Fitness and figure competitions require a tremendous amount of time, daily effort, discipline, and ongoing preparation. The progress goes fast, then slow, and can be anything but linear. The dedication required to build an excellent physique is not for the faint of heart. This article overviews some of the catastrophic mistakes people tend to make while prepping for a competition and how to avoid them.
Failing to Give Yourself Enough Time to be Stage Ready
Failing to plan is planning to fail. In general, humans often tend to underestimate the time it will take to make profound changes in any area of life, much less something like building a body that’s fully ready for a contest. On the flip side, people also overestimate the impact of getting one percent better every single day. The lesson here is to remain consistent and allocate enough time pre-contest to make sure that you’re ready for the stage.
Many fitness and figure professionals who compete at the highest level believe that contest prep takes much longer than the standard recommendation of 16 weeks. Obviously, this depends on where you’re starting from. If you’re someone who remains highly disciplined throughout the year with diet and training, you might be able to prep successfully in less than 16 weeks. But for the vast majority of folks, 16 weeks is unrealistic. Weight loss and gaining muscle is never linear and can be highly unpredictable.
One thing is for sure, the more body fat you currently have, the more time you’ll need to take steps to reduce your body fat and build muscle. If you’re chasing substantial body transformation, consider taking the number of weeks you think you’re going to need to be ready and tack on an additional 4-6 weeks. This might sound discouraging, but if your goal is to put yourself in the best contest shape, you’ll be thankful extra time was allotted to be ready.
Cutting Calories Too Aggressively Preparing For a Fitness and Figure Competition
When adopting a bodybuilder competition diet, it might be tempting to cut calories aggressively out of the gates. After all, reducing calories means fat loss and leaning out, right? Yes, and no. While getting into a caloric deficit is crucial for fat loss, going extreme is unnecessary.
The side effects of cutting calories too quickly include missing out on essential nutrients, slowing down the metabolism, losing muscle, dehydration, coping with overwhelming feelings of hunger, and depleted energy.
In restricting calories, it is common to experience a loss of muscle in the process. Ultra calorie cutting can result in your body opting to use muscle as energy and fuel. Once your body starts to lose muscle mass, this can also slow down your metabolism. One pound of muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so losing muscle mass means your body will burn fewer calories each day. If your goal is to look your best during competition, losing muscle is not what you want. The goal is to maximize lean muscle and minimize fat.
Training is crucial for building a supreme physique. If your caloric deficit is too drastic, you risk fighting fatigue before you even step foot in the gym, which can have detrimental effects on your performance in the gym.
One of the first steps to determining the sweet spot for your caloric intake is determining your basal metabolic rate (BMR). By calculating your BMR, you’ll be able to estimate the minimum number of calories that your body requires for primary function each day. Check out this BMR calculator.
Next, consider the calories needed for your body to digest food. Yes, your body uses calories to metabolize the foods you’re eating. This is known as the thermic effect of food. Lastly, factor in how physically active you are. This will include your workouts and tasks throughout the day. All calories in and calories out should be measured and monitored to achieve best results.
Reducing calories is part of the body transformation process, so it’s crucial to make sure you’re consuming enough protein at every meal while you’re in a deficit. The combination of eating a high protein diet and consistently lifting weights is the best practice for preserving lean muscle mass.
Burning Out From Doing Too Much, Too Fast
Building a fitness and figure competition-worthy physique is anything but easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. On-stage preparation can be grueling. While it may sound cliché, the old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” is very fitting.
One of the biggest culprits of burnout is diving into marathon workouts. On the one hand, going harder for longer in the gym seems to make some sense. The problem is, the body needs time to recover from exertion, and you only have so much energy to give. Those who have gone too hard in their workouts risk facing the effects of overtraining.
Once you’re in an over-trained state, depleted of energy, you’ll know it immediately. Mood swings, laziness toward everyday tasks, and even depression can creep in. At this point, you’re in rough shape, and it will take even more time (which you might not have during on-stage prep) to recover.
Instead, consider being disciplined to limit your workout’s resistance training portion to no longer than an hour. Give that hour laser-like focus and effort. This hour window doesn’t include a comprehensive warm-up and cardio (if that’s part of the schedule).
On the topic of cardio, consider using it sparingly as a tool to help yourself get into a bigger caloric deficit. You don’t need to be doing hours and hours of cardio to build a fabulous physique, and probably shouldn’t. Quality resistance training, proper hydration, nutrition, and sleep are going to be the workhorses of your fitness and figure competition contest prep.
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