Three important tips for a bodybuilding pre-contest diet include sodium cycling, increased protein intake, and the addition of supplements to maintain a high metabolic rate for last minute fat-burning. Traditionally, contestants bulk up months before competition, eating as much as 500 more calories (2.09 kilojoules) a day. In the final month before taking the stage for judging, however, contestants plunge calorie intake and follow strict diet guidelines to ensure they display as much muscle definition as possible.
Sodium cycling is part of a bodybuilding pre-contest diet because excess salt leads to water retention and added water weight. By reducing sodium intake, bodybuilders are able to shrink the tissue around muscles so they appear more pronounced. In the fourth week before competition, many contestants eliminate all seasonings as well as condiments since these two groups of flavor-enhancers are typically loaded with salt. During week three, eggs, cheese, yogurt, and butter are shunned by many because these dairy products also contain sodium. Sodium, roughly around 4,000 mg a day, is added back in week two only to be reduced to a meager 800 mg a day in the final seven days before competition.
Protein becomes the dominant part of the bodybuilding pre-contest diet 30 days before the show. Many contestants eat 2 g of protein for every pound (0.45 kg) they weigh. Sources are generally salmon, tuna, chicken breasts, and lean sirloin due to their nutritive quality; protein drinks, particularly whey drinks, are also considered high-quality protein sources. The increase in protein facilitates muscle repair and fuels strenuous workouts.
Fats are not shunned before competition. To the contrary, a bodybuilding pre-contest diet contains two to three daily servings of cod liver oil or flax oil. The fatty acids in these high-quality fats balance hormones and ensure the proper levels of testosterone, trainers claim. Also, the presence of high-caliber fats allegedly helps to burn any stored fat.
Supplements are a final major key for placing high in contests. Fat-burning supplements have especially become standard for any bodybuilding pre-contest diet. Herbal tea, such as green tea, which promotes high metabolism, is added to diets in the final month as well. Most trainers warn against supplementing with protein bars, however, since they contain many fillers and additives and are low in nutrition.
In the final few days before competition, some bodybuilders drop calories to as low as 1,000 to 1,200 calories (4 kj to 5 kj) a day. To maintain fat-burning at this low level of food intake, contestants aim to eat something every three hours. Most trainers caution against eating within three hours of bedtime since the body’s metabolic rate drops overnight.