When you get to your precontest phase, you won’t have to make many changes: You will be doing the same thing you have been doing for the previous several weeks in the cutting phase. You will go off the higher-fat, high-protein diet and carb up to dramatically increase the glycogen and water inside the muscle cells. You want the cells swollen and big, but you want to cut off the carbohydrates before you begin to store extracellular water or fat and smooth out.
The metabolic diet’s 5-day, 2-day week is almost like getting in shape for a contest every week. In the weekend carbohydrate-loading part of the diet, you will find out exactly how many hours you can load up on carbohydrate before you begin to smooth out and lose your contest look.
One of the many advantages of this diet is that if men or women want to enter a lot of contests, they can manipulate their diet so they never get much above their ideal body-fat percent levels during the muscle definition phase. By doing so, the athletes don’t have huge gains in body fat, allowing them to drop to contest level in just 2 or 3 weeks.
You generally want to go into the precontest phase of diet and training about 16 weeks before a major contest. Because you already know what you need to do from previous weekends on the diet, you will be doing only some fine-tuning by lowering and increasing calories a bit as needed. You shouldn’t be doing anything much out of the ordinary.
By the final 6 to 8 weeks before the contest, you should look fairly close to how you want to appear on stage. With this diet you can control exactly where you’re at each week. After the weekend carbohydrate-loading portion of your diet, you should be looking great on Monday—ready to hit the gym hard with the high glycogen levels, muscle swelling, and other benefits derived from a well-honed weekend diet strategy.
You can go through the precontest phase in preparation for several contests a year as long as you keep your fat levels low; yet we suggest that you go through the precontest phase no more than four times a year. That means, obviously, a maximum of four contests a year. More than this will probably prevent you from going back into the mass phase and using it properly.
You must build up lean body mass to some extent between contests, which means you will gain a bit of fat. You will still be bulking up and cutting down—but it won’t be like on other diets, where you gain so much body fat that by the time you lose it you’re no better off than when you started.
Be Consistent Before Competition
Two things bodybuilders do to sabotage themselves before contests is to panic or try something new. Both of these scenarios can be disastrous. Bodybuilders who find themselves too fat may begin doing aerobic exercise, thinking it will get the extra body fat off. Doing about half an hour of aerobic activity certainly will not harm you as you will burn more free fatty acids. But people sometimes begin to panic and overdo it. They start doing 3 to 4 hours a day of aerobic activity to burn off the fat; but all they do is exhaust energy stores so that their bodies start using muscle tissue for energy.
Some people start pigging out to build mass as they go into superaerobic mode, thinking that aerobics will make up for the fat buildup. It doesn’t work. Increasing calories and aerobics will most probably just increase catabolic activity in your body. Aerobics, while burning fat, can also destroy muscle. Even if it doesn’t do appreciable damage, it will still limit to some degree the amount of muscle you can put on. As a rule, the fewer calories you take in and the more time you allow yourself to lose the body fat, the less aerobics you will need to do, and the more lean body mass you will retain. Allow yourself time to lose extra body fat and gauge yourself effectively as you move toward a contest.
Other bodybuilders decide to try something new just before a competition, looking to get that final edge. But this is a mistake. They may start with the sodium-depletion or sodium-loading trick. They try all sorts of things they’ve never tried before, and all of a sudden they end up wondering how it was that they were looking so great and now look so bad. Don’t shock your system before a contest. Make a smooth landing into it. Don’t throw everything away by trying to get the extra edge through a crazy stunt. Do nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly do not panic.
Stop Training One to Two Weeks Out
Stop training 1 to 2 weeks before the contest. That’s pretty standard wherever you go. Our advice is to do your last heavy training session 10 days before the contest to give your muscles maximum time to recuperate and achieve maximum growth. Don’t worry about maintaining muscle mass and tone. Your posing will take care of that and also give you some aerobic activity. Posing should, of course, be continued throughout this entire period with the exception of the day before the contest.
But although you shut down heavy training 10 days or so before a contest, this is the only time you should back off. Cutting back in training at any other time in the process limits the effectiveness of the diet and your ultimate growth. Diet and training work hand in hand. Exercise complements the metabolic diet. Hormonal changes caused by exercise result in increased activity of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL) in the muscle, which in turn increases breakdown of free fatty acids and decreases fat buildup.
Identify Your Best Day
As you conduct carbohydrate loading on the weekends, you will learn how many hours into the process that you look your very best. As suggested, you can further refine that time by experimenting with the types of food you eat, allowing you to precisely dial in that time when you’re at your best. This information is vital when the contest arrives because you will eventually discover a day of the week when you’re in top form. All the water you gained during your carbohydrate load is gone, and you have just the right balance between muscle glycogen and water. You also feel great. Everyone’s system works differently, and there are wide differences among athletes. The goal is to find the right day for you, that day each week—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, whatever—when you are consistently at your best.
Most contests occur on Saturday. Suppose you look your best on Wednesday of each week. Your goal then is to basically make the Saturday of your contest like a Wednesday. Because you look your best 3 days after your carbohydrate load, you should complete a carbohydrate load 3 days—in this case, on Tuesday and Wednesday—before the contest. On Saturday, 3 days later, you will look your best.
Note that the weekend before the contest, you won’t carb up as usual. To carb up on the weekend and repeat the process 2 or 3 days later may well spill you back over to a carbohydrate-burning metabolism and smooth you out for that Saturday contest. Rather, skip your carbohydrate load the weekend before a contest. That way you will be on the high-protein, higher-fat part of the metabolic diet for 8 straight days, from the Monday 2 weeks before the contest to the Tuesday before the contest. Then begin your precontest carbohydrate load so you will hit the contest just right.
This is one area where the metabolic diet has a big advantage over the competition. Athletes on a high-carbohydrate diet are basically always loading up on carbohydrate foods, so it’s difficult for them to manipulate their diets so their bodies respond well to carbohydrate loading before the contest. What often happens is they get off the high-carbohydrate diet for 3 days at the beginning of the week before a competition and go low carbohydrate for 72 hours; then they again load up on carbohydrate foods in an attempt to hit the contest right. The problem is, they really don’t know how their bodies are going to react. Everything could work out well, or they could experience a complete disaster. With the metabolic diet, you know the exact hour when you look your best. Because your body goes through the cycle every week, it has become predictable and consistent. You know precisely what to expect since you won’t be doing anything different from what you have done in the preceding months.