Female Fitness Contest Prep

A normal contest prep for a male bodybuilder is usually in the 10-12 week range – but if you stay lean year-round (something I recommend) you can probably get away with half that. It doesn’t need to be all that complicated. Drop carbs, up the protein and add some daily treadmill or stepmill sessions of 30-60mins. Throw some fat burners in the mix. Rinse and repeat until lean.

Ok, maybe not that easy all the time, so let’s talk about women. If they try to emulate this strategy it usually doesn’t work very well.  Evolutionary speaking, while men are hunters who thrive on higher activity levels and fasting and gorging patterns, women are gatherers and nesters. Women’s bodies are basically the ultimate survival machine and via hormonal and neurobiological means have an advanced set of defense mechanisms against starvation and (too much) activity.  I find women’s bodies wildly fascinating and it has taken me many years to figure out how to get them contest lean, while retaining as much muscle as possible. And more pleasurable to be around as an added bonus.

So how do I go about solving the puzzle of contest dieting?

First of all, patience! Take your time. This goes for both first time competitors and women in general. Unless you stay really lean year-round, double the time you THINK you need for a contest prep. I’d say 20 weeks (yup, that’s almost 5 months) of slow and steady dieting is a necessity if you want to get really lean. Then you won’t have to kill yourself with PSMF-type diets (basically veggies and protein and nothing else) and 2 hour cardio sessions because you’re not progressing as fast as you thought you would. The first half of the diet might seem like piece of cake (even if you can’t have any), and the upper body usually leans out nicely, but the stubborn fat deposits on your buttocks, hips and legs might take a full 8-10 weeks alone to get nice and tight.

I won’t go into food choices in great detail, but the standard fare should consist of chicken, fish, eggs, dairy proteins, rice, potatoes/sweet potatoes, some oatmeal – and meat. That’s right. I believe humans are biologically programmed to eat meat. Women in general should eat more animal proteins, wild game (reindeer, elk, deer) or (preferably grass-fed) beef in particular. Yup, if it’s furry and breathes oxygen – eat it. I’m not a fan of vegetable oils, and I think *overindulging* (emphasis added) in veggies and sweet fruits will clog up your digestion. I’ve seen women eat 3-4lbs of veggies just because they’re so hungry all the time, and then constantly complain about bloating and constipation. Use common sense. I know I just pissed off a lot of vegetarians/vegans, but I feel safe knowing my meat-fed legs can outrun both you and your sharpened cucumbers any day of the week. For some women into their 30s, a small amount of soy milk or soy protein and its phytoestrogens will provide some added fat burning effects, and should be considered as a daily diet addition.

 

I usually set calories at 14-17 x bodyweight depending on activity level, which translates into 1700-2000 kcals for a 120lbs girl, and go from there. Most will usually drop a pound or two in a few days just from cleaning up their diets and eliminating the sugars and junk food.

Now for the macronutrient ratio management. I know low carb diets are popular among women, but in my experience this isn’t a good long term strategy. I’ve successfully “reprogrammed” several girls from low to higher carbs, and the contest prep is a lot easier – or at least more predictable. The downside can be more variable hunger levels and energy, but if they get leaner and stay fuller it’s worth it.

Even though insulin sensitivity is generally lower in women and you don’t handle carbs as well as guys do, the lower calories for a 100-120 lbs fitness or bikini girl automatically takes care of that. I don’t think protein should be set higher than maybe 1.3g per lbs of bodyweight and I start with 1g per lbs while carbs and calories are still high. This is purely observational but too much protein in the ranges commonly prescribed for fat loss diets (1.5g/lbs+) seem to lead to poorer digestion, more bloating and water retention, and also compromises carb intake.

For the first part of the diet when bodyfat is higher, I find low carb dieting (in my world this is below 80g per day) a nice introduction to get things moving. I can also get some quality weight training for the delts, back and glutes/hams in this phase (the most important muscle groups for a female competitor) by dropping cardio to just some easy walking. Meaning: no intervals or 2 hour spinning/aerobic classes – but more on that later. Carbs are eaten post-workout and for the final meal of the day (yes, indeed…read my article on the Biorhythm Diet to see why). One or two higher carb days at 150g or thereabouts focused around priority muscle group workout days, just to keep the machinery going and various enzymes upregulated for the reintroduction of more carbs later.

