Below is a summary of the transformation I put my then Personal Training colleague and now business partner (of RNTFitness.co.uk), Akash through:
This is a fully comprehensive write up from my 2014 bodybuilding contest season where I competed twice, taking 4th in a warm up show, and 1st in my main show. What I want to show in this write-up is show step-by-step what it takes to go from 13-15% all the way to stage condition. To kick this section of the blog off, we want to show one of our own transformations. This one was cool because it was my first bodybuilding show, and I was prepped by Adam throughout.
After competing in powerlifting at the tail end of 2013, I asked Adam to take over my nutrition as I wanted to put on more size. Around February, Adam suggested I look at competing in bodybuilding. I agreed, and so in March we started dieting at 17 weeks out, and having topped the ‘growth phase’ out on 4000 calories a day.
Phase 1: The beginning…
17 weeks out: 83.8kg.
The first set of macros given by Adam were as below:
Pro – 230g
Fats – 100g
Carbs – 290g
The base diet was set out as follows:
Breakfast: 2 Wild Alaskan Salmon Fillets, 30g Butter, Mixed Veg
Meal 2 (pre workout): 150g Chicken/Turkey, 80g Basmati Rice, Mixed Veg
Intra Workout: 20g EAA, 50g Glycofuse
Meal 3 (post workout): 150g Chicken/Turkey, 80g Basmati Rice, Mixed Veg
Meal 4: 150g Chicken/Turkey, 80g Basmati Rice, 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, Mixed Veg
Meal 5: 150g Chicken/Turkey, 80g Basmati Rice, 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, Mixed Veg
This looks pretty bland on paper, but in all honesty, it’s what I function best off (the chicken was pretty much cooked as per this Indian recipe).
This was one of the hardest parts of the diet, with about a 1000kcal immediate drop as well as a serious cleaning up of the diet- no more chocolate, takeaways and pizzas on weekends for a while!
Training: Four days a week, Upper/Lower split.
A sample upper body workout was as follows:
A1. Flat Paused Bench Press, 4 sets of 6 – last set AMRAP. 21X0. 90s.
A2. Neutral Grip Chin Up 4 sets of 6 – last set AMRAP. 30X0. 90s
B. Standing Press Behind the Neck – 1 set of 8-12 + 50% set. (This is basically a set done to failure in the 8-12 rep range, before resting 60 seconds and going for as many as you can again. In the second set, you want to aim for at least half the reps of the first set. I borrowed this technique from reading Ken Leistner’s articles, an excellent writer in the Iron Game. It was more recently brought into the spotlight by strength coach Paul Carter too, so credit is due there.)
C. One Arm Deadstop Dumbbell Row – 2 sets of 8-10, 10-15. 21X0.120s.
D1. Seated Hammer Curls, 3 sets of 8-12. 3011. 60s
D2. Dumbbell Floor Press, 3 sets of 8-12 2110. 60s
E. Standing Laterals, 3 sets of 20/15/10. 1011. 45s.
This was pretty much how I was training for the previous three months prior to the diet as well. It had a strong focus on setting rep PRs, and pushing progressive overload as much as possible in some form or another. After a couple months of high volume work, this came as a nice change which produced some great results.
The key here was to stay simple, and to begin with all I was taking was the following:
General: Vitamin D3 5000iu 3-4x a week, Probiotic daily
Intra workout: 20g EAA with 50g glycofuse
15 weeks out: 82.4kg
As expected, two weeks later, I was down about 3 pounds and on track, with the diet becoming more routine now. No changes made.
14 weeks out: Introduce carb/calorie cycling.
This week saw a change in macros with the introduction of some light carb/calorie cycling. After three weeks of linear calories, we introduced a very small drop on rest days to keep things ticking along nicely.
Pro – 230g
Fats – 90g
Carbs – 260g
Pro – 230g
Fats – 90g
Carbs – 210g
13 weeks out: A change in training
Having trained at full throttle for the last 6 months without much of a break, I decided to take 10 days off training, much to Adam’s disapproval (/panic!). Knowing I had 13 weeks of hard work to go, and having come to the end of my program, it seemed like the perfect time to let everything recover. I wouldn’t usually advise it, and probably would have been better to have scheduled it prior to starting.
After taking a week off training, I decide to look for a different and more specific approach heading into the competition. This led to hiring Jon Stewart, a strength coach based in Canada, part of the coaching group ‘The Strength Guys’. If you’re anything like me when it comes to writing your own programs, I often get myself into a state of paralysis by analysis, and will think of the endless way I could make it better. To get rid of this stress pre-contest, I hired out. By doing so, it also gave me an opportunity to learn and have an objective eye on my training.
