Preparing for Contests Without Losing Muscle Mass
Preparing for Contests Without Losing Muscle Mass
Nowadays, virtually all competitive bodybuilders have access to the same training information. They know how to do curls, presses, laterals and the other important training movements. They understand when to use barbells and dumbbells and they know when training with various exercise machines is called for. As they acquire more and more experience, they learn which particular exercises and training techniques work best for them.
Of course, in the sport of bodybuilding today, building thick slabs of muscle mass is only half the story. At one time a bodybuilder could appear onstage lacking exceptional definition and be judged primarily on the basis of muscular development, proportion and symmetry. But today's competitors also have to display cut-to-ribbons definition, superb muscularity, incredible striations and deep muscle separation in order to have a shot at winning top titles.
But, as important as muscularity and definition have become in modern competition, this is an area in which too many potential champions fail to come up to the mark. More often than not you can look at a lineup of 15 or so of the best bodybuilders in the world onstage at the Mr. Olympia or the Ms. Olympia and count on the
M` fingers of one hand those who are in really top shape. The others have size, shape and symmetry, but something has obviously gone very wrong in their contest preparation program.
Of course, some IFBB champions obviously know what they're doing when it comes to contest preparation. The top five finishers in last year's Mr. Olympia were all in fantastic shape, and so were a number of others in the competition. At the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic in March, Rich Gaspari, Robby Robinson and Gary Stryclom were all ripped and hard, and a number of the other men had improved significantly since the Mr. Olympia.
Unfortunately, the women have had more difficulty achieving the same standard of contest preparation. Granted, lowering bodyfat and displaying maximum muscularity are harder for women, but the fact that Cory Everson manages to ger in great shape every year, along with the way Ellen van Maris came in so huge, ripped and hard at the 1988 Ms. Olympia, proves that getting in great shape is possible for women bodybuilders.
Why can some bodybuilders get totally shredded for a show while others can't? And why can some bodybuilders get into great shape for one show but not for another? It's not that they aren't trying. The top bodybuilders, both men and women, work so hard, discipline themselves so severely and stick to incredibly difficult training and diet programs for so many months at a time that you wonder how they're able to even survive such a regimen, much less make a success of it!
No, the vast majority of bodybuilders arc trying hard enough. Its just that they're doing 'he wrong things! This has really been going on since the middle 1970s. when definition and muscularity became so important in winning bodybuilding shows. That's when competitors began to confuse bodybuilding with, in the words of Bob Paris, "rocket science" When they began experimenting with more and more complicated contest preparation techniques, many of which were based on false assumptions about how the body works.
One problem is that bodybuilders learn what kind of training works best for them by
A diseased artery with fatty-cholesterol deposits will actually constrict during exercise, causing a decreased blood flow. Exercise stress rests can detect changes in the electrical activity of the heart. An affected heart will have such changes. In persons without a history of chest pain, the ischemic changes during exercise usually occur without any symptoms. Nevertheless, exercise electrocardiograms cannot predict the future development of a blood clot in coronary arteries.
Silent ischemia, even free of symptoms, indicates the possibility of coronary artery disease. Reduction of risk factors is probably the best treatment. That means lowering your total cholesterol, lowering your blood pressure, avoiding excessive stress, raising your high-density lipoproteins, not smoking, lowering your bodyweight if necessary, and following a sensible exercise program. One medicine worth consideration is aspirin.
have about what goes on inside our bodies are mostly misleading. Trying to train on a hit-or-miss basis is a mistake. There are a lot more ways to be wrong than to he right. It's like trying to phone a friend without knowing his or her number. You can punch the buttons from now until doomsday and never hit the right combination.
Training the body is something like programming a computer. When you sit down at a computer terminal and type in instructions, the machine does exactly what you tell it to do, not what you think you're telling it to do. It responds very specifically, and so does the human body. And that's why many bodybuilders, lacking a true understanding of the specific response they are getting from their bodies, mistakenly follow contest-preparation programs that make them lose muscle instead of gaining or at least maintaining muscle, that conserve fat rather than burn it, and that hold water under the skin rather than flush it out.