Me and the World Champion in Bikinifitness, the awesome Christina Strom Fjaere
Me and the World Champion in Bikinifitness, the awesome Christina Strom Fjaere

As the competitor leans out, 90% of the time I transition into a more carb-based, and lower dietary fat diet. I add in some interval-based cardio at this point. I will keep carbs at a 120g minimum per day, and will keep omega-3 and 6 fats in there as they are essential, meaning your body can’t make them, you have to source them through your nutrition plan. This will only be for a short period, as fats are vital to proper hormone functioning and general health. I rarely do regular high-carb refeeds as they seem to be very unpredictable for women. Sometimes they work great, sometimes it takes up to a week to drop the added weight and it just feels like wasted time. I will, however, bump up carbs here and there if you get very tired or lethargic, in the range of 50-100g extra for 1 or 2 days, then drop back down. Slow, gradual adjustments are the key. Try cutting calories too hard and progress will invariably come to an abrupt halt. Try doing anything fancy, or wildly and randomly fluctuate calories, and progress will also slow or at least appear to be and frustrate both me and the competitor. Patience will be your best friend during a diet, so aim to lose only 1 lb – or 2mm average if you use skinfold calipers – every 10-14 days. Instead of worrying about daily weight fluctuations, they are not only inevitable but also normal – calculate a running average. Take the sum of the last 5-7 daily measurements and divide by number of days to get the average. Do the same a week later and compare – it evens out the daily variations.

To give you an idea, calories are rarely dropped by more than 150-200kcals per week and more often just 100kcals. Depending on how much training and cardio is being done, I will add more training instead of dropping calories the next time an adjustment is needed.

Still scared to up your carbs when low-carb diets have worked better for you in the past? Well, paranoia of getting in shape prevents most from experimenting with alternate approaches, and I can certainly understand that – so see for yourself what of the following categories you fit into:

This is what I notice is common in girls who do better with higher carbs:

Their extremities (hands and feet) are cold, they freeze a lot but will heat up and feel energetic after a high carb meal (a sign of good insulin sensitivity). They are usually the OCD type, stressing over minor details and don’t like frequent changes or deviations from their daily routine. They usually tolerate a lot of volume and struggle and feel burnt out if you have them do a lot of power type movements and heavy training. They beg me for the 1hr+ cardio sessions, but I prefer to take their need for volume out in the weight room – not on the treadmill. I will handle the cardio topic soon, though.

The low-carb girls are the opposite: run warmer body temps and experience hot flashes, give them carbs and they get sleepy and bloated. They love intervals and lifting heavy weights, are usually more laidback, and thrive on variety. Will follow the program if you tell them to, but get bored easily and just go through the motions and lose interest if you don’t change stuff around every week. I’ll just shift the carbs and proteins or food choices around a little now and then, change a few exercises here and there, just enough to keep them motivated. Carbs should be focused around workouts and/or in the last meal of the day, give them carbs for a whole day or consecutive days and they seem to lose their conditioning almost minute by minute. Some of this tends to go away over time, though,  which is why I usually increase carbs as they get leaner.

A top national fitness competitor I’ve worked with for almost 3 years now used to be a low-carb girl, and she would bloat up if she even looked funny at a bowl of rice. This last contest prep her carbs were in the 150-200g range for a majority of the prep, 130g at the lowest point the final 3-4 weeks. She got into the shape of her life, and this was without ANY fat burners, thyroid meds or hormone usage.

Now for the training.

Women tend to think they need to do pump and toning with light weights to avoid getting too muscular. That’s not going to happen with testosterone levels 1/50th of a guy, and it’s even less likely on a diet. Then just to top that off, you do cardio like a long distance runner because you want to burn as much fat as possible. While lengthening the muscles by doing Pilates and Yoga. Sure. What you’re really doing is sending mixed messages to your muscles, and even though Oxygen magazine or the buff personal trainer at the gym tells you that confusing the muscles is a good thing, this strategy will have you spinning your skinny-fat, cellulite-ridden wheels forever.

A planned and strategic change in certain variables will have a profound and positive effect, but trying to force your body adapt to what is essentially conflicting training goals is what I refer to as Jack of All Trades, Master of None. In simpler terms: Try to be good at everything and you will end up being beaten every time by the specialist. Crossfit is a perfect example of this fallacy, but I already pissed off the vegetarians earlier in the article, so I won’t go there. Today.

Tell your body to build its tolerance to long and slow enduring miles via a properly applied long-distance running program and you will be a good marathon runner. Tell your body to build large muscles by lifting a sufficiently heavy load, sufficiently many times (sets and reps), sufficiently often (frequency) to make the muscle adapt and grow larger and stronger and you will be a good physique competitor.

Tell your body to become faster and more explosive by doing short sprints with full recovery, low rep and explosive training with some strategic plyometrics and agility drills – and you will become a better track & field athlete, sprinter, fighter or dancer.

