I am still able to stick to my flexible lifestyle.
All my assessments come from what I see in the mirror and what is portrayed in the photos. I don’t take calliper readings nor really worry too much about what the scales say either, but that is a whole other article it itself. This one is about nutrition.
But like everything, there is a catch and this one is rather important. This method will only work if you know your body, if you are consistent – and have restraint. If you battle with food, then I think the traditional counting calories would probably work better as it can keep you more in check. But if you are like me and need some flexibility, but at the same time are incredibly in tune with your physique and have a good eye for detail, you can give it ago. Then the next time you walk into the gym and they ask you to ‘flex your quads’ and ask how the diet is going, you can say great and keep on your way.