Not sure your competition diet is effective? Ingrid Barclay shares some warning signs to look out for.
Q: I know that you are a very experienced contest prep coach, so I would like to ask a question. I have been given a diet by a local personal trainer, as I wasn’t really in a position to afford a proper coach. I have some reservations about the diet that the PT has given me. Can you offer any suggestions on what I should or shouldn’t be concerned with?
A: I think the way to tackle this is, I will share four warning signs that your comp diet is not a good diet and/or you are going to pay for it on some level ranging from catastrophic (and no, I am not being a drama queen here) to medium-level health and emotional consequences that you will have to work extremely hard at for quite a period of time to overcome.
Disclaimer: This is not a science-based post. It is my personal opinion based on my years in the industry with a lot of proficiency in both prescribing, influencing and giving competition plans — and yes, upon reflection, this includes some poor ones; we all make mistakes and improve our approach — and also a lot of experience both talking to and working with competitors who have done it in a catastrophic way and worked on overcoming the end result of incredible disillusionment and metabolic repression/breakdown. I have actually witnessed it in men as well as women, although I would argue that women tend to have more emotional and hormonal issues post-comp.
Now, counting down the warning signs:
4. No evidence of essential fats
You MUST have omega 3s and preferably omega 6s as a dietary source on your diet plan. Any knuckle-brain personal trainer or self-proclaimed contest coach can ensure you have ‘fats’ in your diet. But if you are looking at whole egg or avocado, as an example — well great; I am not saying they are not great foods (indeed they are). What I am saying is that these kinds of fats are not good enough. Ah, but you also have coconut oil. Sorry, coconut oil doesn’t cut the mustard. This is my opinion, so I can argue this is bogus ‘It’s good fats’ at its best. Don’t get all in a fluster and assume that I am anti-coconut oil. You aren’t reading this right. I am saying you need to see evidence of dietary sources of anti-inflammatory fats or your diet is a poor one and I would seek to make some additions immediately.
Trust me when I say this: omega 3s optimally improve your health on every level — from brain cognition through to fat metabolism and everything in between.
3. A removal of a complete macronutrient
OK, one exception. Given that alcohol is technically a macronutrient — if that is not on your plan, excellent! All jokes aside, if you are missing a) protein, b) carbohydrate or c) fats — so a no-fat comp diet, or a no-carb comp diet — FIRE your coach because they aren’t knowledgeable enough and get the heck out of dodge. (There are the very occasional exceptions here, as with everything).
What are vegetables and salad ingredients? Yep, that’s right — carbohydrates. So if you have no starchy carbs but your diet does, this does not mean you are on a no-carbohydrate diet! Unless you aren’t even allowed to eat a lettuce leaf. If you aren’t allowed to eat a lettuce leaf, please fire your coach. Immediately, swiftly and with great resoluteness — time to move on.
2. All up you have only anywhere between three and five ‘colours’ of foods
Example? OK, if for the express part of your daily nutrition you arrange your meal plate and it resembles brown, white and green, you honestly need to re-think the diet plan you were given. It is unnecessary but, more importantly, it coincides with the purpose of this response to your question — highlighting that you are, as sure as the sun comes up tomorrow, going to have health complications and difficulties because of it.
Limiting your food sources to this extent is, in my belief, not conducive to good health. There is plenty of social proof that, especially combined with other aspects of an ill-advised competition preparation (too much cardio, not enough sleep etc.), side effects will include: massive food sensitivities post-comp, hair falling out, disordered eating with ‘normal’ foods such as a carrot for heaven’s sake, lack of less important but still vital trace minerals and vitamins… and the list goes on.
If you cannot eat a piece of yellow corn or a green pea or some lovely orange capsicum or dark purple beetroot because you are ‘hardcore competition dieting’ — then more fool you.
My advice? Seek advice elsewhere. Or ask your coach/trainer why. If you don’t get a really, really exceptionally great answer that truly sits well with you (and mark my words, you WON’T get a good enough answer), go off and find yourself another diet because your current one is not going to serve you well.
1. Calories way too low
My top ‘walk away from that diet’ plea is definitely to take a good hard look at the total number of calories and ensure that there is enough there for you to function on. If the diet you have been given gets your calories down to somewhere around 90–75 per cent of your BMR (basal metabolic rate) then it really is going to wreak so much havoc on you, I would argue permanently, that you should just ask for a refund. Don’t jump on my 10–25 per cent BMR or assume for one second that I think doing a diet that has calories that do not even cover your BMR AT REST (so, not even including your weight training and cardio) expenditure on top is OK. Again, don’t mis-read what I have written. I don’t think it’s OK. I don’t think it is safe, nor good for you.
But, and this is the but, I know for a fact that there are coaches who put their clients, both male and female, on calories that do not cover their BMR, especially in the last 10 weeks or so before comp. Fact: There will be some male and female bodybuilders/figure girls/sports models with these diets in their hands right now that they are sticking to for this season (season A 2015). Fact: They will follow them. Fact: They not only don’t meet BMR requirements, they are WELL under BMR requirements. Fact: They are going to suffer. Terribly.
This kind of level of insufficient calories is crazy and please don’t think that you are somehow going to escape the physiological and physical repercussions of such an approach. Not even as a male.
Some kind of guide:
White flashing light: Diet ‘seems to be pretty low’ in calories but you have worked it out and it is low, but 20–40 per cent above BMR requirements (plus exercise).
Orange flashing light: Diet hits your BMR requirements (plus exercise).
Double red flashing lights: Diet is 10–25 per cent under your BMR requirements (plus exercise).
I hope this helps enable you to now go and review the diet plan that your trainer has given you so that you can ensure that it covers these four salient points to keep your comp prep journey healthy and happy. Being shredded is awesome and it may win your comp but it’s not worth the after-effects. It’s a bit like winning the battle but not the war.
Photo credit: Neveux