So why do girls think they will end up like some sort of superhuman hybrid if they combine all these different types of training into one Perfect Program? Long, slow miles build endurance champions, but they tend to look completely different from sprinters or dancers, don’t you think? Because the former is telling their muscle to become more energetically efficient, i.e. smaller and with increased oxidative capacity, i.e. strengthening the “aerobic engine”. The latter requires muscles displaying highly powerful and explosive contractions, with a highly developed ATP-CP and glycolytic system which – incidentally – is a fantastic sink for incoming carbs. A typical workout for a sprinter is 10-15 repeats from 10-100 meters with full recovery (walking) of 2-3 minutes in between. A total distance of 2000-3000m/1.5miles. They don’t even diet but think of food (and especially carbs) as fuel – and a lot of them could probably step right up on a fitness contest stage and place in the top 5 with ease. Far from the 60+ minutes of treadmill or spinning classes done by 95% of girls in gyms around the world, and how many toned butts do you see there?

And I don’t even like lots of running for women. Due to biomechanics, faulty technique and overuse of high-tech running shoes (read: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/magazine/running-christopher-mcdougall.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1) injury rate statistics actually show that only 15-20% get away with it long-term. Funny how those 80-85% who end up hurt think they belong to that 15-20% of Mommy’s special snowflakes who don’t.

Most of you probably put in hours of gym time every week to achieve a leaner and more athletic looking physique, so why would you even begin to think that training like a middle- to long-distance runner would accomplish this somewhat rare feat? You see, it’s not all about the caloric burn, it’s about what stimuli your body is receiving and adapting to. Since the heart rate monitor is telling you that 30 minutes of cardio burnt 200kcals, and since a magazine article told you that low/moderate-intensity cardio burns the most fat (%age-wise at least), you should go for 1-2hrs sessions if you REALLY want to burn fat. Right? Wrong, and it’s actually been shown both in research and in real life that the female body can preferentially mobilize fat from the upper body and store them right back in their lower bodies with long duration moderate-intensity cardio. Also, this type of cardio directly inhibits muscle growth, so you’re basically sabotaging your Butt Blaster/Thigh Master efforts as well. But hey, if you really want to keep that skinny-fat ass and legs, stop reading now and forget everything I just told you.

Sure, you may burn more fat DURING the session itself by doing low- and moderate intensity cardio, but what happens the remaining 22-23 hours of the day is of far more importance, don’t you think?  There’s a reason why most long-term studies show high-intensity intervals to be superior for fat loss. Even if it’s mainly glycolytic in nature and burns less calories on an acute basis, it will effectively tell your body to refill muscle glycogen stores from the carbs you’re eating, while burning fat as fuel when you are resting and recovering. You can probably see where I’m going with this – I like interval based cardio, and especially so for women.

With a caveat; and let me reiterate what I said earlier, women’s bodies are a complex survival machine. Cutting calories too much or doing too much activity will stop progress in its tracks, so don’t overdo the cardio aspect. You’re most likely already doing intense weight training 3-4+ days per week, which has a very similar neurological and biological impact and signaling effect as intervals, so stay on the conservative side and gradually build up your work capacity.

My favorite types of cardio for women:

  1. Sprint intervals. Start off with dynamic mobility work, followed by about 5 minutes of gradual warm-ups. Then it’s the sprint intervals: the next 5-15 minutes (start with 5 the first time out) you go hard (90-100% effort) for 5-15 seconds, easy for 45-60 seconds and repeat. End with a 10-15 minute cool-down (walking or easy jog) and stretching. Total duration for the whole session will be in the 20-30 minute range. Start with 1-2 sessions per week and increase up to a max of 2-3 sessions. And no, I don’t recommend Tabata intervals for most people. There are more interesting ways of killing yourself. Recommended activities for sprint intervals: hill or stair sprints, prowler/sled pushing or dragging, elliptical or rower set at high resistance, Airdyne bike.
  2. Tempo intervals, where you go at a slightly lower intensity (around 70-80% of max) for 30-60 seconds, easy for 90-120 seconds, and repeat. This is a popular type of workout for sprinters to add training volume without overtaxing the fast and explosive type II fibers. I limit total duration to 20-30 minutes here, as well. Get an idea of what 100% is to you, because when I say 70-80% speed/intensity that’s exactly where you need to be. Elliptical, rower, Airdyne bike, skipping rope, swimming, barbell/dumbell/kettlebell complexes and soft track or grass field running (with barefoot shoes). I don’t recommend longer 2-4 minute intervals for physique- or power and strength athletes, at all.
  3. Long duration moderate intensity cardio is something I use in moderation, as you’ve probably picked up on earlier. Also, no lactate threshold training, stick to lower intensities if you insist on longer duration cardio sessions. For recovery purposes or if you’re sedentary during the day – a brisk walk for 30-60 minutes is great, and it can be done on a daily basis as long as you don’t exceed a heart rate of 130-140bpm. I sometimes recommend this option exclusively, meaning no intervals if you’re already doing 4-5 high volume weight training sessions, and trying to improve your leg size and strength. Adding lots of intervals to this would probably destroy you and I’ve seen it happen all too many times.