Training was changed from 4 day upper/lower split to a 5 day program, on the following split:
Monday: High volume legs
Tuesday: High volume upper body
Wednesday: Posterior chain / legs
Friday: Heavy upper body
Saturday: Heavy legs
As you can see, legs were the focal point. With no cardio being done at this stage, hitting the legs three times a week was possible (albeit not fun!).
The above split was programmed for 6 weeks, with a deload in week 4.
Supplementation: 3g creatine and 4g beta alanine was added at this point to the intra workout shake.
These two are staples for most bodybuilders for the plain and simple fact that it works. There’s a ton of research and anecdotal evidence supporting its use, and arguably two of the few ‘performance’ enhancing supplements that actually work. When dieting, these can be great for retention of muscle mass.
12 weeks out: 80.9kg
Now at twelve weeks out and on track, the first real big ‘social’ event came up. When it comes to bodybuilding contest prep, you have to remember that the choice to compete was yours. Therefore, life goes on. What makes a successful prep even better is knowing you managed to still maintain your relationships with your family, friends and partners. As long it’s not all the time, adjusting your food intake around to take into consideration social events won’t do you any harm, as long as it’s done clever and well deserved.
For myself, I had two birthdays on back-to-back days. The first meal I went for a big steak and large chips. We decided to keep myself in a deficit this day, so compensated with minimal fats and reduced carbs during the day. The next day however, was the first free meal of the diet so far. The plan for the day was eat as normal during the day, and then to eat sensibly but enjoy the last meal of the day, in order to provide a mini-spike in calories.
Phase Two: The Easy Bit…
Why do I call this the easy bit? Well, you’re now in the routine of things, calories are still pretty high, energy is good and you’re getting great pumps in the gym. This is often the phase where you might even set some PBs in the gym, as you’re training hard towards the end goal, whilst still feeding your body with enough fuel.
Here’s where we left off…
11 weeks out: 79.9kg
At around 11-12 weeks out, I also started proper posing practice on a more regular basis, which is a highly overlooked aspect of the whole prep. If you can’t present yourself on stage properly, no amount of training, dieting and cardio will make up for it!
Being out of practice, it’s no surprise I’m making the faces I am in the pictures!
10 weeks out: 79.1kg
It was at this point we did our first refeed, which considering my daily base diet wasn’t too much of an increase in the way of total calories, but more just a spike in carbohydrates. We will cover why spiking carbohydrates primarily can be beneficial hormonally (think leptin), especially later down the line as you get leaner.
The first refeed macro split were as follows:
Cardio: At ten weeks out, we also brought in some low intensity, steady state cardio to be done first thing fasted, four times a week for 20 minutes. This was simply a brisk walk outside first thing in the morning, and I completed them on my two upper body days and two rest days.
Without making this a debate on whether fasted cardio is more beneficial than doing it in a fed state, let’s clear it up now: there is no difference…physiologically speaking that is.
The calories you will burn will be the same, especially when it comes to low intensity work, whereby there is very little ‘after-burn’ as seen in more high intensity protocols. From a psychological standpoint however, I prefer doing it fasted. Getting some fresh air and headspace first thing in the morning can be great mentally and really set you up for the day. I find myself a lot more focused and productive after a morning brisk walk outside, and as a result keep it in year-round 2-4 times a week for these benefits.
Supplementation: 200mg caffeine plus 1g Tyrosine was added prior to the cardio.
To put it very, very simply, the caffeine was added to increase adrenaline release and help further mobilisation of fatty acids prior to cardio, which will help ‘burn them’.
Tyrosine was added to further augment the catecholamine response with caffeine. It acts as a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has the ability to convert to noradrenaline and adrenaline. This is especially good during times when the body is in fatigue and stress, such as during a contest prep diet.
To read more about our thoughts on different cardio and supplement protocols for contest prep, and when we may use what, look out for an upcoming blog series, where we’ll go into it with a little more detail.
9 weeks out: 77.9kg
Despite dropping at a good pace, Adam decided to step things up and get more aggressive at this point, so a big drop in calories from fats and carbs were in order. This was primarily because we now set our sights on getting ready by 10-14 days out.
Cardio: Increase fasted cardio to 4x a week 30 mins
Supplementation: Intra workout carbs reduced from 50g to 30g. Whilst taking carbs away closest to the workout may seem counter intuitive, this was simply to keep more solid food in the diet.
