How long should I diet for a bodybuilding show and when should I take diet breaks?

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Muscle Gain Diet Plan Tom Blackman with trophy

Contest Dieting

As a former competitive bodybuilder I have a little bit of experience of contest dieting.

You can start losing body fat from day one if you are in a calorie deficit which I suppose is not breaking news but the main concern as a bodybuilder is always going to be

How much muscle will I lose if I diet as a bodybuilder?

No bodybuilder want to lose muscle, it’s like burning the flag of GAINS

It’s heresy in the religion of lifting.

So really the issue is two fold

  1. How do I prevent muscle loss when dieting
  2. At what point will my diet start to become counterproductive

Anyone who has dieted for any show will tell you
that at some point in the process the stress of the diet
overcomes the progress and you stop making progress.

It’s at this point that you need a diet break.

So how do you plan for this?

Well there’s the scientific approach

  1. Work out your calorie deficit
  2. Determine how long it will take you to drop the weight
  3. Then apply this to the diet duration
  4. Add in diet breaks

Here’s that in more detail

  1. You work out that your EER (energy expenditure rate – the amount of calories you burn in the day) is 3500 calories a day. There’s a few equations you can use for this, just email me if you want a link to my own calculator. Then you set your average calories per day intake at 3000. This will give you a 3500 calorie deficit per week – 7 days x 500 cals.

  2. 3500 deficit per week is about 0.5kg of bodyfat drop per week. There’s some risk of muscle loss but not till you get REALLY shredded. Then you apply this to how many kgs you think you need to lose. Lets say for example you need to lose 10kgs.

  3. To lose that 10kgs you’ll need to diet for 20 weeks at a minimum to reach your target weight. Lets add 2 weeks as a contingency (10%) so now you have 22 weeks.

  4. That’s a long time so lets add a diet break every 8 weeks to give you a reset of your mind and body and allows a things like thyroid, leptin and testosterone to get back to normal. You’ll probably need 4–6 days of increased calories to do this.

  5. So that give you 22 weeks plus 2 weeks contingency and 2 weeks of diet breaks so now we have 26 weeks of dieting.

  6. You may also want to add in some cardio to keep you motivated or to prevent you dropping more food. i.e you create a deficit from increasing your activity not dropping food.

Then there’s the ‘Hit and Hope’ approach

Generally this approach to contest dieting is used by people
without a scientific or nutrition knowledge base.

Start by dropping calories and increasing cardio

Just keep dropping and doing more cardio until you get where you need to be.


Panic 4 weeks out

Because you’ve had some epic cheat days
where you’ve eaten your weight in donuts
while posting on Instagram about your ‘refeed’.

Then proceed to do 2 hours fasted cardio a day
and eat only protein until you hobble over the line.

These are realistic choices and of course there’s a little bit more to it than this which is why you hire a competent coach.

Make sure you find out which type of coach you are hiring though.

If someone is jacked or a pro bodybuilder
it doesn’t mean that they actually know what they are doing with anyone else.

They may even have their own coach that tells them what to do.
If someone talks a good science game but has zero practical experience that’s also not great.

That being said, many jacked and muscled guys have a lot of good knowledge.
Many tiny little no gains bookworms only know the theory
and have never actually applied it to themselves or anyone else.


A word of warning

Make sure you do your homework.
Contest dieting is a real art
and in my opinion does need a bit of experience
and empathy of the situation you are in.

It’s NOT like other diets.

It’s very hard to ‘tell’ people what a contest dieting prep is like.
It’s almost like describing a colour to a colour blind person.
You just can’t understand the processes and the mental strain
until you’ve been in that situation yourself.

It’s also a very specific niche
which is exploited by people
who have no business coaching others

So NEVER EVER just look at if someone got into shape.

They might have used drugs or illegal fat burners to get there
Hands up – I have in the past tried a LOT of different performance enhancers to get ready for shows.
Ironically my last show in 2015 I looked my best and used the least amount of PEDs – go figure

So never take something at face value

Finally it’s very easy to get caught up in the moment
and pop a load of pills to get that elusive final 1% of fat loss.
However this level of leanness also presents very possible health risks.

People have ended up in hospital from excessive diuretic or water restriction techniques.

Don’t be that guy/girl


Have a question?  feel free to email me


Find out about my contest prep prices

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