If you’re competing in Athletic Fitness, you obviously need to row a lot for cardio, and you also need to imitate contest conditions where you’re often limited to 1min rest from the rowing event until dips and chins.

Progress from 2-3 cardio sessions per week all the way up to a maximum of 4-6 sessions, of which sprint intervals no more than 2-3 days per week, and tempo intervals 2-4 days per week. Watch for signs of overtraining/overreaching and sub in brisk walking if your legs begin to flatten out and feel tired. Doing too much high-intensity work when your recovery is already compromised by a caloric deficit is a seriously stupid idea, so don’t. Splitting it up into 2 or even 3 short sessions during a day is better than 1 long session, meaning 15 minutes morning and evening is better than 30 minutes in the morning. Something about stimulating the metabolism more often, as well as avoiding cortisol accumulation.

Also forget about that “pump and tone” stuff and making your workouts into cardio sessions. The same stimulus which built the muscle will be the one maintaining it. I know Crossfit is all the hype now, but I’m very ambivalent towards training complex lifts requiring both skill and coordination until failure with short rest periods. Yes, you can get strong, but in my experience you will get stronger and fitter by separating strength and cardio – and with less injury potential to boot.

Also consider the fact that women in general will do more reps at a given intensity than men due to neurological inefficiency, so do 5-8 rep training on a regular basis to keep strength levels up during a diet – even delving into 1-3 rep territory as long as you stay explosive and use long rest periods (2-5mins).

Here’s a typical training week deep into contest prep, about 4 weeks from the competition date – and this ONLY an example, not a template to copy indiscriminantly:

Monday:

Morning: Tempo intervals, 5min warm-up, 30secs high intensity, 90secs low intensity for 20mins, 5 min cool-down. 30min total duration. .

Afternoon: Shoulder pressing, side and bent laterals for shoulders, some triceps work

 

Tuesday:

Morning walk/jog for 15-20 minutes. Afternoon/Evening: Sprint intervals – 5 min warm-up, 10 x go hard for 10 secs, easy for 40 secs. Easy walking for 7 minutes. Total duration 20 minutes.

 

Wednesday:

Morning: 30min brisk walk

Afternoon: Barbell or DB complex: 8 explosive reps each of Bent Rows, Cleans, Front Squat, Shoulder Press, Squats, Good Mornings – moving directly from one exercise to the next. It’s a natural progression. Rest for 1 minute. Repeat the circuit 6 times.

 

Thursday:

40min brisk walk in the morning.

Afternoon: Lats and biceps, added delt work

 

Friday:

Morning: Tempo intervals, same as Monday

Afternoon: Chest, back – horizontal pulling focus (rows and deadlift variations) with some added glute/ham work.

 

Saturday:

20-30 min brisk walk and easy mobility work or rest

 

Sunday:

20-30min brisk walk in the morning (I occasionally have someone do sprint intervals on the same day as legs as it leaves more days for recovery)

Afternoon: Legs

 

The final week

I don’t play around too much with carbs at this point. The judges usually prefer the dry, hard look, and not fullness or vascularity as in a bodybuilder – so don’t try to carb up like a bodybuilder. What usually works best is just dropping down cardio to a bare minimum and increasing carbs ever so slightly for a few days at the beginning of the final week. Depending on conditioning, drop back down for the last couple of days to get rid of any subcutaneous water retention. If you need more fullness on contest day, add a couple of meals of carbs, fats and sodium before pre-judging and you should be good to go. Only if someone is really lean, somewhat stringy and flat and/or under-muscled will I try to improve their look by carbing them up more, but I still prefer to do that early in the week (Tuesday-Wednesday) and drop carbs back to diet levels Thursday and Friday (for a Saturday show) if they start spilling over.

Just keep water and sodium high throughout the week (5-8 liters is a good range – it will be hard the first couple of days then you adapt) and only drop sodium (don’t eliminate it) for the first meals on Friday, then bring it back in for the final meal or the first meals on Saturday depending on when pre-judging starts. Water is kept in the whole time, but Saturday you only need small sips between meals if you’re really thirsty. The rest is an individual adjustment process, so I can’t give you any cookie cutter routine here – it will depend on how you have responded to various diet manipulations on the way and how lean you are.

A trial run 2-3 weeks out will save you a lot of trouble, and take note on what days you look the best, but when in doubt – KISS. No, it wasn’t a romantic invitation. It means ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ and don’t waste 20 weeks of dieting by doing something overcomplicated and silly the last couple of days. Having a coach with a good eye to give you honest feedback and keep your head in check is not only a bonus, but a requirement unless you’ve competed many times and know your body inside out.