8 weeks out: 77.4kg
The second refeed of the prep so far was added this week on leg day, with the following macros:
Cardio: To try something new and shock the body into more fat loss, the 4×30 min fasted walks were switched to 3x HIIT sessions (10 rounds of 20s sprint, 1min 40sec active recovery) on leg days as a separate session (later in the day), with one walk on Sunday mornings.
The HIIT was a blend of hill sprints on pavement, grass and the use of a Wingate bike.
Why did we do this?
When I asked Adam, he was honestly just trying something new with me, and wanted to experiment. Digging a little deeper, I actually found research to back this method up. Few well-published studies showed 3 sessions of HIIT for two weeks can rapidly up regulate enzymes involved in fat oxidation.
Why HIIT on leg day?
The key here is to do it separately from your leg workout, later in the day. Normally, the advice would be to do it on your rest days. Whilst logically sound, the worst thing you could possibly do when training legs already three times a week is to pound them with sprints on your days off leg training. Recovery is an overlooked aspect of program design, especially during prep. By placing cardio in this manner, recovery will not be affected.
Phase 3: The Grind
7 weeks out: 77kg
After 6 weeks of training legs three times a week, there was a change in the weekly training structure, with a focus on more volume/less intensity, upper body frequency and increased isolation work. The split utilised below was adopted to maximise my strengths and fine tune the physique that I had, now that I was too deep into a calorie deficit to make any real muscle gains.
The new split was as follows:
Monday: High volume legs and biceps
Tuesday: Chest, triceps and shoulders
Wednesday: Back and biceps
Thursday: Heavy quads, chest, triceps and shoulders
Friday: Posterior chain, back and biceps
Saturday: Chest, triceps and shoulders
The above included a lot more traditional bodybuilding work, although to keep it enjoyable for myself and help maintain muscle mass, there were still elements of the heavy powerlifts at the start of most sessions. Remember, what you built your muscle with is what you will keep your muscle with. I had spent the last few years training with the big lifts, so suddenly dropping them pre-contest, like many do, would have been a big mistake.
6 weeks out: 74.8kg
At six weeks out, I was starting to come in nicely. From the back, I was pretty much almost ready, except for my lower back. From the front there was still some work to be done.
At this point, we introduced regular refeed days on my one day off on Sunday, with the following macros:
Cardio: After the two weeks of HIIT, we removed it and went back to steady state low intensity work. From now, it was to be done fasted 6 days a week for 45 minutes. This was a big jump from before, but according to Adam, although I was close from the back, I was a little behind on the front, so we needed to kick things up a notch.
This week was a tough week, and easily the hardest week of the prep so far. Training and doing cardio 6 days a week led to a substantial drop in weight, as well as an overall feeling of tiredness and fatigue that was starting to build.
It was also at this stage we decided to do a ‘warm up’ show in 3 weeks time, the Southern Qualifier, which was to be held in Fareham, as an opportunity to ‘test’ some show day strategies.
5 weeks out: 74.4kg
The carbohydrate load in the refeed now was increased to 500g on the same day, with the protein and fat being kept the same. A day after, I was only up a pound, indicating we may have hit the sweet spot with the increased amount.
Supplementation: At this point, we added Yohimbine HCL to the pre cardio stack alongside caffeine and tyrosine. We started it at 7.5mg, and increased it 2.5mg a day up to 15mg (providing no symptoms).
Yohimbine has been noted for its benefits for helping with ‘stubborn fat’ by its action as an antagonist to the alpha-2 receptors in the body. These receptors are common in sites of the body that tend to preferentially accumulate fat. For men, this is lower back and abs, and for women, hips and thighs. For more information on how we use it, along with some great 12 week protocols with it, look out for a future piece by Adam Hayley.
4 weeks out: 72kg
This week saw a large decrease in bodyweight. My bodyweight during the week went as so:
Monday: 74.9kg (after refeed)
Due to the drop, the refeed macros for the day were as follows:
The additional fat was added in last meal of the day for some extra calories.
This also marked one week out from the first show. We decided to do no ‘peak week / deload’, and instead treating this week as a normal week with same diet, training and cardio. With the main show in four weeks time, we didn’t want to lose out on time to be burning more fat.
The Warm Up Show
The day before the show, we did a refeed on the following macros:
Prior to bed, Adam asked me to take 4g Vitamin C before bed. The theory here was simply to increase levels of diuresis.
As mentioned, this show was merely used as a ‘warm up’ for the peak in three weeks time. Coming in with very little expectations, I placed fourth in a close line up, and just missed out on a British invite.
