Although I occasionally enjoy a "cheat meal" in the off-season (I love my sushi!), I never stray from my diet when preparing for a show and always eat extremely "clean" year round. It is important to stay lean in the off-season so that when it is time to diet down, the journey is much easier. However, in order to make muscle and strength gains, I think it is important to not worry too much about putting on a little extra weight in the off-season. Personally, I have found that staying within 5lbs to 10lbs of contest weight does not really allow for the muscle growth I am looking for in the off-season. I feel that I am the strongest and that I create a very anabolic environment when I am closer to 20-30 lbs over my contest weight. Just as I diet down slowly (no more than 1.5 pounds per week) over the course of 20+ weeks in order to retain as much muscle as possible, during the offseason, I also strategically gain weight slowly to minimize fat gains. Although 20-30 pounds of extra weight sounds like a lot, I always make sure that it is quality lean mass and that my cardio health and body fat stay low (i.e. full set of visible abs).
During the offseason I generally eat a 40:40:20 diet where 40% of my calories come from carbs, 40% come from protein, and 20% come from fat. These percentages vary slightly depending on the bodypart(s) that I am training on a particular day. I try to consume more carbs on back and leg days and fewer carbs on the smaller bodypart days. My calories generally range anywhere from 3200-4200 calories each day, also depending on my activity level. On cardio only days, I am usually closer to the lower end of this range. I generally eat above maintenance calories for a couple weeks at a time, with the goal of gaining 1-2 pounds. I then will back off the calories slightly for a week to help keep the bodyfat at a minimum. This allows me to constantly gain lean mass over an extended period of time.
When I enter precontest mode at 20+ weeks out I usually begin a stricter carb cycling approach. I have found this allows for the continual loss of bodyfat during the course of a long diet and at the same time keeps the metabolism high. As mentioned above, I consistently adjust my caloric intake and carbohydrate levels so that I lose no more than 1.5 pounds a week. Whether Iím offseason or dieting for a competition, the backbone of my diet consists of lean turkey, beef, chicken, brown rice, sweet potatoes, old fashion oats, asparagus, broccoli, mixed vegetables, fish oil, natural peanut butter, Core PWO, Core MRP, and a number of different protein blends.
General nutrition information overview
Nutrition plays a crucial role in an athlete's performance and physique. This is especially true among bodybuilders and figure competitors. The only way to truly reach your fitness or athletic goals is to understand the concept of good nutrition and nutrient timing. You not only need to understand what to eat, but arguably even more importantly, you need to understand when to eat certain foods. People often ask me things like "how do I get arms like that," and I always tell them its 90% diet. You can train with maximum intensity 2 hours a day, 7 days a week, but if you are not fueling your body with the proper nutrients you will never reach your goals of gaining muscle mass, loosing fat, or "toning up."
Another important thing to understand is that one diet does not fit all. There is no "cookie-cutter" diet that is right for everyone. You need to figure out what works for you and what is in line with your goals. Becoming more familiar with your body type can help determine what works best for you. Whether you are an ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph, one thing remains constant for all people: you have to be consistent! Living a healthy lifestyle and training to be a physique competitor both require one to "live it." The best and fastest way to reach you goals is sticking to that diet 24/7.
While I recommend people eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals, I usually end up eating 8 or more times a day. The important take away from this is that I have been able to figure out what works best for my body, and it is important for you do the same. If you are looking for help in figuring out the ideal nutrition plan for you, please see the services section of my site, and I can help you reach your goals.
The first step in understanding proper nutrition is understanding the basic macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and the idea of nutrient timing.
Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and proteins are the building blocks for muscle tissue. When you train with weights you break down your muscle tissues and in order to grow you need to be constantly feeding your muscles with the amino acids and proteins they require for rebuilding. Protein should be consumed at each of your meals throughout the day and for physique competitors I recommend 1 to 2 grams per pound of bodyweight.
The average person these days does not eat nearly enough protein and adding or substituting a couple extra protein sources to your meals each day may make a dramatic impact on your physique and, more importantly, how you feel. Protein sources that I recommend include: Lean (93% or leaner) ground meats, top round steak, boneless/skinless chicken and turkey breasts, fish and most seafood, canned tuna or chicken, egg whites, fat free cottage cheese, ostrich, buffalo, and protein powders.