So there you have it, my contest prep tips for female fitness and bikini competitors, based on 50% science, 50% experience, and 50% stuff I made up as I wrote it. Yeah, I know it adds up to 150% but don’t let my math skills get in the way of rethinking your old strategy and taking something useful away from this article.

 

Coach Borge A. Fagerli

Oslo, Norway

coach@borgefagerli.com

67 Comments

  1. Btw, why “brisk” for brisk walks? I suppose the total work done counts here (since no post-training effects like EPOC should occur). If bodyweight and distance are the same, tempo doesn’t play role, or?

    • Well, you do get a higher caloric burn when walking briskly, because walking is “inefficient” for humans compared to running or just walking slowly. For cardiovascular purposes it also helps if you can get into a 50-60% of HRmax territory, it will improve heart function and overall recovery.

      • Sure there is cardio benefit from more intensive work. But more intensive aerobic work causes specific adaptations, which makes it inevitable the rise of the load to get same results, not saying that some of those adaptations are not wanted (muscle shrinking).
        On the other side, the NEAT-area work burns less calories and has no cardio benefits, but doesn’t cause any unwanted adaptations and still burns sone calories…

        Probably the dose of more intensive LISS work would make the difference… What do you think?

        • I’m actually not completely clear on what you’re asking, but to reiterate – too much of anything will stop progress in its tracks, and when it comes to cardio I prefer to both keep it separated from the stimulus created by weight lifting AND to limit its duration and intensity so as not to detract from the adaptions someone interested in displaying a lean and muscular physique is interested in.

          So some HIIT is good, some LISS for recovery is also good – but to be honest, you can get into great shape without any cardio whatsoever if you wish. I now spend at least 6 days per week in the weight room, and I don’t feel as if my cardiovascular conditioning has suffered from it – quite the contrary. I’m also stronger and my joints/muscles feel much better than when I lifted weights just 3-4 days per week.

  2. Utrolig interessant lesing!
    Jeg bare lurer på en ting angående sprintintervaller.
    Hva er grunnen til at pausene alltid er lengre enn selve intervalldraget i eksemplene du gir? 🙂
    Jeg har blandt annet løpt en del kortintervaller på 30 sek hvor jeg hopper av i 15 sek også pån igjen, alt fra 4-8 drag. Burde jeg gjøre de annerledes?

    • Det er ikke “alltid” sånn, men på sprintintervaller er det mer fokus på kvalitet og ikke bare på å bli sliten. Hvis pausene er kortere enn dragene vil du ikke få innhenting av ATP-Cp syklusen og dermed blir det mer glykolytisk – dvs treningseffekten blir mer lik lengre intervalldrag. Tabata-intervaller er jo et eksempel på dette – 20sek drag, 10sek rolig x 8 for totalt 4min.

    • When the body has a higher bodyfat to cover the deficit you can both run lower calories and a higher volume and/or frequency.

  3. Fantastic article, Borge. It’s so refreshing to see a thorough training and contest prep piece like this that concerns women, specifically. I’ll definitely be revisiting this page as I work with a friend who’ll be competing in the next few months. Thank you.

  4. I have loved reading this article. I am in the beginning of training for my second bikini competition. Unfortunately I fell off the wagon about 3 months after my last show and gained 10 lbs. So I started my training and dieting about 3 weeks ago and NOTHING has happened. A bit discouraged, until I read this article is quite refreshing. I have not taken my carbs out of my diet at all. I watch my calories at about 1500-1700. When it comes to cardio I HATE IT! lol. not to mention I just cant run…how do you recommend me starting?

  5. Wow I’m impressed. This is the first educated article about pre-contest and overall training and diet for women in awhile. Great job, keep up the witty posts.

  6. Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads
    up. The text in your article seem to be running off
    the screen in Ie. I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with internet browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know.
    The layout look great though! Hope you get the issue resolved soon.
    Kudos

    • Hmmm…not sure what the problem is, I use WordPress and everything looks fine in the other browsers (Chrome, Firefox) – I’m on Mac so I can’t check the formatting on IE. I’ll see what I can do – thanks for notifying me.

  7. Hi Borge

    Big fan of yours from the UK. Ive recently completed my first photoshoot and will be doing a second one in three months time this december. With regards to carbohydrates, for a lean male weighing 87kg, what amount of carbohydrates would you class as ‘low carb’? Without compromising loss of muscle mass in this phase of the diet.

    Thank you for your time.

    • That really depends on the rest of the diet, the deficit is the most important factor. Still, I would not recommend going below 150g carbs per day for a male physique competitor, bodybuilder or athlete.