Below is how the day planned out in terms of nutrition. It worked out to be about 10,000 calories in total.
6am- 500ml water plus 2g Vitamin C
7am- 225g lamb rump steak, 1 small banana, 60g oats, 2g Vitamin C, 500ml water
9am- 100g chicken, 60g rice, sips of water now
11am- Subway- foot long meatball marinara
12.15pm-12.45pm- rice cakes and Nutella at 10-15 min intervals
12.45- 1.15pm- sips of coke and 6-8 squares 85% dark chocolate whilst pumping up
1.20pm- Symmetry and muscularity rounds
2pm- Haribos and Coke, rehydrate
3pm- 100g chicken, 60g rice, 5 square 85% dark chocolate
4pm-4.45pm- rice cakes and Nutella at 10-15 min intervals
5pm-5.15pm- Haribos whilst pumping up
5.20pm- Posing routine and compulsory finals
6pm- rice cakes and Nutella, Haribos and Jelly Babies
7.30pm- half rack ribs, 225g rib eye steak, chips and rice
11pm- 100g chicken, 60g rice, 5 square 85% dark chocolate
The day was fun and a great experience, and not just because I got to eat my week’s intake in a single day!
Here’s how I looked at my warm up show:
We learned a couple things:
- I was too flat. This was the obvious one. One day of loading day before, and no backing off in cardio during the week meant I couldn’t fill out enough. In fact, it wasn’t till 5-6pm that I started getting a good pump.
- Vitamin C made no difference.
- Drinking minimal water on show day did not help. Despite having a litre in morning, I was used to have 5-6 litres a day, so this was a big drop. Remember, cutting water will pull from intra-cellular and sub-cutaneous layer of muscle, affecting muscle fullness and pump. This is especially applicable to natural competitors.
- Get a darker tan!
Phase 4: The Final Stretch
3 weeks out: 72.5kg
The body soaked up all the large influx of calories on show day, and my bodyweight had barely moved, so we were in a good place.
Supplementation: We added Animal Cuts now. One pack before fasted cardio and one pack before training.
Often people looking for the shortcut add fat burners in from the start. Fact is, they only work as a tool later in the diet, when everything is on point 100%. At that point, it can add the extra 1%.
2.5 weeks out: 73.1kg
Bodyweight was fluctuating a lot this week. Although the scale doesn’t always tell the full story, anyone who’s competed knows the mind games it can play when the scale weight suddenly jumps this close to contest.
At this point in the final stretch, we still had many tools in the toolbox. With the aim of coming in razor sharp condition, we decided to throw a few tricks out the bag.
Firstly, we dropped calories by 200-300 (depending on day), with the drops in calories to coincide with long work days/waking hours. This was the first change in the diet for 6 weeks, so it was bound to have a strong, immediate impact.
Pro- 220g (-10g)
Fat- 60g (-10g)
Carb- 160g (-20g)
Pro- 220g (-10g)
Fat- 60g (-10g)
Carb- 135g (-45g)
In reference to the same base diet plan from the beginning, intra workout carbs were dropped by 10g, and raw rice weight dropped to accommodate new macros. Half a tablespoon of olive oil and some butter were reduced too.
On Tues/Thurs/Sat, one mixed meal was replaced with a protein and fat meal, placed furthest away from training.
Sunday rest day refeeds were now prescribed depending on weight loss during the week and how I was looking.
Despite the low carbs, intra workout carbs and high dose EAAs (15-20g) were kept in. With the very high weekly volume (averaging 30 sets and 400 reps per workout) and frequency (6 times a week) in training, I feel this has helped with maintaining muscle, as well as helping get stronger pumps and energy during training (the latter point especially).
While there isn’t much research on the subject, it’s something I think works. My theory is that it works through keeping muscle protein balance high during a period when amino acid oxidation is more likely with the depleted calorie state. Protein synthesis is a highly energetically expensive process, so keeping high supply in times where protecting muscle mass is vital can be beneficial. This topic will be explored in full in our ‘intra-workout supplementation’ series.
Cardio: Fasted cardio was kept at 45 minutes a day 6 times a week. For a final blast, we brought HIIT again on the Wingate bike. This time, we used a 30 second ‘sprint’ and a 2 minutes 30 second ‘coast’, for a total of 5 intervals. This was to be done late afternoons on Mon/Wed/Fri, coinciding with the ‘higher’ carb days. As this was brought in midweek, I aimed to hit 5 of these sessions over the next ten days.
