Good to Know About Bodybuilder Competition Diet
If you’ve read, you’ll understand that this is an in-depth and comprehensive study. Especially in the context of strength training. It would have been nice to follow more participants for comparative purposes, but a case study over a whole year probably requires resources so that’s enough on its own.
The bodybuilder’s design was characterized by a very high training frequency for each muscle group. He followed a full-body approach, training all muscles 5 to 6 times a week for most of the year.
This type of training program is not common among competitive bodybuilders. Previous studies show that almost everyone follows a so-called split pattern, dividing the body’s muscles over the week’s training days.
The participant’s training volume was also high. Most weeks he trained 10 to 14 exercises with 3 to 4 sets per exercise.
He chose such a high training volume in his plan because current scientific evidence suggests that volume is one of the determining factors for muscle growth. Instead of taking each set to exhaustion, he completed them one to three reps before failure. He followed this approach for most of the year.
In terms of bodybuilding competition diet, he broadly followed current recommendations for athletes. He usually ate 4-5 times a day and reached a protein intake of 2.7 to 3 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
This is well within the recommended range. His carbohydrate intake dropped during the preparation. Initially, it was around 4 grams per kilogram of body weight per day but eventually dropped to 1.1 grams per kilogram per day at the lowest. This is below current recommendations for athletes.
If you want to get fit, something has to go wrong, and that is often your carbohydrate intake. The bodybuilder’s fat intake ranged from 18 to 26% of energy intake, well within recommended and healthy ranges.
Once a week, the bodybuilder increased his carbohydrate intake for a so-called re-feed or replenishment day. This is a common strategy among bodybuilders to replenish muscle glycogen, raise leptin levels and prevent the body’s metabolic rate from dropping. However, such a one-off day is likely to have more mental than physiological effects.
One day is probably too short a time to affect calorie consumption or hormone levels to matter. Replenishing glycogen stores for a more productive workout or two and providing a welcome break in the diet is not wrong, of course. It also doesn’t seem to have any negative effects compared to just running on a constant deficit all the time.
The participant used a number of supplements as part of her regimen, including creatine, multivitamins, fish oil, vitamin D, and a pre-workout supplement. Of these, creatine and caffeine have real scientific evidence in this context.
Multivitamins, vitamin D, and fish oil may fulfill their functions in ensuring fatty acid and micronutrient requirements, but there is no direct evidence that they preserve or increase muscle mass. There is some scientific evidence for the other supplements and ingredients, such as ashwagandha, but not enough to say that they make or break a def.
At the beginning of the bodybuilder competition diet, the bodybuilder managed to maintain his muscle mass. He even increased it during the first three months.
They are great proof that even high-level bodybuilders can build muscle and burn fat at the same time, especially since his hormone levels were monitored along the way and were completely normal. After that, however, he lost a lot of lean mass while losing weight and body fat.
In the end, it turned out that the weight loss during competition preparation consisted more of lean mass than of fat weight. If that sounds horrible to you, keep in mind that weight loss leads to a large loss of water weight as well, especially at the beginning of the diet. That water weight also counts as lean mass.
So we’re not talking about muscle protein alone here. The fact remains, however, that even a combination of a series of anabolic interventions: strength training, a high protein intake, and refeeds does not prevent muscle loss when the goal is a competition-hardened physique.
One positive observation is that the participant’s strength did not decrease with the loss of lean mass.
On the contrary, his strength increased all the way to the competition, despite weight loss and almost non-existent amounts of body fat.
Unlike most other measured parameters, their strength deteriorated after the competitions, when he started eating properly again. The explanation for this probably spells overtraining. The hard training combined with many months of under-eating finally caught up with him.
The participant’s resting calorie consumption dropped significantly during the race preparation, by about 17%. This is in line with previous studies and observations. As in these previous studies, calorie consumption returned to its previous levels in a very short time after finishing the diet. It even rose to higher levels than before he started his bodybuilding competition diet.
The participant’s hormone levels deteriorated significantly over the course of the diet. Testosterone levels plummeted, falling below normal reference values. This is nothing strange, but a natural consequence of starvation, which is, after all, what it is all about.
Again, all values returned to normal within a month after the competitions.
Blood values either stayed within normal ranges or deteriorated in a way that is explained by the participant’s training or diet itself, without suggesting any harmful effects.
Bodybuilders’ attitudes to food and eating behavior changed over the course of the bodybuilding diet. For example, his status of uncontrolled eating worsened. Unfortunately, there are too few studies in this area, in the case of athletes, for any conclusions based on the observations. However, it is not surprising that after eight months without enough food, thoughts and behavior start to revolve more around diet and eating.
The study also showed that a carbohydrate load is an effective way to increase muscle volume prior to speaking and improve the visual impression on stage.
We all have different abilities to succeed at a hard challenge. Both physical and mental factors influence how well we succeed in maintaining muscle mass and losing body fat all the way to peak form. That’s why it’s hard to say how translatable the results of a case study on a single individual are to you.
Can you build muscle and burn fat at the same time? Yes, you can. But not all the way to a competitive shape, at least not as an undoped. Sooner or later, you reach a point where the calorie deficit, hormonal influences, and your non-existent body fat put catabolic brakes on you. Then you’ll likely have to accept some, perhaps significant, muscle loss to achieve the hardness you desire.
Fortunately, all the negative effects of a bodybuilder competition diet, from muscle loss to plummeting hormone levels, seem to be eliminated in a few weeks when you start eating normally again.