That's why women bodybuilders have more trouble getting in shape than men. A 250-pound male bodybuilder can often get away with making a few mistakes. But a 140-pound woman, who starts out with less muscle and more fat in the first place, has much less margin for error. So understanding the basic principles of getting in top contest shape is even more essential for women than for men.
As with training information, the principles for correct and effective contest preparation are well known. They've been written about over and over in MUSCLE & FITNESS. They are put to good use by today's champions like Lee Haney. Rich Gaspari and Cory Everson, just as they were in the past by the likes of Arnold Schwarienegger, Franco Columbu, Frank Zane and Tom Platz. Why then dkin't all the other competitors catch on and use these principles to their own advantage?
It's hard to say. Certainly it's a lot harder to be open to new Information when you're under the kind of stress created by months of strict diet and the pressures of imminent competition. But for those who wonder how Haney does it, how Gaspari comes in so hard contest after contest, or how Cory Everson manages to dominate the Ms. Olympia every year, following is a brief look at the most important of these contest preparation principles.
The aim of a contest preparation diet is to lose the necessary amount of body-fat without losing an undue amount of muscle mass in the process. Bodybuilders who try to lose as much body-fat as possible, rather than the amount that makes them look the most muscular onstage, are making a mistake. For example, Berth Fox, who is as formidable as they come competing at the proper weight, has been known to diet down to under 200 pounds for competition, which makes him look as if he'd just escaped from a concentration camp. Gary Strydom weighed well under 240 pounds at the Mr. Olympia, a deliberate choice on his part made in consequence of having had to qualify for the competition in Chicago Just two weeks before. But although he was ripped, he was obviously too small. However, after several months of uninterrupted training and contest preparation, he was bigger, fuller and lust as ripped at the Arnold Classic and the subsequent pro tour, weighing close to 255 pounds.
Bodybuilders think of fat as the enemy, but that's not always the case. The body has fat associated with the muscles (intramuscular fat) as well as fat located under the skin (subcutaneous fat), more info on a testosterone related discussion here. Once you've gotten rid of enough subcutaneous fat, if you continue a strict fat-loss diet, all you do is shrink your muscles.
It's also a mistake to assume that the body can he made to burn fat exclusively. The body always burns a combination of fat, carbohydrate and amino acids for fuel. So you're always burning some muscle when you burn fat. However, the proportion of fat to protein tissue that your body metabolizes for energy depends a great deal on your diet and exercise program.
One basic rule of thumb to follow is this: The harder you diet, the lower your caloric intake and the larger your volume of exercise, the more muscle mass you're going to lose in the process. 'lb conserve muscle mass during a diet, you need to 1) lose weight slowly, 2) give yourself plenty of time, and 3) ideally, don't bulk up between contests so you won't have too much fat to lose.
The diet program most bodybuilders have found to be best for losing the necessary amount of bodyfat while conserving the maximum amount of muscle looks something like this:
I) Eat 1 gram of protein for each pound of bodyweight on training days.
2) Cut your protein roughly in half on your days off and in the last few days before a contest. You don't need the extra protein when you're not training intensely, and cutting back helps you to keep your calories down.
3) Keep your fat intake low.
4) Vary your intake of carbohydrate calories to regulate weight loss. Your protein intake is fixed, you're eating low fat, so the only variables in your calorie balance equation are the carbohydrates you consume and the calories you burn through exercise. If you find you're losing weight too fast, add more carbs to your diet. if you aren't losing weight fast enough, cut back on your carbs.