2 weeks out: 72.4kg
As I was only a pound down since the previous week, the Sunday rest day macro split was set as following:
Carb- 110g (-25g) – these carbs were placed at the end of the day.
On this day, I also did an additional 30 minutes of fasted cardio. No refeed on this Sunday was tough, but with the end in sight, it was a matter of trying to get every last bit of fat off.
12 days out: 71.6kg
This was a new low for my bodyweight. This particular day I was feeling extremely tried and flat, struggling to get any sort of pump, with very little energy in training. As a result, I was given a mini-refeed at night, consisting of:
120g Oats, 300ml Rice Milk, 25g Sultanas.
11 days out:
Cardio: We now began to taper down on the cardio, with reductions of 5 minutes each morning. Two more HIIT sprint intervals were left in the week before removing all cardio completely.
At this stage I also replaced 10g rice with 10g intra workout carbs to help with training energy and pump on the higher calorie days, due to long stretches between meals.
8 days out: 71.1kg
Another drop in bodyweight, and the lowest it reached during this prep. All sprints were now completed and morning cardio was now down to 25 minutes.
Supplementaion: This was the last day of Yohimbine. Due to the possibility of causing water retention, it was removed a week out as a precaution. Once cardio had tapered, caffeine and tyrosine were also dropped. Animal Cuts were kept in all the way to the show.
Both Adam and I are of the belief that if ‘you’re shredded, you’re shredded’, and there isn’t a need to do anything fancy in peak week if you’re ready.
What the aim for the final week was to taper cardio, deload on training (both intensity and volume), and fill the body with nutrients to make it look its best on show day. We had learnt what needed to be done after the warm up show, so the focus was to execute now.
The week went as follows:
Sunday: 220g protein, 60g fat, 110g carbs – 20 mins cardio, no training, only posing practice.
Monday: 220g protein, 60g fat, 160g carbs- 15 mins cardio, last significant leg workout.
Tuesday: 220g protein, 60g fat, 110g carbs- 10 mins cardio, no training, only posing practice.
Before the carb load, here’s how I was looking from the back…
Wednesday, 71.1kg: 155g protein, 50g fat, 500g carbs, no cardio, last significant upper body workout.
We opted to front load the carbs mid week, in order to prevent any spillages if we went overboard, or to allow for more carbs in the days after, if we didn’t fill out enough.
Thursday: 155g protein, 50g fat, 300g carbs, no cardio, full body pump workout.
Friday, 70.7kg: 155g protein, 50g fat, 250g carbs, no cardio, full body pump workout.
The food on this day ended up increasing to 175g protein, 70g fat, 350g carbs, as I was struggling to get a pump, and still looking very flat. My bodyweight actually reached a new low at this point, so the extra calories were much needed.
Saturday: 155g protein, 80g fat (high fat evening meal), 250g carbs, no cardio, posing only.
By now, all training was done, and it was just a matter of doing some posing and rehearsing my routines, but nothing too intense.
However, bodyweight was still low and I was still flat, so food ended up on 220g pro, 100g fat and 350g carbs.
From Wednesday, carbohydrates were timed as following:
15% at breakfast
20% 90min pre workout
10% intra workout
20% post workout
35% Remaining spread throughout day
This time no Vitamin C or water was played around with. It had no effect last time so we saw no reason to play around with it this time around.
The plan on the day of the show was very much similar to the warm up show, and this is how it planned out:
6am – 220g lamb, 60g oats, 1x small banana
8am – 100g chicken, 60g rice
10.30am – Foot long meatball marina
11.30am – Every 30 min until stage, 2 rice cakes with nutella.
30min before going onstage, small amounts of Haribo + Strawberry Laces.
1pm- On stage for 26 minutes prejudging.
1.30pm- more Haribos
2.30pm- 2 rice cakes and Nutella
3pm 100g chicken, 60g rice
4pm- 2 rice cakes and Nutella
4.30pm- 2 rice cakes and dark chocolate
5pm- Haribos and strawberry laces
5.10pm- Evening show
5.45pm- Strawberry laces and Haribos
6.30pm- Rib eye steak and chips
7.15pm- Rice cakes and Nutella
Starting bodyweight: 83.8kg
Starting Biosig: 14%
End bodyweight: 71kg
End Biosig: 2.7%
I won my category, which was the aim, but didn’t place near the overall. A lot of great guys onstage in the overall, with more density, thickness and overall size, so that gave me a lot to strive towards in the future.
The goals in the off-season have been to focus on increasing overall frame, with a specific eye on improving the legs .
Here are some pictures comparing a couple weeks in, to the end product on stage…