A Tip for Those Who Use Cardio to Get Ready for a Bodybuilding or Fitness Competition

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Precontest Bodybuilding

Anybody who has ever competed in a bodybuilding contest knows what it is like to spend hours on a treadmill. Not only that, but try spending those hours while nearly starving yourself half to death. It isn’t “fun”, but to many it is very rewarding. So much so that they do it year after year, always trying to better their condition compared to the year before. I thought I would share with those Think Muscle readers interested in getting ready for a body-transformation, bodybuilding or fitness competition, a tip that will help them with this preparation.

Two things generally are required to get lean enough to compete in bodybuilding or fitness. One, you must cut your calories, and two, you must increase your cardio. Now there are some who might argue that you don’t have to do both but I have seldom seen someone really ripped who doesn’t use both.

The biggest mistake I see with both novice and experienced competitors is the introduction of both high volume cardio and very low calories at the same time. In essence, they go from off season mass building to marathon running semi-starvation virtually overnight. This creates a tremendous burden on the system. This burden ultimately leads to significant losses of both size and strength.

Understand that endurance training creates a catabolic environment only when calories are insufficient. When sufficient calories and protein are consumed, the body responds in an anabolic manner to moderate endurance training. This anabolism serves to enhance the body’s ability to perform such exercise in the future. If a person were to go from no exercise, to a lot of exercise all at once, there is a 12-14 day period of adaptation during which nitrogen balance is negative. With sufficient protein, this negative nitrogen balance does not necessarily lead to a net loss of muscle protein.

When you go on a diet, there is an obligatory loss of lean as well as fat tissue (under normal conditions). Increasing protein intake will help to reduce the amount of muscle loss, but it will not prevent it.

Combining both high volume endurance exercise with caloric restriction leads to rapids decreases in bodyweight, but it also leads to rapid losses of muscle tissue and often puts undue stress on the immune system.

The solution? You’ll have to find that out for yourself…just kidding. The solution is to begin your cardio before you begin your diet. In fact, to optimize the amount of food you can eat and still lose fat you must ramp up your cardio and increase your caloric intake at the same time to prevent any drop in bodyweight for the first two weeks as least. This way you will be eating a lot of food just to maintain bodyweight. This makes the body much more sensitive to reductions in calories/carbs.

If you’ve left yourself plenty of time to get ready for this future photo shoot or event, take about 4-6 weeks to slowly increase you calories until your bodyweight stabilizes at a higher weight. This generally happens after a 5-8 pound gain. You may feel fat doing this but it is all preparatory to “better dieting”. So once your bodyweight has stabilized at a higher point, slowly introduce your cardio. Be careful not to let your bodyweight drop during this 2-4 week period. Try to consume lots of carbs and lean protein to maintain weight. Guys can get away with a slight increase in fat intake as well. Remember, we are not trying to get fat, only to maintain bodyweight and muscle while introducing cardio into our training.

Once you’re doing as much cardio as you are ever going to do during your diet, slowly begin to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in the diet. If you’ve done it right, you will be consuming tons of carbs before you even begin to diet. All of this allows you to play with your carb intake at a much higher level than you could if you had cut them right at the beginning. I have also seen that people will lose fat consuming many more carbs than usual when taking this approach.

Overall, shoot for about a pound of weight loss per week. This may seem slow, but if you’ve followed these instructions, the diet is much easier to stick to because you are consuming many more calories during the diet.

About Bryan Haycock

Bryan Haycock+ is an exercise physiologist and NPC judge. Bryan has been bodybuilding for over 20 years and holds certifications with the NSCA, ACE, and is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine. Bryan is currently the Editor in Chief of ThinkMuscle.com and is the founder and CEO of LifeStyleMgmt.com. Bryan is a highly sought after authority on the physiology of muscle growth and fat loss. Bryan also specializes in the management of type-II diabetes through diet and exercise.