What defines a competitor in the sport of bodybuilding? Key words: Lean, Full, water levels are low, Balance/Symmetry and the famous “V-Taper”. The V-Taper is signature for a lean physique, but sometimes it’s also an indicator of good genetics. Not everyone has a tiny waist, but developing the lats correctly can help make the waist look smaller and create the illusion of one. Across the board of all the various divisions, you will see that the judges are looking for a theme with those descriptions in mind that remains consistent. Each division (i.e. Bodybuilding, Physique, Figure & Bikini) all have their own spin off of shaping & levels of muscularity and body fat reduction. Judges vary as to their preferences when it comes to shaping & muscularity and what they see as the 1st place winner and/or show champion.
Although it is a requirement for the sport that you build lean muscle & reduce body fat, seasoned competitors and coaches understand that you cannot achieve both at the same time with the same effort. The question is how do you build muscle without creating more body fat or increasing the size of all your muscles? In order to grow muscle, your effort involves more of the following: Calories, Macros, Heavier Weight Training and Less Cardio.
In order to lose body fat, decrease the size of a muscle, get ripped, shredded, leaner and show off that muscle you need to go the opposite way and do the following: More Cardio, sometimes more or less carbs depending on the workouts, less sugars, less sodium, circuit or functional fitness training and consider doing more PLYOS, TABATA or HITT Training. This all will help you maintain muscle mass or decrease it. The overall goals is to lose body fat, ideally without losing muscle. However, muscle is almost always the cost when you have to lean out or lose a lot of weight.
The goal ideally, is to get the body fat under 10% for most of the divisions. Some of course go much lower. Overall, the guidelines are not a rule of the sport, but they can help an athlete gage where they are at and how close they are getting. Even if your body fat is low, if you did not shape your body properly for the sport, you will not be competitive. When you get lower than 10% you can see visible muscle. Quadriceps begin to show more detail. For Bikini you may not want to show all four heads of the Quadricep muscles, but reveal maybe two. Two lean is not good for every division.
The tricky part about the sport is that if you accelerate your results without a slow and steady approach you will get the side effects of wasting muscle and the skin not being as tight. Your muscles may not come in as full and shapely as they would otherwise. You also never want to go too slowly either or you never really develop the baseline you need since the amount of endurance involved is unrealistic for most people. Dieting for lengthy periods is not healthy. This is the point of having a nice long off season that lasts about 6 months. This gives you time to shape and build the right balance of muscles, so the latter part of your program is focused on simply leaning out. Unfortunately, many are eager to step on stage and miss this important detail. This is what you see in most amateur shows. As you move up the ranks, you learn that the pros have an off season and do most of their homework doing that stage. The confusion is that, it’s not really an off season at all, it’s still working, but you are not under pressure to hurry your results and do a ton of cardio to lean out on time. You still have to maintain a reasonable diet with amble macros to be successful with the shaping or it won’t work. In order to lean out and gain muscle, you will have to follow a systemized approach most of the time. With more experience it may not require following a strict menu of meals, but you will have a better understanding of what will and won’t create the results you desire and you know how to better manage the down time. Rather than take it as a time to binge bad foods, you continue to eat clean overall and make room for cheat meals.
The unhealthy thing that happens to competitors who read articles online or hire a coach with more of a bodybuilding background, is they wind up on plans that put them in Ketosis most of the time. Of course, they will lean out faster, but it’s unhealthy and very hard on the body.
Ketosis means that your body is using it’s own fat for energy. Ketone bodies are generated during fat metabolism. In order to stimulate this effect on the body, carbohydrates are lowered. What happens when competitors stay in this phase for two long they burn out and burn out their adrenals. Many wind up with cravings and weight gain post their competition. Their body is harder to get back on track and their hormonal balance is off. This phase is best done the final weeks of the program, not during the duration. Symptoms of this include exhaustion, abdominal bloating, mood swings, sleep issues, cravings, hunger and vitamin deficiencies.
If you want to blast the body fat, but maintain your lean muscle this is what I would suggest:
1) Start by revving up your metabolism. Lean competitors have accelerated their metabolism by combining nutrition and exercise in a way that the digestive system is digesting the food right after it is eaten. Good solid digestion is key to success. For some, the starting point should be using probiotics; digestive enzymes and considering a good cleanse to reset your system. Learning how to balance your insulin levels. This is key to success and what drives a good metabolism. If your bloodstream is flooded with simple sugars, refined foods, alcohol and heavy non-lean proteins, your metabolism will not be its best. Your vital organs have to be clear, circulating well and in good health for optimum digestion and results. You must have the right foundation to start with.
2) Each person is unique in how often they should eat. The average person who is on a bodybuilding style program is eating 4-6 meals per day. Sometimes it is necessary to eat 6-8 because your body can only consume so much protein in one sitting. You want between 21-40 grams of protein depending on your lean muscle mass, weight and desired results. It’s important that you respect that your kidneys can only absorb so much protein. Twenty-one grams is the average, but if you exercise more you may be able to ingest more. This number is also aside from pre and post workout meals. To get that amount you have to eat more frequently or you risk overloading your kidneys and can also wind up constipated. Kidney stones, constipation, gas and protein in the urine are often side effects of a defect in the synthesis of protein. It’s also important you drink enough water and get fiber to prevent serious side effects. You can’t get everything in every program, so it’s good to rotate your macros and micros to ensure variety. It is ideal to use organic supplementation as often as possible as a substitute for some of the nutrient deficits that can occur when on extreme programs.
3) Do more weight training and for the body parts that need more mass, you should train heavier. However, if you need to take down the size of a body part you may find high reps and lower weight do the trick. For tighter abs and smaller legs, cardio is a great approach. You can’t reduce body selectively, but you can train effectively. If you want to maintain muscle try HITT Training & if you want to boost your booty do more plyos, but keep in mind that those can also increase your leg size. Sprints also increase size.
4) Before supplementing, it is advised that you have your blood work checked. If you are on any medications that you speak to your doctor first. Many people find supplementation inconclusive because they don’t use them correctly. They may not take a high enough dose, they may overdose or they may find that they did not need that supplement at all. Blood work ensures that you are paying attention to what your body needs since it’s all about bringing it to balance overall. When you are creating good symmetry, you are recovering well and you have higher energy levels, that is a good indication that things are on track.
5) If you are looking to gain mass or want to know if your program is working, the best thing to do is track your body fat. I use Body fat Calipers and measure nine points. I have a formula that shows me how much fat my client has vs. muscle. This is a great way for me to track my client’s progress and make adjustments to their programs. Otherwise, they can see it in photos or do their own inches with a measuring tape. However, I like to use the Body Fat Calipers to ensure they also see the math and understand the shifts and changes more in detail. Right there we can see what is going on. Numbers can be very motivating when they are going in the right direction. However, if your numbers are not in the right place, it gives you an opportunity to see what result you are creating by not following the plan and where adjustments can be made. You have to first understand what creates & dissolves body fat, what creates and deflates muscle. It’s not only a physical tool that I use, but psychological. People respond well to the readings and when they see they are cheating no one but themselves, the body knows what’s up, they usually want to naturally stay on track and clean up their acts.
Using a zigzagged or rotational system is great for those of us who want to ensure our bodies come out lean, tight and with the right muscularity we need. When it’s time to maintain or shift things, rotating the meals and workouts may cease to be necessary. However, while on a rotational system you can be sure with me, that I will ensure you get the right nutrients you need to not only lean out in time for your show, but to stay healthy!