classic physique

Posted 2 years ago

How to structure your dieting phase

If it is your first time dieting for a show/shoot, or even just a holiday, it can feel a little overwhelming to know where to begin. There is so much information out there telling you about “This is the best diet ever”, or that “Keto is King”, it’s easy to get confused when you don’t quite know what you’re looking for.

The same goes for training methodologies – do we go high rep? Low rep? High cardio? No cardio? HIIT cardio? LISS cardio? It’s no wonder most of us feel like giving up before we’ve even started!!

As you’ll know by now, there are many different factors to consider when it comes to structuring your dieting phase, and most of these are person dependent and never clear-cut. Therefore, the aim of this article is to give you an easy-to-follow idea of how to structure your dieting phase, in a way that will ensure you don’t lose any of the muscle you’ve built, but also to ensure you’ll be ready in time for your given event.

Please note that some of following calculations in regards to total calories/macros will come from the article “How to structure your gaining phase”, so please refer to that article before reading on.

Where to start

When we think “diet” we think “lean and shredded” not “skinny and stringy”. As such, you need to remember the aim of your diet should be to hold onto every ounce of muscle that you have gained in your push/gaining phase. Therefore, it is obvious that we will need to pull off body fat slowly and steadily. If you were to try and do it all in 6-8 weeks, (a) it simply won’t happen and (b) you’ll lose a fair bit of muscle mass in the process.

That being said, before embarking on a dieting phase, you need to establish a few things. Firstly, how much body fat and weight do you have to lose before you will be ready for your show/shoot or happy on holiday? This figure could be anywhere between 10-12kg for most people who have had a productive gaining phase. This will determine your starting point.

Secondly, you have to look at the timeframe you’ve got until your set event. If it’s 8 weeks away, you’ve left it too late. In this industry, it’s common for athletes to be dieting for anywhere between 16-20 weeks. Before you say it, yes, we know that 4-5 months is a long time! However, to bring the necessary conditioning or look required, you really do need that long. That goes for both natural athletes and ones using anabolic steroids. Therefore, your timeframe alongside your target or estimated weight loss will establish the overarching starting point.

For most people, this will mean 4-5 months of not missing training sessions, not eating a meal off plan and ticking every single box that you have to tick. Although it sounds extreme, for us within the fitness industry, it’s completely normal. This should hopefully help you realise that it is a big commitment – as such, if you have some big events on, or nights out planned in the upcoming few weeks, you might want to consider dieting at a different time of the year. Either that, or you could give yourself an extra month to make sure you are ready on time.

The bottom line of where to start is: know where you are, know where you want to be, and always assume it will take longer than you thought it would. Oh, and be ready to commit and go all in!

Calories and Macros

Just like when you enter a gaining phase, often the first thing on your mind is: where should my calories start off at? The answer, as always, is that it really depends. If you have just finished a gaining phase, you’ll have the exact number on paper of how many calories you were eating, and the total grams of carbs, fats and proteins you were consuming.

However, I understand there might be a lot of you that have never completed a gaining phase yet and have to diet before you are able to do so. At the same time, you may not know how much you’ve been eating. Therefore, before you begin to diet, I’d suggest you simply spend a couple of weeks tracking your food (using myfitnesspal or a similar method of tracking) to establish where your intake is and assess what it is doing to your body weight – that is, whether your current intake is maintaining your weight, helping you lose weight or leading you to gain weight.

Once you’ve been able to establish your current intake, the next most important question to ask is whether you’re eating enough protein. Remember the rule of thumb: for most, eating 1.1g of protein per pound of bodyweight is enough, unless you are assisted.

Following on from the gaining phase article which I alluded to earlier, I’ll use the same example for ease and so you can compare the process between the two.

Let’s take a 55kg female, who weighs approximately 121lb (2.2lb = 1kg). 121lbs x 1.1 will give 133, rounded up that would give us 135g of recommended protein intake per day. Now that we’ve established that, the next step would be working out their total calories (kcals). For this, given it’s a dieting phase, we are going to “allocate” 10.5-11 calories per pound of body weight. Thus 11 x 121lbs gives us 1331kcals.

We could then split macros as follows:

Protein 135g = 540kcals
Carbs 125g = 500kcals
Fats 32g = 291kcals

(For the exact calculations and numbers, refer to the gaining phase article).

Here at VW Physique, we always opt for higher calories on training days (TD) and lower on non-training days (NTD). This ensures you have more energy for your sessions when you need it and also helps you hold onto muscle mass better. So rather than having 1331kcals daily you could split it into:

TD 1450kcals
NTD 1033kcals

The above example has been calculated by assuming the female in question is training 5x a week. If you multiply her daily intake and average it out at a weekly intake (1331kcal x 7), allocate higher carbs on a training day (TD x 5) and split the remaining weekly total between the two rest days, these are the figures you’d get to.

