Nutrition Q&A: Contest Prep vs. Daily NutritionThe biggest difference between “contest prep” and other nutrition plans is that contest prep is intended to be temporary. It is not designed to produce results that are sustainable. For that matter, it is not healthy to sustain for a prolonged period of time. Generally speaking, it makes far more sense for most people to learn long-term strategies, which include making choices that align with their goals and navigating the obstacles that may deter success.
4/30/21 – Nutrition Q&A
Question about contest prep from IG:
Gillian, I see that you are coaching one of Barbell Logic’s coaches, Ness Oszast, through “contest prep” to compete in a physique competition. How does a contest prep diet differ from regular nutrition coaching strategies?
The biggest difference between “contest prep” and other nutrition plans is that contest prep is intended to be temporary. It is not designed to produce results that are sustainable. For that matter, it is not healthy to sustain for a prolonged period of time. Generally speaking, it makes far more sense for most people to learn long-term strategies, which include making choices that align with their goals and navigating the obstacles that may deter success. Basically, contest prep is an aesthetically driven process designed to get someone to look their best for the 10-15 minutes they are on stage.
Contest prep diets are typically extremely restrictive, inflexible, and exact. These diets become the lifestyle as opposed to fitting within your lifestyle. An enormous amount of time and effort is spent planning for, preparing, and consuming meals. Food is never an afterthought; it is the main effort. Therefore, this is generally a very solitary endeavor for the competing individual.
“Contest Prep” dieting in a nutshell
Goal: To achieve a particular aesthetic of extremely low levels of body fat in order to showcase visibility, balance, and detail of musculature culminating at a specific, predetermined moment in time.
Criteria of judging the outcome: A competitor is judged solely on aesthetics and stage presentation. Physical performance capabilities are not measured or evaluated in any way.
Duration of “contest prep diet”: Generally, a contest prep diet lasts between 12 and 20 weeks. Duration will vary depending on the starting level of body fat and the coach’s knowledge of how the competitor’s body will react to dietary manipulation.
Structure and Flexibility: Most conventional contest prep diets are extremely structured with regard to food specificity, food quantity per meal, and the number of meals per day. There is little choice in meal selection, and meals are planned in advance down to precise macros and quantities. There is a very limited selection of the types of foods consumed. In other words, the same foods repeat frequently, if not daily, throughout a prep. The nutrition plan is micro-adjusted by the coach based on precisely weighed and measured consumption and the subsequent results. Coaches will often request progress pictures at least once per week, as well as body weight and circumference measurements.
Typical “meal” frequency: 5–8 small meals per day
Typical macro breakdown: High protein, low to moderate carbs, and very low fat. This creates a caloric deficit in order to achieve the desired body fat levels in a specific, relatively short amount of time.
To get a better understanding of the difference between a contest prep diet and a sustainable nutrition plan, here is a snapshot of my contest prep diet for the 2016 Arnold Women’s Physique International (a professional bodybuilding competition). This pre-contest diet was 14 weeks in duration. I was 153 lb. and approximately 18% body fat at the start of the diet and was 136 lb. and 8.5% body fat the week before the competition. The week-long plan listed below was six weeks before the competition. While the coach decreased some quantities the following week, the food selection remained unchanged.
Meal 1–5 a.m.
4 egg whites
1/4 cup gluten-free oats
1 tsp Cinnamon
Meal 2–8 a.m.
4 oz chicken
50 grams raspberries
Meal 3–11 a.m.
5 oz cod or orange roughy
120 grams asparagus
Meal 4 (post-workout) 2 p.m.
4 oz chicken
1 slice of Ezekiel cinnamon raisin bread
50 grams blueberries
Meal 5–5 p.m.
4 oz chicken
2 cups zucchini
Meal 6–7 p.m.
4 egg whites
120 grams of asparagus
In contrast, I now follow a sustainable nutrition plan that helps me maintain my body composition while supporting my overall health, performance, and quality of life. My weight typically fluctuates between 150 and 153 lb. unless I get a little stricter for a week or two by cutting back on large dinner helpings and evening snacks. In that case, my weight will drop to 148–150 lb. My body fat stays around 18%, which is healthy and maintainable for me.
Typical day of my eating:
Meal 1 – Breakfast – post-workout between 8–9 a.m.
3 whole eggs, 2 egg whites, unlimited veggies, a pinch of shredded cheese, 2 slices of whole-grain toast (sometimes lightly buttered)
Meal 2 – Lunch- between 12–2 p.m. depending on schedule
A smaller portion of last night’s dinner OR a large salad with lots of veggies, some fruit, 4-6oz of lean protein, and an added fat such as chopped nuts and/or olive oil. Sometimes a small portion of something crunchy like crackers or pretzels on the side.
Optional afternoon snack 4–5 p.m.
(I only eat this if I’m hungry)
A small handful of cashews, a serving of fruit, and one serving of cheese.
Meal 3 – Dinner 7–8 p.m.
Any recipe that I decide to make, but I aim to get at least 40 grams of protein and two or more servings of vegetables. Dinners generally contain a starch like rice, potatoes, or tortillas. I shoot for about 35% of my overall daily maintenance calories here, which is about 900 calories. I like big, fun, home-cooked dinners, and I plan my days around them.
Optional (but frequent) evening snack/dessert 9 p.m.
Up to 300 calories of any treat that I want. If I know that I want something bigger later in the week, I will bank my dessert calories.
As you can see, these two approaches to nutrition are very different. Throughout the next several months, we will be sharing coach Ness Oszast’s contest prep journey through the Q&A, articles, social media, and the Barbell Logic podcast. Please feel free to submit your questions and follow Ness on IG as she documents the experience. @nessoszast