Slow and Steady Wins the Race for Bikini Prep
Bikini contest prep approaches have transitioned in recent years from rapid and extreme fat loss phases to slow and steady wins the race. When I first got into the sport 7 years ago, 12 week preps were very common place. My first contest prep was only 3 months and I lost ~20 lbs during that time. Last year in 2018 I lost the same amount of weight during a 6 month time frame and brought a much stronger package in regards to lean mass retention.Taking a longer contest prep duration, in my option, results in a better level of conditioning and a more competitive package. Why does more time benefit the competitor?
Most bikini competitors will try their best to add lean tissue during an Improvement Season. However, when it comes time to dieting down oftentimes the weight loss that occurs is at the expense of the lean muscle tissue.
In reality, muscle retention during contest prep is going to be as important as muscle growth in the off-season. Muscle added in the off-season means nothing if you can’t retain it during contest prep.
To maximize muscle retention during contest prep, you are going to want to diet at a rate of loss to 0.5– 1 lbs of body weight a week.
Towards the end of the dieting phase, in order to minimize muscle loss, it may be best to shoot for .5 lbs a week. Looking specifically at recent case studies of natural bodybuilders, those who averaged a rate of loss of around 0.5% body weight weekly retained more muscle during contest prep that those dieting at 0.7% or 1.0% of body weight weekly on average.
Dieting at a slower rate will allow a competitor to consume a greater number of calories during contest prep. For example, a competitor aiming for 3 lbs loss weekly will need to create an approximately 1500 Calorie deficit daily whereas a competitor aiming for 1 lb of weekly loss will need to create a 500 calorie deficit daily on average. As a result of a slower target rate of loss and more calories, performance in the gym is going to be higher than an individual with a lower calorie intake. By maintaining training intensity and volume, a competitor will retain more muscle mass during contest prep.
Carb and Calorie Cycling
A longer contest prep duration has the benefit of having time to take days out of a deficit. This is commonly done with refeeds or carb cycling strategies. These methods are both done very differently based on individual needs. However in both cases the carbs and calories are manipulated for physiological and psychological benefits.
Refeed days are calculated ways of increasing calories and carbs to increase the body’s leptin levels, muscle glycogen stores and recovery. All of which could increase an athlete’s performance in the gym.
Periodic refeeds should not be view as a “cheat days.” Calories on these days still do count and if you consume more calories than you expend you will gain weight. If you are going to incorporate refeeds or carb cycling during prep it will likely be best to have specific macro goals as it’s not an untracked meal or what some would refer to as a “cheat meal.”
Buffer Time Allowed
The longer the bikini prep duration the better. This will allow for life’s bumps in the road to occur; without derailing contest prep. This also allows for a competitor to come into a show lean and ready early.
The longer duration could also result in an increase of food for the athlete. Additional advantages would also be the possibility of tapering cardio. In addition, by being ready early a competitor can do a test run on their carb up plan. By running through the carb up protocol early, a coach can test how the competitor will look the next day following a carb up meal. This can be a way for the coach to see how well the athlete fills out with particular foods, how well the athlete digests particular meals, and how tight the meal can make them look, just to give a few examples.
By taking a longer prep, you will most likely feel less stress. Because falling behind the weight loss curve can be stressful this strategy allows for “life to happen” and still have a buffer window.
Stress can additionally be reduced by picking a show that has a realistic time frame. Once you have determined the number of weeks, add in extra weeks to account for life’s bumps in the road, stress, travel etc.
By taking your time, bikini prep will be a more enjoyable! Added bonus, you will end up bringing your best package yet!!