Of course, it doesn’t always need to be like this, and in many cases, calories will start much higher if the athlete has had a productive off season. Our very own bikini pro Clara started her prep two years ago on 2100kcals (TD) and 1800kcals (NTD), but by the end of it, she was averaging roughly 950kcals a day (higher on TD, lower on NTD). It might seem extreme and unhealthy on paper, but no one said bodybuilding was healthy at the competitive level. Plus, when it comes to bringing the necessary condition to be competitive, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.


Now that you know what to do in regards to planning your dieting food intake, the next question you’ll have will be: “What do I do with my training?”. The answer again is it depends. What was your training like in your offseason/gaining phase? The funny thing is that training, for the most part, will not change. There’s no need to suddenly switch from low rep heavy lifts to high rep lighter lifts. The training style that got you in a muscly shape will be the same that will get you in lean-muscly shape. The only time training will ever change is when you hit plateaus in strength, but you’ll still be training heavy, hard, and to failure. As you get extremely lean, and are perhaps 1-2 weeks out, I’d recommend stopping a set just shy of failure to conserve muscle mass.

However, let’s assume that you haven’t been following a training protocol ahead of your dieting phase. If this is the case, you’ll need to establish a few things: identify body parts are lagging behind, what body parts are holding onto stubborn body fat, and notice the strengths in your physique.

The answers to these questions will all dictate how you program your workouts. If you are a male, it’s likely you’ll want a big chest, delts and arms, and will thus train them accordingly. If you are female, your goals may be more focused on developing your glutes, hamstrings and delts. Remember, males and females have different recovery capabilities and physique needs, so their programming must be different. Regardless, I’d always recommend trying to schedule in a rest day before or after your leg day. These sessions will be the most demanding on your muscles, central nervous system and will require an incredible amount of focus to complete. Although training will be person dependent, here are two examples for a male and a female split:

Day 1: Pull
Day 2: Lower
Day 3: Push/Arms
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Back/legs
Day 6: Push/Arms
Day 7: Off

Day 1: Lower 1
Day 2: Upper 1
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Lower 2
Day 5: Upper 2
Day 6: Lower 3/Delts
Day 7: Off

You’ll find other articles discussing programming push, pullleg days and across the website to help you with this. You can also download our bikini girl rotation or male rotation here for free.

Weight loss and plateaus
At the start of your dieting phase, I’d also recommend establishing a daily step count and a weekly cardio target. In this way, you’ll know exactly how much food is going in (daily calories) and how much you are moving e.g., 5 weight training sessions, 4 x 30 mins cardio weekly, 10,000 steps a day. This relationship between calories in and calories out is what we call energy balance, and having that data closely tracked will inform the decisions you make moving forward.

That is, with this information in mind, it makes things really easy to manipulate to allow fat loss/weight loss to continue to occur. Let’s use the same example of a 55kg female again, who needs to get ready to compete and we predict will be roughly 46kg on stage (not uncommon for short female bikini girls). Over her 18week prep diet, she’ll need to lose 9kg in total, which gives us a 0.5kg weekly weight loss goal (1.1lbs a week). Dieting at this pace will allow the athlete to hold on to muscle mass and retain her strength as we diet down, to a better extent than aiming to lose 1kg a week for 9 weeks.

Although decisions to manipulate energy balance don’t always come from the weight on the scales, it is important to have predictions of where you want to end up. So, let’s say you have 3 solid weeks where things happen exactly as you want them but then you stall the following week. You could simply make a change to energy balance, which might be reducing calories by 150-200 per day, adding an extra 30 mins cardio across the week, or upping steps by 2000 per day. I call this “using tools from the tool box”.

Each tool that you use, will help move forwards and towards your goal in the next week. If you stall again the following week, don’t worry, you just need to make a change again and keep digging. I’d strongly recommend you keep your weight training days the same and avoid changing these weeks to week for the sake of data consistency.

In summary, the specifics of setting up a dieting phase will be completely person dependant. However, the same rules of thumb apply to all of us: firstly, you need to ensure you have enough time to take off the weight required to achieve your pre-determined “end look”’, and secondly, and you’ll need to work out how much progress you need each week to get there. Thirdly, how you set your program up across the week will depend on a number of factors based on your needs; and finally, when you hit plateaus, you can make simple changes to energy balance to ensure your on target to hit your goal.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons