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Secrets to precontest dieting

By John Hansen

Losing Fat, Not Muscle

The key to achieving peak condition for a bodybuilding contest is to lose only fat while maintaining muscle mass during a dieting phase. This is a tricky process that requires the right diet and the right amount of exercise. Preparing for a contest without using steroids or other drugs makes it even more difficult because there is no room for mistakes.

Drugs such as anabolic steroids, growth hormone, and antiagonists such as clenbuterol help the competitive bodybuilder achieve peak condition by holding onto the muscle mass while decreasing the body fat. Natural bodybuilders who do not use these drugs must achieve this condition solely through diet and exercise. Therefore, the bodybuilders who use the drugs have it much easier than the natural bodybuilders.

The first rule in dieting for a bodybuilding competition is to lose the fat very slowly. A bodybuilder using drugs such as steroids can eat a diet that is very low in calories and carbohydrate without losing as much muscle mass as a natural bodybuilder. These drugs do an amazing job of helping you maintain muscle mass and strength even while you’re on a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate diet.

Natural bodybuilders cannot risk losing muscle mass during precontest dieting, so they need to lose fat slowly. Whenever you drastically reduce body weight, the majority of the weight lost will probably be muscle and not fat. The human body always sacrifices muscle over fat when it comes to weight loss. This is because of a survival mechanism designed to hold on to the fat to prevent the possibility of starving in the absence of food. The only way to reverse this trend is to give the body a reason to hold on to the muscle (intense resistance training) and feed it in a way that makes it shed fat and not muscle.

When losing weight for competition, you do not want to lose more than one to one and a half pounds per week. More than this will most likely result in lost muscle tissue. To regulate weight loss, you need to know exactly how many calories you consume every day and adjust them until you’re sure you’re losing only body fat. You should know how many calories it takes to gain weight, maintain weight, and lose weight. This will require experimentation the first time you diet, but knowing how many calories you are eating before beginning a diet gives you a good reference point.

The number of calories in a precompetition diet is different for each person. It depends on the speed of your metabolism, the amount of muscle tissue you have, your daily activity level, your age, and your body type. A 170-pound, 22-year-old ectomorph who works construction needs a lot more calories than a 200-pound, 37-year-old mesomorph who works in an office.

Another method for losing fat while retaining muscle mass is giving yourself enough time to diet before the competition. When I competed in my first drug-tested bodybuilding contest, I gave myself just eight weeks to prepare. As the contest got closer, I saw that I would not be ready in time, so I resorted to drastic measures--five or six days a week of cardio, twice a day--to speed up the fat-loss process. Although I looked good enough for second place, my muscles were flat because of the excess cardio, and I did not hit my peak. When I returned to the same competition a year later, I dieted for 16 weeks to slowly lose the fat and maintain the muscle. This time, the dieting process worked perfectly. I was ready for the competition a week or two ahead of time. This extra time allowed me to eat more calories while I lost body fat, which meant my muscles were fuller and not flat for the competition.

Another way to retaining muscle mass while losing body fat is to make small changes to the diet. After you have established the correct number of calories, you will inevitably have to make changes in the diet as you progress through the precontest preparation. These small adjustments are part of the preparation process. If you stick to your original diet with no changes whatsoever, you probably will not hit your peak for the contest because the body changes throughout the dieting process. You may need to decrease the calories, increase the cardio, increase the calories, or decrease the cardio as the contest gets closer. It all depends on how your metabolism changes as your body begins to lose fat and possibly gain muscle. You must stay flexible.

This is an excerpt from Natural Bodybuilding.

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