The main function of carbohydrates is to provide energy or fuel for the body. Most people are either "carb-o-holics" or have "carb-phobia." While carbs provide energy for your workouts they can quickly be converted to fat stores if you consume too much. Because of this fact, recently people have become afraid of carbs. When people tell me they are on zero carb diets, I cringe. To many peoples' surprise, in addition to providing energy, carbohydrates themselves are anabolic and are essential for maintaining and gaining muscle. It is important to note, however, that not all carbs are created equally and it is important to figure out which carbs sources are beneficial, how much should be eaten for your body type, and when they should be eaten.
There are 2 types of carbohydrates. Fast acting carbs are usually simple sugars and provide the body with a quick source of energy. The only time I recommend simple sugars would be post workout. Fast acting sugars like dextrose or maltodextrin will help maximize glycogen (form of carbohydrates stored in muscles) storage post workout. This is also the only time of the day where you are looking for a spike in insulin to help reduce cortisol (muscle-wasting hormone) levels, which rise during intense training.
Complex carbs are slow acting carbs and provide for longer periods of energy. These carbs digest slowly; therefore the body needs a longer period of time to release them into the blood as glucose. Complex carbs can be eaten throughout the day and are great to have at breakfast and preworkout so that your body will have fuel for the day and during your workout. Good complex carbohydrate sources include: baked potato, sweet potato, brown rice, wild rice, pumpkin, old fashion oatmeal, whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, and fiber cereals.
It is also extremely important to get your vegetables in throughout the day. Vegetables are extremely high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and can help you feel satisfied without eating too many calories. Good vegetable sources include broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, lettuce, beans, peppers, brussel sprouts, zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, peas, and leafy green vegetables.
In terms of how many carbs you should eat each day, this can only be determined through trial and error. Regardless of your carb intake, I recommend a carb cycling diet in order to keep your body guessing and tricking it to constantly burn fat for energy.
Fats are also important for building muscle and assisting the body in functioning properly. They are essential for helping absorb fat-soluble vitamins, they play a crucial role in many metabolic functions, and they are essential to proper hormone production and function. While most saturated fats should be avoided, you should make sure you are consuming enough essential fatty acids (EFA). Some examples include nuts, nut butters, olives, olive oil, salmon, fish, natural peanut butter, flax seed oil, and avocado. Remember not to go overboard on these, however, as they are extremely calorie dense.
In order to obtain a competitive physique or perform at your absolute best, it is important to constantly fuel your body throughout the day. Properly spacing meals out throughout the day every 2-3 hours is a must. This helps keep your body in an anabolic state and can keep your energy levels from dropping. There are a couple of meals during that day that are absolutely crucial: breakfast, preworkout, postworkout, and bedtime.
For preworkout meals, I recommend slow digesting carbs, such as oatmeal and a blend of fast and slow digesting protein approximately 30-60 minutes before weight training. In addition to being an ideal meal replacement anytime during the day, I designed Core MRP as an ideal preworkout meal.
After extended periods of training, your body is craving recovery nutrients. I recommend a liquid meal immediately postworkout as it is more easily digested. As mentioned previously, this meal should consist of a fast acting carb such as dextrose and a fast acting protein source such as whey isolate. The combination of these carbs and proteins will help maximize glycogen storage and protein synthesis while minimizing protein breakdown and catabolic (muscle wasting) hormones. I designed Core PWO as an ideal post workout recovery drink.
Come wakeup time, your body is in a catabolic state due to not eating over the course of approximately 8 hours. Eating breakfast at this point is a must and should never be skipped! Carbs and protein are a must at breakfast, and this should be one of the biggest carb meals of the day.
Eating before bed is not a bad thing. There is a misconception that you need to stop eating after a certain time because your body will store food as fat if you consumed it too close to bed. This is not necessarily true. Although you should limit your carb intake right before bed (unless postworkout), it is important to get in some form of protein before retiring. I recommend a slow digesting protein and some EFAs. This gives the body a steady supply of amino acids while at rest and assists in muscle growth and recovery.