Let’s just say you know you’re going to compete in a year, which means you plan to “officially” begin contest prep in about 3 or 4 months.
Or maybe you’ve decided that you want to use your food and nutritional intake to look like a fitness model this year for a photo shoot, vacation or wedding.
What should you do in the meantime?
Are there ways to set yourself up now in order to have a smoother fat loss phase later? … Absolutely!
In this article, I’ll present some pre-diet tips that are super handy before a caloric deficit to set you up to lose fat more effectively when the time comes to do so.
The first portion of this article will go over some longer-term strategies (maybe 1 to 3 months pre- cut), and the second portion will cover some of the quicker tactics that can be employed almost immediately before your diet starts.
LONG TERM ADAPTATIONS
The following four processes can be time-consuming, but totally worth your while to make your diet more pleasant and effective in the long-run.
Personally, I am pretty awful at this unless I make VERY conscious efforts, but I am also extremely responsive to its benefits when I get it right.
Having consistent, plentiful sleeping habits is a necessary factor for optimal recovery, a slew of metabolic processes, and ultimately, your ability to lose fat (1). Not only does sleep actually do the good stuff, it is also a very good feedback mechanism to tell us when we might be doing something wrong (i.e., losing fat too quickly, over-stressing, etc.) (2).
I know from experience that this task is not easy and it may take many weeks to figure out. Track it, research it, try different techniques, and do your best to figure out that magical puzzle beforehand so that slumber can be your friend from the start.
EXPERIMENT WITH FOODS
As I’m sure you’re quite aware, you will eventually be changing your food choices at some point in your contest prep journey. No matter how “flexible” your approach is, whole foods are useful because they are more satiating with fewer calories. Regardless if you are focusing on calories and macronutrients rather than specific foods, your numbers will also eventually get low enough to where calorically dense foods just exacerbate prep-related hunger.
If you are someone who currently avoids fruits and veggies or who lives on calorically dense foods, start adding a few “cleaner” foods here and there for experimentation.
You will probably need to eat a lot more whole, unprocessed foods as contest prep progresses, so you may as well take the time to learn to like them. I’m not saying to force yourself into eating things you hate. I am simply saying to play around and do some investigative work.
Get your mind away from the simple chicken, broccoli, apple, banana, rice kind of stuff. There are TONS of things out there you haven’t yet tried, I promise.
Aside from reaching out for new foods, try putting a spin on some things that you just “kinda” like. Take bland foods your mom made you eat and find seasonings, low fat sauces, and different ways of preparing them.
Do this now, while you’re not starving, so you have a few “go-to” options when you want to use them.
ADOPT TRACKING HABITS
There will be a WHOLE lot of record-keeping in your future and learning how to do it before you NEED to do it will help contest prep be less of a shock to your life.
Get in the habit of getting naked and stepping on the scale every morning after you use the restroom and before you eat or drink anything to accurately track your body weight.
Start weighing your food as well so you can familiarize yourself with REAL serving sizes (which are typically WAY different than most people think). To do this, you obviously will need a food scale around at all times for meal prep.
There is a learning curve to these seemingly easy tasks and becoming savvy with them ahead of time will definitely help you out with productivity and decision-making down the road.
DECREASE OR ELIMINATE CAFFEINE INTAKE
The tactic of starting a prep without stimulants is the same as starting with a high caloric intake and a low amount of cardiovascular work.
You want as many reserves as possible to tap into when needed to maintain training intensity and break fat-loss plateaus.
Because caffeine can be one of your best friends, I would save it exclusively for when it is needed.
I know this may not be possible for some people, but I have found it to be one of the best things I have done for myself in the past.
Take the time to wean your dosage down NOW to experience caffeine’s glorious powers later on when that extra “kick” is needed.
QUICK TWEAKS FOR A SUCCESSFUL START
Here are some quicker, but equally important factors that should be considered in the week or two before beginning your fat loss phase.
Unless you are self-employed, not a student, and don’t have a family, it will be incredibly helpful for you to analyze the structure of your daily life to better-enhance your ability to deal with all aspects of a contest prep.
If you know approximately how many times you’ll be eating per day, approximately when you’ll be working out, and approximately when you’re at or away from home, you can create a plan of action suitable to your individual needs.
Yes, your coach will tell you how much to eat per day, but it is up to YOU to disperse this food in a manner that will keep you satiated and satisfied throughout the day.
After you’ve figured out some basic foods you’re into right now, make sure your living space is stocked and fully equipped.
The first and most obvious piece of equipment necessary is a food scale. You can’t very well make changes to your diet if you don’t know what your diet is.
Secondly, you’ll most-likely find bulk cooking for the day or days ahead will make a busy life a lot easier. So, make sure your kitchen is properly stocked with food storage of all kinds. Tupperware, baggies, foil, and anything to keep food fresh and handy in appropriate amounts.
Lastly, which I’m sure you’ve probably already figured out, have the right foods around. Visit the grocery store often, or schedule your food deliveries well in advance. Nothing is worse than figuring out your meals for the day, getting home for dinner and then realizing you’re missing what you need.
Yes, this can be fixed because you’re a flexible dieter and you know how to substitute foods, but sometimes it can be a psychological irritation to have your daily routine thrown off. So, try to keep yourself stocked as best as you can throughout this journey.
YOUR LOVED ONES
Contest prep is a super exciting time for competitors, but not so exciting for the people around them. It is incredibly important you let your loved ones, friends, and colleagues know about your competitive endeavors for a few reasons.
First, it will help YOU to have them not be so pushy or nosy when you say “no thank you” to foods at certain outings or why you go out to meet them for happy hour without ordering alcohol.
It will also help to give them the heads up on how important your goal is, and that it will be very time consuming. As I’m sure they already have a healthy respect for you and your time, it will be even more apparent to them that you might be a little less likely to ditch your workout plans to go hang out with them.
The final (and probably most important) thing you could convey to your closest friends and family is that at some point, after a few weeks or months of dieting, your hormones and energy levels will be effected (3).
For some competitors, this is no huge deal. They might be slightly lethargic or sluggish for a few weeks, and that’s it.
For others, their personality completely changes, their tolerance for emotional and physical stresses drastically decreases, and their libido (sex drive) is highly effected (4).
It is probably a good idea to extend a fair warning to your loved ones that this might occur slowly over time, and that you’ll do the best you can to keep those occurrences under control. It might also be nice to give them the right to inform you when you’re being a jerk so you can attempt to adjust your behavior accordingly.
As you can guess, from what I just alluded to, contest prep can get difficult at times.
How much can it suck? Check out our 3DMJ Podcast episode all about that HERE.
The two biggest pieces of advice I can give are that everything is relative, and everything is temporary.
You might feel like you’re starving at times. At which point, look in the mirror, realize you’re obviously not starving (compare yourself to what you see in documentaries of third world countries where people really ARE starving), and then center your brain around the fact that you will, in fact, make it until your next meal. Compared to those people who are almost deceased, you are not starving.
You might feel like you won’t make it through your workout, or through the day, or through the week. But all things will pass. You have CHOSEN to do this feat voluntarily. This is a brief testing period in your life and it will be over with soon.
I understand that in this case, “soon” is relative. I get it…But when it’s all over, it’ll feel like it was incredibly quick and incredibly worth it.
Yes, you’re hungry, and yes, you’re tired. But many humans in this world are far hungrier and far more exhausted than you are.
This, like any other hardship you have ever had in your life, will have an ending point. It is not forever. So, ENJOY it and bask in it the best you can.
1. Dashti, H. S., Scheer, F. A., Jacques, P. F., Lamon-Fava, S., & Ordovás, J. M. (2015). Short Sleep Duration and Dietary Intake: Epidemiologic Evidence, Mechanisms, and Health Implications. Advances in Nutrition, 6(6), 648–659. http://doi.org/10.3945/an.115.008623
2. Hirotsu, C., Tufik, S., & Andersen, M. L. (2015). Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions. Sleep Science, 8(3), 143–152. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.slsci.2015.09.002
3. Hulmi, J. J., Isola, V., Suonpää, M., Järvinen, N. J., Kokkonen, M., Wennerström, A., … Häkkinen, K. (2016). The Effects of Intensive Weight Reduction on Body Composition and Serum Hormones in Female Fitness Competitors. Frontiers in Physiology, 7, 689. http://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2016.00689
4. Rossow L. M., Fukuda D. H., Fahs C. A., Loenneke J. P., Stout J. R. (2013). Natural bodybuilding competition preparation and recovery: a 12-month case study. Int. J. Sports Physiol. Perform. 8, 582–592. 10.1123/ijspp.8.5.582