Let's Talk Comp Prep
Have you ever wondered why it takes so much effort and time to lose body fat, but it’s so easy and quick to put it all back on?
The ugly truth is that your body does not care about your bikini, physique or bodybuilding competition. All it cares about is to stop you from ‘dying’, literally.
It’s a survival mechanism that our body has, doing everything it possibly can to stop you from losing body fat so that you can stay ‘alive’. Otherwise, we would just continue to lose weight and fade into nothingness.
When you wrap your head around this concept, all the training and nutrition manipulation strategies you see people doing to get in shape will make a lot more sense.
Throughout the contest prep, your body is constantly becoming ‘smarter’ in a sense that it is constantly adapting, adjusting, and slowing things down to stop you from continuing to lose body fat. This explains why energy levels go down, your metabolism slows down, hormones (testosterone, t3, leptin etc.) drop and you get hungrier so that the calorie deficit you’ve created is no longer a calorie deficit. All of these characteristics are the signals that your body is sending you to say “Hey, eat some food”.
Going through a contest prep and getting down to a really low level of body fat is basically a constant magic act of tricking your body into letting you lose fat while not ‘dying’. That’s where the nutrition and training manipulations come into play.
Below are pictures of my transformation for my competition season in 2017. A total of 6 months worth of dieting aka ‘dying’.
I went from 97kgs down to 79kgs over 32 weeks of dieting. Reflecting on those 32 weeks of dieting, I am extremely proud of what I achieved. In saying that I would not recommend letting your condition get too out of control like I have in the offseason.
The pictures may seem impressive but the process of dieting was much harder and longer than necessary due to starting too heavy, which put me at risk of doing more damage. I had a minor tear in my left lateral meniscus in April last year which stopped me from doing lower body training for 6 months and took me another 6 months to get my lower body back to where it was. I was not in the best mental state and had a hard time dealing with the negative situation which resulted in me letting myself go completely for a while.
The bottom line is that we all have the power to take control of the situation that we face and the decisions that we make. There are no mistakes just lessons learned. Real progress is made in the offseason, not during a prep.
Whilst these photos represent the hard work and dedication that I’ve put in, the reality is that as a seasonal competitor, I definitely let myself get far too out of shape which made the dieting process longer than necessary.
The training strategy I utilised throughout my competition prep is really not much different to what I would do in the offseason, which focuses on progressive overload as the primary goal. The only adjustments that I needed to make were to lower the training volume slightly according to my recovery rate, as I dug deeper into the dieting phase and longer into the calorie deficit. Being in a state of calorie deficit, my recovery wasn’t as efficient compared to when I was in the surplus, therefore, volume needed to be adjusted accordingly.
Every muscle group was trained anywhere between 2 to 3 times a week in phases with additional volume added to target weak points. Training sessions are split between strength and hypertrophy days. Intensity techniques such as German Volume Training and Blood Flow Restriction Training were also utilised in phases to maximise metabolic stress.
Autoregulation is another key when it comes to managing training intensity to ensure that I get the most out of each session.
The biggest learning curve for myself is definitely when it comes to pulling myself back when my body is fatigued and also sticking to my deload schedule. As a person with the mentality of “leaving no stone unturned”, there were many occasions where I had to have a conversation with myself and stop myself from pushing further than necessary.
At 4 weeks out of my first comp, I actually tore my vastus lateralis (outer quad) during a set of squats as you can see in the photo above on the left was before the tear and on the right was after the tear. The tear wasn’t too bad but it definitely swelled up and also the stress it caused me was affecting me both mentally and physically.
My training at the time was going really well but I’d definitely pushed my body to the limit and a deload was called for. However, it was 4 weeks out and I stepped into the gym feeling good in my warm-ups so I decided to skip the deload and push through and sure enough it happened.
Luckily it recovered and it didn’t negatively impact my progress, but reflecting back I should’ve stuck to the deload and let my body recover and push on after that. It would have benefited me more than pushing forward and risk injury like I had.
The lesson here was to stick to the training schedule and follow the deload regardless of how I felt at a particular moment. It is very easy to let emotions take over as you get deeper into prep.
As most of the readers would know, we at Flex Success utilise a flexible dieting approach for nutrition. My competition prep was no different. I utilised the strategy to manipulate my food sources based on overall health, food preference, performance, and satiety.
When it comes to nutrition strategies, without going into specific details I’m going to give an overall rundown of what I think has been the most important aspects.
Measure, Measure and Measure. I cannot stress how important this is especially for contest prep because if you don’t measure, you simply cannot manipulate to progress. Collect as much data as you can and make calculated decisions based on your progress and feedback.
Food sources. As mentioned above, food sources come down to my personal preference for overall health and satiety in mind. Most people tend to have the misconception that flexible dieting means eating as much junk food as possible while hitting numbers. The truth cannot be further from it.
My diet towards the end of the prep would be considered “bro” or “clean” as I started to utilise more and more vegetables and higher volumes of foods as the calories dropped. On my refeed days I may have implemented a few “dirty” foods as some would define it, when I had higher carbohydrate intake and could fit in things that I craved in moderation to keep me satiated.
Refeeds and diet breaks. These are strategies that we utilise to help break through the fat loss plateau. It benefits us not only physically but mentally. Refuel glycogen, improve performance, reduce stress, slow down negative adaptations, and you get to eat all the yummy foods too.
In my personal opinion and my experience with myself and my athletes, these two strategies have made the biggest difference in our prep and have allowed us to maintain our performance for longer and not have to pull more food out or add cardio.
Fun fact, most of my athletes did zero cardio throughout the prep and the most an athlete did was only 1600 calories per week.
This is not to say we are against cardio but rather we utilise it as a tool only when it’s needed.
In regards to NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), daily activity levels were kept consistent for most of the prep, however, towards the end knowing I would naturally become “lazier” to move around as much I made sure I did things each day to increase my activity level. For example, park my car at the furthest car park so I had to walk longer, take the longest route to get to places, and the most effective one by far was to go shopping haha. Although my bank account did not like it but I easily racked up a few thousand steps a day by going shopping.
The social aspect of contest prep
One thing that a lot of people can do in a contest prep, myself included, is to forget about your social life and let prep take over their lives.
Flexible dieting has allowed me to be able to still go out to social events and enjoy dinner outings with friends and families every now and then. However, as I got closer to the competition I had to eliminate these occasions because by that point every gram of macro counts.
The biggest struggle was definitely the negative effect of being at low body fat levels for a period of time where you become “hormonal” and your judgement becomes cloudy.
I’m extremely grateful that I have an awesome support network that not only share the same passion for health and fitness but also keep things real and give me constructive criticism when I “lose” myself throughout the prep.
Whilst going through a contest prep may not be the healthiest thing for your body mentally and physically, however, I love that with each contest prep, I’m able to walk away with different learning experiences that carry through to my day to day life.
I would recommend anyone who has the foundation and is interested in going through a contest prep to go for it. It is an awesome challenge and experience.
As cliche as it sounds, do it for the right reason. Find a good coach that has the knowledge to ensure you stay as healthy as possible throughout the process mentally and that will help ensure your contest prep is a positive experience as opposed to a negative.
Diet Smart. Not Hard.