bodybuilding coach

Posted 12 months ago

The importance of giving yourself time

Although many things have changed over the years with bodybuilding, there are two things that have remained consistent: the rate at which you add muscle mass and the rate at which you lose body fat. The only thing that has changed over the years is our patience with each of those goals.

Modern day living is very fast-paced, and with things available at the click of your finger, it can leave people feeling frustrated when they don’t see results fast. What we fail to remember though is that when it comes to changing your body, it simply takes time, much more time than you think it will. Therefore, the aim of this article is to discuss the importance of giving yourself enough time when bodybuilding but specifically, prepping for a shoot/show.

Do you have enough muscle mass?

Let’s suppose you’ve decided you want to step in front of the camera or jump on stage. The first thing you need to ask yourself is: do you have enough muscle to achieve the desired level of conditioning or to fit the category needed? If the answer is no and you go ahead and enter a dieting phase, irrespective of your body’s lack of preparation, you might be left feeling disappointed when you don’t look as good as you had hoped you would for your shoot, or you simply get out muscled on stage.

Remember that muscle is metabolically active: by that, I mean that it requires calories to hang around. Therefore, the more muscle you have, the leaner you can get. Not only that, but you will be able to diet on higher calories than you could have before or if you’d prepped with not enough tissue. Sounds pretty groovy, right?

When you look back at those images of the first time you dieted to the extreme, you will want to know that you looked the part and weren’t there to make up the numbers. With this in mind, it’s imperative that you endeavour to spend time actively seeking out ways to gain new muscle mass before you even begin your diet.

This could mean that you go through strategic bulking and cutting phases for 1-2 years before the final diet commences. Although it seems far away, you’ll thank yourself for being patient by the time you get to it. I have seen so many shows where the competitors on stage are disappointed at their result, but they simply needed more muscle (and therefore, more time under the bar) for them to improve on their placing. The last thing you want to do is to make up the numbers: you are there to compete! So if I were to give you one piece of advice it would be to take as much time as is required until you have the muscle mass you need to be able to get lean and/or fit the category you are competing in.

How much do you have to pull off?

Once you have spent the time required adding muscle, you might be wondering how long it’s going to take for you get ‘shredded’. Unfortunately, the answer is that it’s probably going take a lot longer than you think. No one got shredded in 4 weeks. Trust me, for most of us it will take at least 16-20 weeks, perhaps even longer.

There are a few things to consider when deciding on the time frame for your diet. The first thing is to address whether this is your first time attempting to get into this level of condition. If it is, then you have no idea how your body will respond to dieting to extremes and/or how much body fat you’ll be able to lose on a weekly basis. Your coach will have an idea of how much you’ll need to pull off, and that can give you a rough estimate of how much weight you need to lose per week and as such, how long you might need to diet for. Although it’s true that scales don’t tell us everything, especially in assisted athletes, they can give us a rough idea of where we need to end up being truly lean.

So, let’s suppose you work out you need to lose around 12kg to get conditioned. If you only gave yourself 12 weeks to achieve this, that would be completely unrealistic. Yes, there will always be some freaks who are exceptions to the rule, but most of us need a lot more time than that. If this was the case, I’d be looking more towards aiming for a 20-week diet, which would give you a realistic target of pulling off 0.6kg per week.

Of course, assisted bodybuilders might pull off much more in less time. In fact, when I look back to my prep I pulled off 60lbs during my 20-week prep!!! However, I am an assisted male and was using fat burners (lipolytic at the time). In hindsight though, I probably started prep ‘too fat’. By the end of prep, I was on an hour and a half of cardio per day, and it was the lowest my food had ever been. Moral of the story is that you should ensure you don’t start prep ‘too fat’, and that you should be realistic with the rate of loss you can pull off each week to give yourself enough time.

Avoid muscle loss, save performance

Take that same scenario but for someone who was natural: losing that much weight would be an absolute disaster for your overall muscle mass! That’s because when using anabolic steroids, it’s extremely hard to lose muscle mass, but if you are natural it can be a completely different story.

As a natural athlete, you will have to accept that some muscle loss will occur towards the end of your prep, but you want to minimise this as much as possible. To preserve as much tissue as possible, you need to pull off body fat slowly, and not have excessive drops over the course of a week. Not only will this be an effective strategy to hold onto muscle mass, but it’ll also help you save your performance across the week.

Let’s be real, it sucks when strength stalls on prep, but how we go about holding onto it or progressing it across our prep can really impact the final look. To the trained eye, an over dieted or rushed prep is always obvious on stage or in front of a camera. Not only that, but it will not be fun to try and pull off so much weight in a short period of time. For my 2020 prep, I was doing 4 x 30 minutes cardio across the week; in 2021 at its highest, it got to 1 hour 30 minutes, and you can guess which prep was more enjoyable (yes, obviously the 2020 one!).

The main difference between the two was just my starting point. This should remind you to not start prep in a bad position with too much body fat.

Rate and speed of fat loss

Lastly, you need to consider how quickly, or not in some cases, you lose body fat. For some people, it might be straightforward; for others, it might be a battle from day one. On top of that, you may have a stubborn area that just struggles to get lean. This usually stems from a lack of muscle in that area; however, if you diet for long enough and hard enough, you will eventually get that area lean.

For females, it’s commonly their glutes/hamstrings, whereas for us males it could be our chest. Both scenarios will simply require you do diet for longer than you thought. This is where a 16-week prep can in fact turn into an 18-, 20- or 22-week prep, just to get those stubborn areas in. As they say, you’re only as lean as your fattest body part!!

There are certain liploytics (fat burners) that one could use if you went down the enhanced route to help keep your overall prep time shorter, but it’s never going to be short. If you enter it with that mindset, you are setting yourself up for failure from the start. My suggestion would be to give yourself more time than you think you might need (1-2 weeks extra) just to be on the safe side; because guess what, if you end up ahead of the game you can always have a refeed and slow things down.

In summary, there are a few things you need to think about when it comes to dieting to extreme low levels of body fat. Decide whether you have enough muscle mass or whether you need to spend time adding to your frame before pulling down. Establish how much you must pull off and give yourself a realistic time frame to do it in. If you try and rush things you may end up losing muscle, strength and looking over dieted on stage/in your shoot. I’d suggest giving yourself more time than you think is required, to help deal with stubborn areas that might take a little longer to get lean. There are no shortcuts to prepping, so don’t try and outsmart the process.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons