As of tomorrow I will be 9 weeks out from the NPC Team Universe and 11 weeks out from the NPC Masters Nationals. My diet began at 16 weeks out from the Team U, which means I am nearly halfway through that phase. I really don't consider the extra two weeks between the shows as 'dieting,' though I certainly will be. Those two weeks will be used to further tighten up and 'dial in.' It's my intention to look my best at both shows, but both common sense and experience tell me the odds are my condition will be better at the second show, given the extra two weeks to prepare.
Over the last couple weeks I have gradually started to see more bodyfat come off even though my weight has hardly changed. This always happens once I start eating more and more quality whole foods and relying less and less on shakes.
As I have mentioned before, I don't work with anyone on my diet/prep, and never have. "Diet coaches," or prep coaches, or whatever you choose to call them, can be a great resource for any competitor. They take all the guesswork out of your prep so you can simply follow their plan without worrying if you're doing the right things. If you are following their exact instructions, you can always blame them if you don't look the way you want to!
Usually, a coach writes you up a diet to follow, hopefully one that's personalized to your needs and not a copy-and-paste diet that they give to all their clients. They then either see you in person at regular intervals to assess the results of the diet and cardio, or have you send photos. Adjustments are made based on what they see. Calories and carbs may be increased or decreased, cardio might be increased or decreased or the intensity of it may change, and certain foods may be replaced by others. For instance, it's common to have some red meat meals in the early stages of a diet; then remove it and eat lower-calorie protein sources like white fish later on.
So how do I do this on my own? It's really not that difficult, only because I've competed more than two dozen times since 1989. Trial and error is an excellent teacher, and I've had more than my share of mistakes that I turned into learning experiences for future reference.
The major lesson I learned after many years was to never get too out of shape in the first place. If you don't have a whole lot of bodyfat to lose, you won't have to do anything drastic or extreme. So far I haven't done more than 35 minutes of cardio a day, and not once this prep have I done any cardio on any empty stomach, or even without carbs in my system.
All that being said, adjustments will be made over the coming weeks based on what I see in the mirror. Three things can be happening as you diet, and each needs to be addressed accordingly.
1) You can be ahead of schedule, meaning you are losing fat too fast. How is this a bad thing? If you reach your contest weight/condition too far out from the contest day, you must attempt to hold that condition for the remainder of time left. This is easier said than done. Often bodybuilders who 'peak too early' wind up losing pure muscle mass in this final phase. If you or your coach, if you have one, sees this is happening before it's too late, changes can be made to slow down the rate of fat loss. These might come in the form of cutting back on cardio duration, frequency, or intensity, or adding in things like a cheat meal or higher-carb days.
2) You can be behind schedule, meaning you aren't losing fat fast enough to reach the desired condition by the date of the contest. This is by far more common than being ahead of schedule, but really no less desirable. Cardio is often bumped up, and carbs and calories are often taken down. Suffice to say that the final weeks of prep for someone who is behind are no fun. Energy levels tank, and you can become generally irritable and miserable to be around.
3) You can be right on schedule. This is ideal. It means that you are dropping bodyfat at just the right rate. That being said, even under the best circumstances, this rate is never exactly consistent. There will be periods of a week or two when you hardly change, even though you are continuing to do everything the same. Then, seemingly all of a sudden, you will drop a couple pounds and see new definition. As long as the trend is progressive overall, you're fine. Adjustments may still need to be made, and usually are. With any contest diet, once you get very close to the condition you want, the last bits of fat are the most stubborn to lose.
Right now I can honestly say I am right on schedule, but that doesn't mean my diet and cardio won't be changing. For instance, my carbs will most likely have to come down at some point soon. Presently I am eating carbs with breakfast, which is my pre-workout meal, in my intra and post-workout shake (Aminolast and Glycofuse by Gaspari), the post-workout meal, and the meal after that. Eventually there will come a point where I will probably drop the carbs from that third meal, and I will also be reducing the scoops of Glycofuse I am putting in that shake. Right now it's 2.5 scoops on days I train chest and tri's and shoulders and bi's, and 3 scoops on leg and back days. In time I will go down to 2 and 2.5 scoops, then 1 and 2. Hopefully I won't need to go any lower than that, as the carbs from Glycofuse do a great job of keeping me full as I train and they also help replace the spent muscle glycogen fast and efficiently.
I will of course be sharing any changes I make over the coming weeks. Whether or not these are techniques you can use yourself or not, you might still find it interesting to follow along and see what results occur.
Talk to you all later!