To anyone outside of the bodybuilding world, there is a common assumption made about the eating habits and diet of a bodybuilder.
“They eat the same thing over and over, it’s boring, they can’t enjoy their diet, but it’s what they have to do to get ripped and huge!”
Hell before I started competing as a bodybuilder (I’m now in my 3rd year) I thought along the same lines.
In order to get in shape you had to have the “cookie cutter” meal plan of:
Meal 1: Egg whites and oatmeal (plain, no flavouring)
Meal 2: Protein shake
Meal 3: Chicken & rice
Meal 4: Chicken & rice
Meal 5: Chicken & rice
Meal 6: Protein shake
Sounds like a muscle building menu for success right? Oh lordy, lord, how wrong, naive, and stupid I was! When I was younger, I used to eat like that, however since I began competing, my diet is a lot more varied, enjoyable, and I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been.
I’m able to enjoy my diet my following a common sense approach, that offers variety and flexibility, so I can enjoy what I eat, and still get into awesome shape.
What is flexible dieting?
Flexible dieting isn’t a diet per se. It is an approach to dieting, and the the basic principles are as follows:
• Have a macro-nutrient breakdown for the day. This is a set number of protein, carbohydrates and fats
• Work your meal timings and frequencies based around your schedule and what feels best for you. Do not let “having to eat every 3 hours” dictate your lifestyle
• Fill your diet with nutritionally good foods that you enjoy
• Don’t feel the need to completely restrict yourself of junk food for weeks at a time. If you really crave something, factor it into your macros. Enjoy it, but don’t binge
By using this approach to dieting, even during contest prep, it means you won’t sicken yourself to the point where you binge, and set yourself a week or two back.
By factoring your “cheat” foods into your macro allowance, it means you’re hitting your numbers, staying within your calories, and making progress towards your goal.
How to enjoy your contest prep diet
— Mark Smith (@MarkSmithBB) March 29, 2015
Contest prep will likely last a minimum of 12 weeks, possibly 20 weeks upwards depending on starting condition. So we want our diet to be as enjoyable and sustainable as possible.
Here are some of my tips to structure an enjoyable contest prep diet, that will be sustainable, and won’t make you want to cut out your tastebuds.
1 – Pick foods you like
Sounds pretty obvious, but I’ve heard so many people say “I hate x meal, but I have to eat it”. You should not include any foods in your diet that you don’t like.
Are you like me and hate tuna? Well shoot for some chicken, or turkey instead. Don’t like sweet potato? Don’t eat them. Go for regular potato.
2 – Make the majority, at least 80%, of your calories come from micronutrient dense, whole foods
Don’t take an elitist and stupid attitude to clean eating. We’re talking about healthy foods here, such as potato, rice and carbs. Not hash browns.
Eating better foods means health benefits. The micronutrient content of whole foods far exceeds that of processed foods. Granted there are different opinions on what foods are “clean” and what aren’t. I say use a common sense approach when deciding.
3 – Make allowance for “treats”
I’m talking here about the foods that you would usually think are “not allowed” when trying to lose weight, or when prepping for a show. Think sweets, chocolates, cakes and biscuits.
The whole idea of flexible dieting is to not constrain or restrict yourself from any foods for lengthy periods of time.
When you are having a treat however, make sure you factor it into your allotted macros and calories for the day. Depending on your calorie intake, and the foods you want to eat, it might be hard to factor some foods in. But with wiggle room, there is no need to feel that you can never eat something.
4 – Practice restraint on low carb days
Depending on how far through your weight loss programme you are, or if you’re carb cycling, you will hit a point where you carb intake is really low on certain days. This is where the “common sense” approach comes in.
If you’ve got 100g of carbs to have, that chocolate bar sitting on the kitchen table might take 40 grams of it up. Try surviving the rest of the day on just 60 grams of carbs.
There will be certain days where, despite your cravings, you just can’t include a certain food in your diet. Don’t worry though, if you’ve still got the craving on your next medium-high carb day, then have it!
5 – Supplements have macros too
Don’t be fooled into thinking that nutritional supplements are exempt from macros. For example, some protein shakes contain high amounts of carbs or fat.
This might sound like common sense, but I’ve had lads in the gym ask me about whether they should count them towards their daily allowance.
Running my supplement review and discount site I’ve seen the differences in macro profiles between different brands of protein powder, as well as different protein blends.
6 – Avoid trigger foods
This may be a little contradictory to what I’ve said in this article, however some people cannot make certain foods fit into their diet. Everyone will have certain foods that make their macros go out of the window.
If you know of any foods that trigger a binge, then I would suggest you either buy the smallest serving you can, or get someone to portion out a serving for you, and put the rest of the pack in hiding.
Over time you may build up willpower to exhibit control over them, however if you know of foods that are just too tempting, exercise extreme caution.
7 – Stay consistent
The most important factor to remember and to practice, is consistency. Once you know your macros, make every effort to hit them as close as possible daily.
Just because you’re food choices might be a little more relaxed by swapping over to flexible dieting, that doesn’t mean your attitude to hitting your numbers should.
If you struggle with appetite, then supplements can help you hit your calories, without the effort of eating.
And finally…enjoy yourself
The gym is meant to be something that is fun, makes us healthier, and enhances our life.
If you find that you’re developing a negative attitude towards food because of your fitness goals, then you need to re-assess the reasons to workout.
Flexible dieting could be that release that allows you to keep making gains, and let the gym enhance your life, rather than dictate it.