5) Avoid dieting to the point of ketosis. Ketosis occurs when you are carbohydrate-deprived. Fat can't burn properly without the participation of carbohydrate, so you end up with ketone bodies in your system, the result of improper fat metabolism. A lot of bodybuilders used to induce ketosis deliberately, thinking this would cause them to lose fat faster. It doesn't. By definition, ketosis means you are not burning fat efficiently. You're burning additional muscle mass instead. You can check for ketones in your system by purchasing Ketostix or a similar product at any drugstore. If you find you've cut back on your carbs to the point where you're in ketosis, even a little bit, increase your carbohydrate calories or you'll lose a lot of muscle and not enough fat.
6) Eat a nutritionally rich diet. Whenever you're cutting back on calories, you have to be extremely careful about what you eat. It's a mistake to eat the same food even• day and rely on supplements for your nutritional needs. Supplements are important, but they can't replace real food. Rotate the foods you eat, especially fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of starches, including whole grain bread, potatoes and rice. Include lots of different green and yellow vegetables in your menus.
Traditionally, bodybuilders diet almost until contest time, then carb up, right before a show. This means they're a lot smaller onstage than they might be, no matter how ripped they are, because they've lost muscle as well as fat as a result of their diet.
How do you get around this dilemma? Simply plan your diet so that you get down to your lightest weight a week, or even two or three weeks before a competition. This gives you time to restore depleted muscle, allowing you to come in bigger, harder and more defined.
If you don't think this works, be advised that this is how Ar9old Schwarzenegger used to get ready for competition. Lee Haney and Rich Gaspari do virtually the same thing. And one reason Berry DeMey did so well in last year's Mr. Olympia is that he was already lean several weeks before the contest and was able to use the intervening period to harden himself up to the max.
This strategy is one reason today's champions don't have that totally depleted, hollow-cheeked, near-death look that characterized so many top competitors not many years ago.
Carbing up is a process that seems to have become increasingly confusing to competition bodybuilders. However, all carbing up means is inducing the muscles to take up as much carbohydrate in the form of muscle glycogen as possible. When you train and diet for a contest, you deplete your muscles of glycogen. Then, when you cut back on your training and increase your intake of carbohydrate, the muscle absorbs glycogen and becomes bigger, fuller and harder with better shape.
Many bodybuilders start carbing up too late and eat too little carbohydrate (as well as failing to drink enough water, which we'll talk about below). After months of depletion from contest-preparation dieting, the body is able to absorb huge amounts of glycogen — from 6,000-8,000 calories worth of carbohydrate for women and smaller men and perhaps as much as 10,000-12,000 calories for the really big guys.
But it takes time for the body to assimilate all this glycogen. Certainly a full three or four days. Most bodybuilders would probably benefit from carbing up for at least a week at the rate of 100-300 calories per hour on average, depending on bodyweight,
metabolic rate and training intensity.
Carbing up has to be done slowly, since eating too much carbohydrate at a time simply raises your blood sugar level to the point where the liver uses the excess to manufacture triglycerides — fat! This is why the process takes at least a full 3-4 days, and why champions like Arnold and Gaspari start eating a week or more before a competition.
If carbing up has bodybuilders confused, water has them positively dumbfounded. Bodybuilders realize that holding water under the skin makes them look smooth, but they often don't understand why the water is there in the first place or how to get rid of it. Bodybuilders too often try to get rid of excess water by inducing a state of dehydration, which is a sure road to contest disaster.
Diuretics became popular in the 1970s because competitors were simply using too many anabolic steroids, with water retention a side effect. So some bodybuilders had so much water sloshing around as a contest approached that the normal methods of dealing with it simply didn't work. They compounded one mistake with another by introducing powerful diuretics into their bodies.
Without this added complication, water is fairly easy to control. The first thing to realize is you don't want to get rid of all your water. Muscle is more than 75% water and bodybuilders have a lot more muscle than nonbodybuilders do. So in order to look his or her best — big, hard, shapely and defined — a bodybuilder needs to be superhydrated, full of water, because a dehydrated body has muscles that look small, soft and flat.
But the location of the water is also important. When it's in the muscles, you look great. When it's under the skin, you look smooth. So the trick in handling water during your precontest preparation is to redirect it from under the skin into the muscles. Which is not as hard as it sounds.
To begin with, the best way to avoid "holding water" is to drink plenty of it. Quarts of it every day. When the body senses it has sufficient water to fulfill its requirements, it begins flushing water out of the system at an increased rate. Conversely, when the water level in the body drops, and dehydration occurs, the body begins to hold water to protect itself. It increases its output of aldosterone, an antidiuretic hormone (which is why many bodybuilders rake Aldactone and other substances to combat aldosterone), and restricts the amount of water eliminated from the body.
When this happens, several problems result:
1) The body holds water, much of it subcutaneous.
2) As the kidneys shut down, the liver is called upon to help process toxins in the body. When the liver is engaged in helping the kidneys, it cannot process bodyfat as efficiently, making a contest diet less effective.
3) The liver is also instrumental in allowing your body to recuperate and recover from heavy training. When it is functioning less efficiently, you won't recover sufficiently between workouts and your training will suffer.
4) Water is also necessary for effective carbing up. Dietary carbohydrate becomes glucose in the blood, and that glucose has to be in about a 3-to1 solution with water to become muscle glycogen. If not enough water is available, glucose can't become muscle glycogen. Therefore, as you continue to eat carbohydrate in an attempt to carb up, your blood glucose levels Increase to the point where the liver begins making increased bodyfat.
Another contest-prep concern is sodium. Consuming sodium, goes the conventional wisdom, leads to excess water retention, so salt has to be avoided several days before a show and additional potassium supplements taken to help balance what sodium there is in the system.
Certainly, it's true that the gradient between potassium inside the cell and sodium outside the cell determines the direction of osmotic pressure across the cell membrane. More potassium, and water tends to flow into the cell; an excess of sodium, and water flows out of the cell. However, the body quickly attempts to correct whatever imbalance exists, so restricting sodium for any length of time inevitably results in the loss of potassium as well. So restricting sodium and taking some extra potassium the day before a contest does do some goad. But that won't really solve the problem. Because the problem is not sodium — it's dehydration.
When you have plenty of water entering and leaving your system, small amounts of sodium present no problem. Any excess is simply eliminated in your urine. Sodium becomes a problem when water levels in the body drop, water is retained instead of being eliminated, and whatever sodium there is becomes concentrated, increasing water retention even further.
The cure for this is not to restrict your sodium but to increase your water intake, which gets the flushing mechanism working again. In fact, you should continue to drink large amounts of water right up until the night before a contest. If you stop drinking earlier, you dehydrate, which leads to water retention onstage. However, if you wait until the night before the show to cut your water intake, the body continues to eliminate water for several hours before it realizes a "drought" has occurred. At this point, your muscles are still fully hydrated, but any excess water that could be stared subcutaneously has been flushed out.
The following morning and during the contest itself, you should drink some water. If you let yourself become too dehydrated, your muscles will shrink up and you'll be more inclined to suffer dizziness and muscle cramps.
Most bodybuilders gradually shift from heavy training to lighter, high-rep training as a contest approaches. This makes sense, because the body is bound to be weakened by any diet, no matter how careful you are, and the precontest training can be used to isolate smaller muscles and muscle groups to increase overall quality as well as to increase the body's ability to store muscle glycogen.
Usually, bodybuilders stop training a few days before a contest and instead spend hours posing and flexing to harden the body and increase muscle separation without using up glycogen.
However, many bodybuilders mistakenly abandon heavy .training completely as a contest approaches. Without the stress of heavy training in the weeks before a contest, the muscle fibers will begin to shrink. Therefore, do at least a few heavy sets for each bodypart as the contest approaches to ensure that you maintain the muscle size you've worked so hard to create during the off-season.