Becky came to me with her primary goal of competing in a physique competition in January of 2016. After many attempts over the past 5 years to lose her last 10 lbs she said she was finally sick of her weight not budging despite having rigorously worked to achieve minimal intake of both carbohydrates and fat. Here’s some history I took on her:
Was currently attempting to stick to a very low carbohydrate diet and was limiting fat as much as possible
Training 6 days per week
Had tried completely eliminating carbs through the week for an extended period of time
Rarely ate nuts, seeds or whole eggs due to the fat but was open to trying them if it would help her achieve her goals.
Weight hadn’t changed in years
Was experiencing periodic fatigue throughout the day.
As you will see, Becky didn’t hit her goal weight or do a physique show, but instead found what she really wanted: improved energy, a better relationship with food, less hunger and cravings, her desired body composition (rather than a weight on the scale) and knowledge of how to manipulate her body composition well into the future.
Becky was already lean and healthy at a starting body fat percentage of 18.4%. She knew this but wanted to take her health and body composition optimization to the next level.
The first step we took to achieve her objective of losing fat was increase her calories and food intake. Yes, you did read that right. Her dietary analysis of her usual intake revealed a consumption of approximately 1664 calories and the first meal template and nutrition guidelines she followed put her at an average of 1860 calories.
It’s not often that you can get away with increasing calorie intake and achieve weight loss, but in this case her body was giving all of the signals that it needed more and her lifestyle (i.e. her job and activity level) was an indication that she could likely perform and feel better on more carbohydrates. It is also true that the record of what someone eats is their ‘usual’ intake and that their average may be much higher depending on the frequency of their ‘occasional’ days of overeating and drinking. In other words, often increasing their usual intake reduces the urge to overeat or drink on the occasional days and thus can produce a lower overall average.
We increased her carbohydrates and her fat intake from nutrient dense foods like nuts, seeds, fruit, whole grains and starchy vegetables. These kept her energy levels more stable with an immediate notice in the attenuation of the periodic bouts of fatigue. With improved energy, came improved mood, strength and better workouts. This meant more calories in but also more calories out. We were able to achieve the first four pounds of her weight loss and 2% body fat from this increase and we stood at these calorie and macronutrient numbers until March.
I was also coordinating with Becky’s personal trainer to ensure that her nutrition plan was providing adequate fuel for her workouts. I would obtain descriptions of her workout to assess the duration and intensity and with this came the advanced strategy of carbohydrate cycling.
Fat and protein were held relatively stable while calories fluctuated with carbohydrates depending on what her workout that day of the week was. Her days off were around 100g of carbs and her leg days (which were very intense and an area she desired to build) were around 180g.
Carbohydrate cycling isn’t appropriate for everyone’s schedule, but Becky came to me with a nice arsenal of cooking skills, a healthy habit built up of preparing her own food through the week and an admirable commitment to a fit lifestyle.
Please also keep in mind that those carbohydrate numbers aren’t for everyone. Becky’s numbers were decided upon based on her daily non-exercise activity (NEAT), her workouts (type and duration) and her previous carbohydrate intake. You wouldn’t want to jump up to 200g of carbs per day if you were only consuming 50g beforehand and you wouldn’t want to jump down to 200g of carbs if you were consuming 300g beforehand. Both your body and your lifestyle need to adapt.
As the show date approached we needed to start taking steps down in her caloric intake in order to avoid and/or push through plateaus. This was the progression:
9 weeks out – an average of 1784 calories
7 weeks out – 1681 calories
5 weeks – 1631 calories
3 weeks – 1571 calories
After reading this there may be 2 types of alarm bells going off in certain peoples’ heads; those that are saying that is way too low and those (possibly those who have done a physique competition before) that are saying that’s way too high!
For those that are saying it’s getting too low, rest assured that her bodily signs and symptoms were being checked upon frequently. Also, there’s no sugar coating it, like with most sports, physique competitions can take physical activity, nutrition and even self-discipline beyond health. However, as long as there are these competitions, there are going to be people participating in them and there might as well be coaches out there that can give scientific and individualized advice that makes them as safe and as healthy as possible. If there are not, people will be forced to go to, dare I say, the majority of coaches who are uneducated and use unsafe, groundless and antiquated techniques.
Also, for those of you who are saying it’s too high, I would like to add that she also was only training once per day and doing limited cardio activity, none of which was steady state (#shockvalue). There’s no need to pull as low as ‘Ms. Internet Forum Fitness Model’ did for her show. Becky was losing weight at a steady comfortable pace that would best preserve her muscle (~0.7% of her body weight per week), her hunger and cravings were manageable and as you can see from her photos she was well on her way to rocking a bikini competition. Heck, I think she would have placed pretty well if she had walked on stage at 3 weeks out, but I suppose that could be a bit of a biased opinion.
Before we could get to 2 weeks out, Becky received an email:
Your UFE Spring Bash Physique Show has been cancelled.
Was Becky upset? Not at all. She had come to realize that she had achieved more than what she had initially signed up for or even believed was possible.
As soon as we determined that she wasn’t going to do the show we stopped. There was no point in going more aggressive past the point of what is maintainable. She couldn’t believe how she looked and had already found it was beyond what her expectations were. In fact, by not doing so, we lessened the risk of weight rebound; not to mention, we avoided the risks that come with aggressive dieting during the last few weeks before the show, such as high levels of hunger, fatigue and mood swings as well as a severe lack of a social life.
These are some of the risks people must accept in order to do a physique show, as the very low body fat levels required are often unmaintainable for more than a few days.
We immediately started bringing up her calories with a quick increase of 200 calories and continued to build by approximately 50 per week thereafter to see how high we could take it. We got back to an average of 1751 calories before it was time for Becky to continue on her own.
4% down in body fat from starting
3 cm off of waist
Looks at all food positively knowing that there is a place for anything in her nutrition if she wants it (e.g. No longer resists the urge to have a little bit of chocolate every day)
More stable energy throughout the day
Jan. 15 Jan 29 Feb 12 Feb 27 Mar 12 Mar 25
Becky now weighs in at 136 lbs, has a balanced intake of carbohydrates, fat and protein. She has confidence that she can manipulate her body composition on her own using the tools and strategies we developed together, whether that be to gain muscle and strength, look “shredded” for a few days on the beach on vacation or to lean back down after a few days on vacation.
By using the flex plan during her prep (guidelines that I give to my clients on how much food to have based on serving sizes using your hand as a reference) she knows approximately how much she needs at meals and snack to fuel her job, her workouts and her muscle growth (if she desires).
She continues to receive personal training from her trainer, Johnathon Abbott (Verv Wellness, Kitchener Ontario) and has kindled a relationship with strength training. Becky now squats, bench presses, deadlifts and clean and presses BIG weights and loves seeing her numbers go up on the bar.
The key to success when you feel like nothing else is working