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These days there are more and more bodybuilders opting to stay lean year-round, and rightfully so. The days of "0" carb diets and carb loading are a thing of the past. Experts are in agreement that the more drastic the change in pre-contest diet, the more likely the body is to act adversely. The body has survival mechanisms. These mechanisms are triggered most readily by abrupt changes in the diet. For instance, with strict low calorie pre-contest dieting, the body is no longer being provided with enough food to alone fuel its activities (negative energy balance). Under these dietary conditions, the body is faced with no alternative but to use its own tissues for the balance of energy needed to make up the difference between calories ingested, and energy expended.

It is a well known fact that the body tends to horde fat during periods of starvation, and extended pre-contest dieting is viewed by the body as starvation. As a result, the body will naturally prefer to cannibalize muscle tissue while sparing survival fat stores. From this point on, in your contest preparation, you will be constantly battling your body's natural survival mechanism by attempting to retain your hard earned muscle tissue while burning fat stores. This is one battle your body will usually win, especially if you are "natural". How many times have you heard a hard dieting, contest ready bodybuilder, claim disappointment with his/her excessive muscle loss? Plenty of times I'm sure. If there's one thing I get sick of hearing bodybuilders say, it's "I'm dieting for a show". The key to successful contest preparation is not to diet at all! Maintaining a consistent non-restrictive caloric intake, making the appropriate and timely pre-contest training alterations, and having access to a reliable body composition testing device, are the real tools for successful contest preparation.

Comparison of pre-contest dieting to pre-contest training for fat loss

First of all, stay as lean as possible in the off-season. This will eliminate the need for drastic caloric reduction resulting in pre-contest starvation and consequent muscle tissue loss. In staying leaner year-round, you will require only some "fine tuning" to maximize lean weight while minimizing bodyfat for a show. This fine tuning can take the form of dieting or increasing energy expenditures. You can either take food away from the muscles and hope it doesn't cannibalize itself, or you can leave the diet alone and simply force the muscles to perform more work. In either case you are causing a net loss of energy. In performing more work however, the muscle energy expended must be replaced using fats for fuel! This energy replacement becomes a priority to the body taking precedence even over the survival storage of fat during starvation. Also, further muscle growth and adaptation may even result from the performance of this additional work. In the case of dieting, however, not only is the energy simply lost, there is an inherent risk of substantial muscle loss. As you can see, there is a lot to be said for choosing "active" fat loss over "dietary" fat loss.

Once you target a show, you will need to go through a transition phase in your off-season weight gain diet. This dietary transition can be accomplished with the help of body composition testing. Estimating your lean weight and fat weight is essential at this point. Among other things, this initial body composition test will help you establish a dietary baseline. There is no margin for error while performing body composition tests for re-evaluation purposes. Make no mistake, it is the ability to accurately monitor changes in body composition that makes this whole process work. The tests must be performed in exactly the same manner, with the same testing device, and at exactly the same anatomical sites. Using this initial bodyfat estimation, drop your caloric intake somewhat from your off-season weight gain diet and level off at a maintenance intake. For the next few weeks your training and diet must not vary in the slightest.

While on the above disciplined diet and training program, continue to monitor your total weight and body composition until they have leveled off. This is the "priming plateau". From here on in it's a step by step process. Record your weight and body composition accurately at this time. Now it is time to add to your heavy off-season training routine. Add 1 set of 20-25 reps to every movement, for every muscle group, in every workout. After 1 week, once again accurately test your body composition. Your lean weight will increase, your bodyfat percentage will decrease, and your fat weight will decrease. Record this 1 week increase in your lean weight at this time. Note - The only altered variable responsible for the lean weight change during this 1 week period was the addition of this 1 set of 20-25 reps in all of your movements.

Don't get a big head yet, your composition will change for the worse soon enough. Upon weekly re-evaluation, if your lean weight continues to increase, and your bodyfat percentage and fat weight are both still decreasing, continue to add additional sets of 20-25 rep sets at the same rate of 1 per week. Note - It is essential to record your lean weight when it is at its peak. At this point you should be looking pretty good, but you're still not out of the woods yet. Eventually your body composition test will reflect a lean weight decrease, a bodyfat percentage increase, and a slowed fat weight loss. Don't get alarmed, everything is fine. This simply means that your current bodyfat is so low that it cannot provide enough fuel to completely refill depleted muscles at the current training volume. You will begin to look a little flat, and your 20-25 rep sets will start to become more difficult to complete. Maintain this high training volume until your fat weight is satisfactory through continued, more frequent body composition testing. When satisfied with fat levels, record your lean weight. It should be at its lowest at this time. Remember the lean weight increase you recorded when you added those very first sets of 20-25 reps? Let's say this amounted to a 1 pound lean weight increase in 1 week. If the addition of this 1 set over a 1 week period resulted in a 1 pound change in lean weight, then to now take away this same 1 set over a 1 week period will also result in an equal change of 1 pound in 1 week. To be specific, every 20-25 rep set you now drop from your current high volume pre-contest training program will result in a weekly increase in lean weight of 1 pound. How many sets should you drop? Remember earlier recording your peak lean weight? This is the lean weight you will be shooting for. The difference between your peek lean weight and your current lean weight directly reflects the number of sets you should drop. Refer to the following examples:


peak (lw) = 200 lbs.

ending (lw) = 196 lbs.

1 wk (lw) change/set = 1lb.


add 4 lbs. to (lw) in 1 week by dropping 4 sets 20-25 reps


add 4 lbs. to (lw) in 2 weeks by dropping 2 sets 20-25 reps


add 4 lbs. to (lw) in 4 weeks by

dropping 1 set 20-25 reps

As you can see, this process requires a tremendous amount of discipline but it offers scientific objectivity. As a reminder, these are independently researched, tried and proven principles. This may be a little to much to try to digest all at once. So, read this material at least twice for greater comprehension. Take the guess work out of your pre-contest training, and don't ever diet for a contest again!

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Disclaimer: This information is not presented by a medical practitioner and is for educational and informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Consult with a physician prior to use. Individual results may vary. Not for use by individuals under 21 years of age.

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