  8. Wow, det var mange timer blogg og artikkel-lesing oppsummert i en og samme tekst. Og det med sammenheng, begrunnelser og i det hele tatt utrolig bra lesing!

    Fant meg selv oppi teksten her også; “low-carb girl”, det var jeg ikke klar over, men beskrivelsen passer på en prikk.

    Har et spørsmål, hva tenker du om rolig jogging 15-20 min etter 1 times styrke-økt. Har det noe for seg i positiv forstand når man ønsker å gå noe ned i fettprosent? Finner så mange forskjellige meninger om det rundt om uten begrunnelse. (Trener nå 3x styrke og 2x sprint intervall ukentlig)

    • Det er ganske poengløst, vi snakker om kanskje 70kcal ekstra forbrent – og man bør holde signalet for treningstilpasning så “rent” som mulig, dvs trener du styrke så hold deg i et visst repsområde og ikke legg inn høyrepstrening eller kardio – annet enn svært moderate mengder med sprintintervaller (vi snakker kanskje 6-8 x 10sek spurter totalt). Kardio kjører du på separate dager. Budskapet i denne artikkelen er vel også det at jeg bruker svært lite kardio for å få jenter i konkurranseform.

  9. Hi Borge,
    I loved this article – such great guidance for women! Thank you!!
    In terms of the macros you are suggesting here, I am wondering about the amounts of Fats required. If a 125 lb. women is aiming for a caloric intake of 1750 – 1g of protein/lb. and 80g. of carbs. comes out to only 820 calories. Does this mean the remaining 930 calories should come from good fats (roughly 100g) ??
    Thank you for your help and info. Keep the posts coming!

    • Yes, if you really think you should diet with such low carbs, then that is what you need for fats. I would be wary of a low carb diet unless you are doing low intensity training and/or have a lot of bodyfat to lose, and it doesn’t sound like you do when you only weight 125lbs.

  10. Your info was very helpful I’d like to start putting together my own program what it the bet way to get continuous info so I can grow in my knowledge and not get bored right now I’m overweight for me after 2 kids and I workout and have always been fit and exercised but at this point my body won’t let go of anything and I just stay the same it is frustrating and depressing.

    • Your body does not have a mind of its own, and there is no reason why you can’t get back into shape. Moderation and Patience are the key words here, just take your time and eat balanced instead of thinking you can starve yourself into shape 🙂 Good Luck and Merry Christmas.

  11. thanks for such a great post.
    i found very low carb/high fat lifestyle very good for me.i hope i can make a great body for next 20 maybe more weeks)

        • I cannot provide specifics (outside of the guidelines already given in the article) without knowing anything about you or working with you.

      • the problem is that i always too sleepy and lazy to workout when i eat carbs.so am pretty scared to up them.i feel full on fat and can workout hard and fast) …i don’t know what to do!?

          • thanks a lot.
            my workout at morning.do i need eat my carbs after workout or like you said save it to final meal?best gluten free complex carbs?

          • Again – I can’t provide specifics, it would depend completely on the rest of the diet and how you respond to carbs (depends on insulin sensitivity, bf%, training intensity and -duration) – but I generally allow some carbs (20-30g) in the post-workout meal irrespective of workout time. I recommend that you lift weights in the afternoon, though (between 3-7PM) as that is when your circadian rhythm is optimized for heavy loads and the training effects thereof.

  12. thanks a lot) i will try this strategy.
    i think am very insulin sensitive.when i started to cut my carbs,less i ate them,more happy and energized i felt)
    i regular workout with weights(4 times a week),but between 7-12 AM.should i add some carbs post workout and add more carbs at evening meal too,or just one evening carb meal is better?
    P/S am living on high fat ketogenic diet right now.it helps me drop my fat from 28 to 22 for half year.but i really want to get lower and look dry)

    • It is easy to get fooled by the euphoria from cutting carbs, as this is a stress response. The longer you do this, the worse off you will be. I recommend you follow the advice in the article, in fact I would advise you to increase your carbs to at least 150g per day.

  13. Great article! Especially the part about girls who may need
    higher carbs. I’ve been struggling with this…I think I am a higher carb girl
    but not 100% sure. Right now my macros are at 40/40/20, how much should I increase my carbs to test if I do perform better with more?? I’m 5’8″, 138lbs.-right now taking in close to 226 grams (thats my avg for past 30 days).

    • Read my other comments here. I don’t do macros by percentages, I work out caloric needs, set protein, and then adjust the fat/carb amounts according to individual needs – e.g. higher bf% and lower intensity/volume training I scale back carbs and have a higher fat:carb ratio. So knowing nothing about you or working with you, I can’t give you any meaningful answers.

