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Preserving Muscle in a Contest Prep

Contest prep and competing in a bodybuilding competition requires hard work, dedication, and consistency. It takes time and patience to grow a muscle base that is required to do well on stage, and the contest prep diet should be aimed at preserving that lean muscle tissue while dropping body fat. This article will briefly go into strategies and components to preserving muscle mass in a contest prep.


Calories and Rate of Weight Loss:

Energy availability (EA) describes how much energy is available for basic metabolic functions including reproduction, immunity and skeletal homeostasis. Low energy availability leads to metabolic and hormonal adaptations such as reduced metabolic rate, reduced NEAT (Non exercise induced thermogenesis), drops in thyroid hormones, and alterations in sex hormones (for males specifically testosterone and females, estrogen and progesterone). In females specifically, low EA can lead to amenorrhea, aka loss of the menstrual cycle. It’s imperative to prevent HPA (hypothalamic pituitary axis) dysfunction that can occur in contest prep dieting. Low EA also leads to psychological and physiological distress. Keeping food as high as possible and maximizing EA helps limits the negative effects that occur with dieting in contest prep.

Rate of weight loss and the amount of a caloric deficit should be tailored to creating a sustainable, slow, and progressive deficit. Greater deficits and fast weight loss can lead to greater losses of muscle mass. Weight losses of 0.5–1% of bodyweight per week (for a 150lb person- that means maximum 1.5lbs per week), is suggested to maximize muscle retention. Not only does a large amount of weight loss per week create increased loss of lean muscle tissue, but it can also put one at risk for gallstones. Though weight loss is expected, one should also keep in mind the potential for body recomposition (increase of lean muscle mass and decrease of body fat). The scale is not a sole indicator of progress. A focus should be made on using the scale as a tool and utilizing progress photos, body measurements, and valid markers of body fat testing such as a DEXA to assess progress.

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