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How to Diet for a Bodybuilding Competition

Bodybuilding competitions are serious business, and contenders zeroing in for a shot at winning will need to adjust their diets in the weeks leading up to competition day.

While ensuring your training routine is airtight and you’re practicing the right exercises to bolster the appropriate muscles is important, you’ll also need to know what to eat and how to eat it if you want to succeed. 

So, how should you diet for a bodybuilding competition? There are lots of things you can do depending on how far out you are from the competition... 

The below tips will assume that you have at least 4 weeks before competition day:


Prioritize Powerhouse Foods, and Often!

First and foremost, you need to prioritize certain types of food. Many bodybuilders will eat chicken as their primary source of protein during the off-season. However, lots of bodybuilders (including Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was in his prime), also eat red meat during contest preparation. 

In addition to protein, you’ll need to consume plenty of carbohydrates. Steamed rice is a great example, as it gives your body fuel to continue your workout regimen without adding tons of fats or sodium to your diet. 

You'll also need to eat plenty of steamed vegetables to ensure your body gets the fiber and vitamins it needs to stay healthy, particularly as you strain it significantly in the days leading up to the competition. 

For the best results, try to eat six meals per day, once every 2.5 hours or so. If you’re working out lots as you should be before a bodybuilding competition, you'll likely be hungry enough to eat it all!

Track Your Calories & Macros

Another major part of your diet involves tracking your calories and macronutrients. For example, many bodybuilders will peak their carbohydrate intake at about five weeks out from the competition, and then gradually drop how many carbs they eat every few days. Eventually, they eat primarily protein to guarantee that their muscles are popping on competition day. 

Count your calories and try to keep track of which macronutrients you consume and how often. Doing this will allow you to taper down your carb intake and gradually shift your diet to include more protein leading up to competition day, while still ensuring that you eat enough calories to maintain energy levels.

Monitor Your Sodium Intake

One last diet tip to keep in mind is sodium monitoring. At four weeks out from the competition, you need to start monitoring how much sodium your body absorbs. You will need some sodium to compensate for the electrolytes you lose during cardio and your training regimen; but you don't want to overdo it, either.

To that end, it’s a good idea to reduce sodium gradually so your muscles pop during the competition. Here’s a basic breakdown schedule: 

  • 1 week until the competition:  Reduce your sodium to 3500 mg/day 
  • 5 days until the competition:  Consume 1500 mg of sodium/day 
  • 2 days until the competition:  Consume 1000 mg of sodium/day 
  • 1 day until the competition:  Cut down to only 800 mg of sodium
By doing this, your body will efficiently shed subcutaneous water, but it won’t do so unsustainably or make you feel depleted.

Naturally, there’s a lot more that goes into a top-tier bodybuilding diet and you can get really detailed with your nutrition intake. But, the above tips will help you start on the path to victory! 

Thanks for reading, 

Justin | MME Wellness Contributor

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