  14. Great article! What do you consider a high body fat percent? Im sitting at about 23% (female, 137lbs, 5’5) Do you recommend going low carb (>80g) while still weight training?

    • That is considered a normal bf%, although you are still within a range where it is easy to get you leaner, but I rarely recommend low carb diets unless you are sedentary.

  15. 2 years ago I was in the best shape of my life. I was consistent, slow And steady and a achieved a lean physique of 125 lbs and 10.5% BF (I’m 5’6″) and have 3kids. I maintained between 10.5%-12.5% for quite some time. I was trained by a master’s body builder who has very similar training/diet philosophies as you describe in this blog. I hit a wall with some tragic things life threw my way. I won’t belly ache about the details but I have literally back slid so much I’m totally embarrassed. This trainer is no longer available, but I’m trying to get things going again. I trust the process and know I can do this!

    I am now 160lbs (eeek) and unsure about my body fat percentage. I would not consider myself sedentary at all, just inconsistent with formal exercise but i have a very physical job, lots of manuel labor.

    Where do you think I fit with being in a caloric deficit or lowering my carbs for initial fat loss?

    • Yeah, sometimes life happens – you just have to learn instead of dwell, then move on.

      You would obviously have to be in a deficit to initiate fat loss. Whether that caloric reduction comes from fat, carbs, protein or a combination depends on what you are doing now.

  16. Thank you, I appreciate your feedback! How low should you go with carbs? My understanding was to never go below 80g per day, but preferably not under 100g. thoughts? Also, what do you think of carb cycling or intermittent fasting?

    • I thought my recommendations in the article was pretty clear. To give you a real world example, I have girls weighing 120lbs getting into contest shape on 200g of carbs per day. The carbs and calories are cycled throughout the day via the Biorhythm Diet, so a moderate protein serving (0.2-3g/kg bodyweight) + low(ish) carbs and fats early in the day (I recommended more fats early in the day in the previous versions of the Biorhythm Diet but found that pushing calories including fats towards the end of the day improved results). Post-workout and later in the day, everything goes up to support the anabolic phase – which only lasts 12-16hrs in advanced trainees, up to 24-48hrs in beginners and intermediates.

  17. Excellent article, I’ve got 14 weeks until my second bikini competition and will definietely be implementing some of your strategies. Particularly the cardio aspect- I dislike LISS so was very happy to read this!
    Thank you 🙂

  18. Hi,

    I really enjoyed reading this blog. I am 9weeks out for first figure competition. I am an endurance athlete and I started training 14weeks ago. I have been training for 14 weeks and my body has changed so much. I have to say even training for a marathong didn’t get my body to look fit. I have 3 children and this is the first time I can see my abs. Your advise here is right on point on what I have been doing and my coach’s advise. He put a cap on my mileage because he knows how much I like to run, and I am a small girl. This week, my cardio will have some intervals instead of my jogging pace. My weitht didn’t change much in the first two months, however, my body composition did. I lost a lot of fat, gained muscle and strength. 9weeks out, the lower body is usually more difficult to shape for a woman, (I have a latin butt), so I have my work cut out for the next a couple months. I will keeping a good balance between strengh and cardio after competition. Thanks so much for the blog. Here is my progress in the firt two months. I have not updated this because I am waiting until the end of October to show my progress.

    http://mamalatinaysaludable.blogspot.com/2014/09/pumping-iron-10-week-progress.html

    • Thank you for the kind words, Gabriela – those are some awesome results, so just hang in there…we men prefer the latina butt so don’t go too hard now, ok? 🙂

  19. Hi Borge,
    I am a female 120 lbs 22% body fat and I’m 5’7. I’m unsure of where to go from here. Do I lean out? Eat at maintenance? 16x body weight? Start weight training obviously , but how about hiit? Is 3x a week as you laid out appropriate? Thanks so much!!!

    Also I had a coach tell me I could be contest ready in 15 weeks? Is this a legitimate claim?

    • I set up diets based on an extensive review of your stats and lifestyle, so I cannot provide any generic answers. I use very little cardio with my female clients, as already covered in the article. If you want to do a contest you would obviously have to lean out. See where your calories are at now and whether you are maintaining at that level. Leaning out would simply mean creating a caloric deficit, but things may go in the right direction just from increasing food quality and doing a few timing adjustments – and maybe just increasing general activity level if you are sedentary (NEAT).

      Where did you get 22% from, though? Calipers, DXA, Tanita/BIA?

      I prefer to take at least 20-24 weeks of contest prep with female clients unless they are really lean already. It can be done in 15 weeks, but you will suffer – and I am not a coach who let my clients suffer just because we want to see what can be done in a given time span.

  20. Hello Borge,

    I know you are not the biggest fan of cardio but I`d like to hear your thoughts on that one.

