Where to Start if You Want to do a Bodybuilding Competition
ANYONE can do a bodybuilding competition. There are no prerequisites for signing yourself up for a show. There are several local shows in most states every year and you can sign yourself up and step on stage the week before if you want! A lot of people and coaches will tell you that you have to do x, y, or z to be able to compete. Whether that’s lose fat, gain muscle, or both. I think that’s true if you want to place in the show and get a trophy but no one HAS to do anything in order to set a goal for themselves and execute. Of course, most of us want to prepare for a show and it’s good to know where to start if that's your goal.
First things first, why do you want to do a bodybuilding competition? Is it because you just want to feel good and put yourself out there and step on stage? If so, I think it’s important to prepare yourself and put your best effort forward until show day but there’s nothing wrong with working with what you have right now. You don’t need to bulk or cut before you start the actual cut/preparation for the show. Just go in with the mindset that you’re doing this for YOU and proving to yourself that you can be disciplined and follow through and commit to it long term. You might not place, you might not look like what the judges are looking for in that particular division, but you are ready to do this for personal gain and that’s okay being all that matters. If this sounds like you, I suggest following what I laid out down below, but you don’t need to be as strict or cut-throat about the process and you can give yourself a little bit more wiggle room if that’s what would make you feel better. The world is your oyster and this can be done on terms that work with your schedule, feel good for you, and result in something you're proud of even if you don’t ‘match up to the competition’. And who knows, maybe you do one show, fall in love with the process, and decide to get a little more nitty gritty during the next prep.
But what if you want to compete with the pro’s and move to a higher level of competition? This is going to require a bit more commitment, dedication and maybe some bulking/cutting phases depending on the division that sparks your fancy. I would highly recommend getting in touch with someone who coaches competitors and allow them to assess your physique and help you with the individual things that you need to do to get to a solid place before starting a show prep.
Let’s go over a couple simple steps in order to get your mind right and figure out an action plan for your show.
How to get lean enough for a Bodybuilding Show?
You will need to track macros before you start prep. We all need a solid foundation and nutritional understanding before diving head first in a competition prep. This is because if you’re going to put yourself into a deficit, you need to know how much and what you’re eating to ensure you can gradually cut calories and lose fat and if you don’t know where you’re starting, it will be increasingly difficult to know how much to cut and when to cut.
- Determining your maintenance calories. This is pretty simple, despite how a lot of people make it sound. I have a previous blog post that gives you step by step instructions on how to do this but I will brief you on that: find a TDEE calculator and input your current demographics and information. It will calculate an estimated daily expenditure number for you. Take that number and apply it to your nutrition for a month. If it’s 1900, eat 1900 calories for a month and assess what happens to your weight. If your weight stays the same, that’s your maintenance calories or the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight. If you lose weight, increase that number a little bit. If you gain weight, decrease that number a little bit. Do this until you find a number that allows you to maintain your body weight for a month.
- Once you have your maintenance calories, you then need to choose a show you’d like to compete in. This comes before anything else because understanding how much time you have between now and your show will determine when you need to start your cut so you can drop enough body fat in time to hit the stage and ultimately, how long you will be prepping for. I recommend prepping for no longer than 12-14 weeks for the sake of sanity, and the sake of preserving muscle. Dieting for too long isn’t good for anyone and can be detrimental to your gains. So, pick a show, mark a date for when you begin your cut, and then you can start to plan your calorie drops.
- Now that you know how long you have to prepare, you need to determine how much weight you want to lose. Most coaches say you want to be within 12-15 pounds of stage ready during your off season so expect to lose around 12-15 pounds in that duration. For some of us, that might be too much, and for some that might not be enough. If you’re unsure, I recommend finding a coach who can help you determine that. A pound of fat equals 2800-3500 calories so if you are in a deficit of 300 calories per day, you should be dropping a pound every 11-12 days. If you need to lose 15 pounds in 12 weeks, your deficit will have to be greater than that, at around 4,375 calories per week. I wish weight loss was as simple as that but there will be other factors that affect how much weight you lose and not every week will be perfect or linear so you’ll have to have some experience in that as well.
- Once you have your maintenance calories, a show date and a diet duration established, you’re ready to start your cut. The trick to a show prep diet is slow and steady to ensure you conserve as much muscle as you possibly can while losing as much fat as you’re going too by the show. I like to use a trial and error approach because of the inconsistent way our body cuts fat or drops weight. I would start with putting yourself in a 200-300 calorie deficit and then going from there.. That doesn’t mean you have to take 300 calories out of your intake, though. This is where cardio comes into play. A calorie deficit just means you're burning more than you’re eating. So you could add 150 calories of cardio, and decrease your intake by 150 calories. The question is: would you rather eat less or move more or a little of both? I personally like a little of both. I rather eat as much as I possibly can while moving as much as I possibly can during a cut because I love to eat, but that’s just me. Your schedule and lifestyle might look a little bit different than mine so you have to determine what would be best for your individual situation.
- Once you start to lose weight, I wouldn’t drop calories again until you stop losing weight. Our body adapts to the calories we are eating so when we diet, our metabolism slows down to save as much energy as possible for our necessary systems like our heart and our brain and this is why it’s necessary to continue increasing the deficit; so we can continue to lose weight. I would just increase the deficit by another 100-200 calories, wait for weight loss to plateau, increase deficit by another 100-200 calories, wait for weight loss to plateau and do it again, and so on. You can either cut calories or increase cardio, or both, as I said before.
- Planning refeeds are always a good way to continue with fat loss and help with overall sanity during a gnarly cut. The idea behind a refeed is to take your calories back up to maintenance to hopefully improve hormone levels, mainly leptin and avoid weight loss plateaus. I utilized a refeed every two weeks during my show prep and it seemed to do wonders but everyone is going to differ here. I would recommend a refeed if you feel like you’re sacrificing a lot of muscle or if your weight seems to stall and you’re still pretty far out. OR just for mental sanity purposes.
How much cardio do I need to do for a Bodybuilding Show?
As I said, cardio will help with your overall deficit and help you get leaner. How much you do depends on your schedule and how big your deficit needs to be. I gradually increased cardio while gradually decreasing calories and it seems to work very well for me to get lean enough to feel comfortable to step on stage.
Do I need to do steroids to do a bodybuilding show?
Physically Enhancing Drugs. Steroids. You do not need to do steroids to do a bodybuilding show and not all competitors use them. If you do decide to use them- GET A COACH IF YOU WANT TO GO DOWN THIS PATH. They can be wildly dangerous if you try to buy drugs from a random person and dose yourself without having a clear idea on how much and what to take. I personally don’t think they’re worth it but if you want to have a career in bodybuilding and go far, especially outside of a natural league, it’s probably going to be necessary to take them so if that's the case, get yourself a coach.
How to pose for a bodybuilding show?
Each division has different poses or posing rules so it's important to study what your particular division does. There are tips and tricks you can do to accentuate certain muscles in certain poses. I would also recommend getting a coach for this. There are a lot of coaches who offer online posing courses or 1-on-1 posing practice either over video call or in person. Ask around!
I think that just about sums up the majority of it! I will also be posting a ‘Peak Week’ blog to go over exactly how I peaked for the show so make sure you stay tuned for that.