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With the Alberta Body Building Association (ABBA) fitness competitions taking place over the next couple weeks, we wanted to get an inside look into the life of a fitness competitor. Lucky for us, incredibly disciplined and accomplished former, current and future competitors surround us in our gyms! For this three part series we’re exploring the diet, training and behind the scenes secrets of a fitness competition.

Part 1: Dieting for a Fitness Competition

“I think the thing about competition prep diets that shocks people is just how much food we actually eat,” says Jessi Zelinksy, personal trainer and former competitor in the bikini division in the ABBA shows. “When I first started I didn’t think I could finish all that food,” adds Mariya Patrick, who competed in her first show last month. “It seemed like so much! Eating six times a day was challenging to adjust to.”

Erin, Edmonton Fitness Competitor

Erin Christenson, trained by Personal Trainer Jessi Zelinski.

So it turns out those incredibly lean bodies are the result of eating a ton. But eating what? And just how much, exactly?

“My coach has me following ‘if it fits your macros’ meaning I can eat whatever I want in my day, but it has to fit my daily macronutrient numbers,” explains Hannah Hayes, personal trainer and competitor in training.

The ‘if it fits your macros’ (IIFYM) diet is essentially calculating your daily caloric needs and then dividing those calories up and allocating 40% of your food intake to protein, 40% to carbohydrates and 20% to fat. “A lot of people are surprised that I am still able to eat ice cream or a burger while working towards my goal.”

Scales come in handy when prepping your meals regardless of your dieting technique to ensure you’re staying on track.

“Everything I put in my body is measured to meet exact caloric requirements and macronutrient percentages,” explains Otty Nguyen-Sears, personal trainer and future competitor. “Even flavouring and sauces can effect this aspect of dieting!”

Jessica Grudzinski, Edmonton Fitness Competitor

Personal Trainer Jessica Grudzinski at WBFF in 2014

In addition to precise measuring, Otty says that meals need to be timed correctly to ensure that your body has the right materials at the right time to achieve your goals. “This has a huge impact on how your body grows and adapts to the stress you put on it.”

Competition diets can range anywhere from 8-16 weeks depending on your body fat percentage and ability to lose weight, but some competitors begin preliminary dieting as early as 1 year ahead. As Jon Kassian, a personal trainer currently training for the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion (WBFF) competition says, “Any serious fitness competitor does not view it as a diet, but as lifestyle eating. I eat healthier selections of food year-round, not just for contest preparation.”

As worthwhile as it was (or will be) to stay on track, dieting for a fitness competition doesn’t come without it’s challenges.

“I’m a very adventurous person and dieting tends to keep me more grounded and close to a gym instead of at a lake somewhere,” explains Jessica Grubzinski, 2nd place winner at WBFF 2014. “That’s a sacrifice I make during my prep, which can be mentally challenging to accept at first.”

So to summarize, how important is diet when training for a fitness competition?

“95% of the battle,” says Jon. “Seriously, it’s just about everything.” Jessi and Jessica echoed the same sentiment that, “You can’t out train a bad diet,” and Otty really spelled it out for us.

“Think of it this way- I eat a minimum of six meals a day, and train a maximum of two times a day. Ignoring rest days and any variance, it immediately becomes clear that your diet gives you three times as many chances as training to influence your development and prep.”

Have you ever, or would you ever, compete in a fitness competition? 

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