    My question is about longer, low frequency cardio vs. shorter, high frequency cardio.
    So in terms of weight training we already know that higher frequency ist better for hypertrophy. But what about cardio?

    Let`s say we have to twins. Both do everything the same (weight training, diet).
    But cardio is different:

    Twin 1: 45 Minutes once a week
    Twin 2: 10 Minutes 6 times a week which equals to 60 Minutes over the week

    Twin 2 gets more overall time over a week but Twin 1 does a longer session.
    Which one is more optimal for fat loss?

    To clarify, it`s no HIIT. It`s a faster kind of steady state.

    Thank you in advance for your time.
    Mark

  21. Hi,

    I’m 15 weeks from comp and I have been cutting for a few weeks now and lost about 4kg. I am the girl you described with the cold hands and feet and OCD and do better with higher carbs, found this out through experience. My PT has put me on a staggered diet and if I’m honest I don’t think it’s going to suit me. Each day is completely different and it’s not much different to the carb cycle diet which I have previously tried and found that I lost too much muscle and almost passed out at work (I sit at a desk!). I hold most of my fat in the stomach and my arms and legs are pretty lean already. What kind of diet would you recommend for me?

    Thanks

    Charlene

    • It sounds like you’re having a rough time, indeed. I have a rule of not interfering with a contest prep of other coaches, as a professional courtesy, so I would communicate your concerns with him/her.

  22. Sorry you are so ill informed about plant based diets…as for out running anyone, let’s be real the best ultra marathon runner in the world actaully is vegan. So is Mr Universe. And Serena Williams. And Venus Williams…
    And as a woman, if you care about preserving your looks/bones you should look into soy and how it helps women stay youthful.
    There is a reason that there is not even a word for ‘menopause’ in Asian society…Asian women do not suffer from menopause as Western women do, this is due to their soy intake.
    I am a vegan figure competitor and it’s so easy to lean out and keep muscle on, I wonder why people don’t go vegan just for leaning out purposes. Then eat meat when they are ‘bulking’ or whatnot.
    To each his own but I ate meat for 28 years and at 36 people think I am 24 when at 26 people thought I was 30.
    I also live at 10-12% body fat eating whatever I want. That never happened when I ate meat.
    You should do some more research into a plant based lifestyle before you assume you are bigger/stronger/faster/better than us.
    (I am a nutritionist and personal trainer as well so I am not just ‘defending’ my eating choices)
    I mean look how many famous body builders have died from heart issues and/or ended up fat/obese/injured by the end of their careers…Then look at someone like Jack LaLane who practically invented modern fitness, vegetarian, lived into his 90’s…Or Serna Williams who at age 35 is still ranked #1 in the world.
    And let’s add Serena is JACKED. Right? RIGHT.
    Food for thought.

    • It is interesting to notice that out of all nutritional directions, the vegans and vegetarians are the most vocal and defensive. Resorting to ad hominems and strawmen isn’t a very nice way to argue your point, is it? I’ve never said I am better than anyone for choosing to eat meat. I would also not use examples of individuals looking or feeling great to prove that one diet is better than another, as we could both provide examples of people feeling horrible on the same type of diet, and so it proves nothing.

      But – I will admit that this article is old, and many of my views have changed. I have no doubts that you can thrive on a vegetarian diet, or at least go meat free, as I believe there are nutrients in both eggs and dairy that would only help, and outside of an ethical conviction I see no reason why one would abstain from foods that animals produce even if you abstain from eating the animal itself. To each his own, and I would suggest you adopt a more accepting attitude towards people not following your own nutritional philosophy. I have.

  23. I am a woman, who have been eating all whole food, some carbs (specially after training and before bed around 7G total), some fat (away from the carbs preferably around 70g) and the rest in protein 120-140g a day, everything from good sources. Consuming around 1100 kcal. Only thing off is a little dessert on the weekend.
    I am muscular, training 1 or 2 days functional with bands and some weights. Then other 3 days I do cardio, sometimes HIIT, sometimes regular cardio. I also walk a lot and move a lot. But my weight and fat doesnt seem to budge. I have been decreasing my cals but I dont want to go any lower because of my hormones and metabolism. What do you think is happening here?

    • I think this deficit is completely overkill, and I can remember having someone that low in calories ONCE in my lifetime as a coach – and that was a very short-term strategy because someone had messed up badly on their diet and was behind for their competition. I might also use low-calorie days in this range with someone, but only 2-3 days per week with the remaining days at maintenance level or above.

      I would suggest you recalculate your calories, set up a deficit more in line with what is reasonable (20-30% max) and have more patience. You are only setting yourself up for a yo-yo or starve/binge cycle with your current approach.

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