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How Important is cardio in bodybuilding training?

As far as the sport of Bodybuilding is concerned, we are “Cardio Minimalists”.  Cardio should be used as a tool when needed, and nothing more.  The reality is that too many competitors do way too much cardio instead of letting their nutrition and appropriately designed Workout Program do the work.  More often than not, this is due to starting Contest Prep when they are not ready.

The groundwork for a successful, efficient and effective prep starts during the offseason.  Cardio should be lowered to a minimum (in some cases, none outside of normal daily activity) and calories raised as high as possible as long as the competitor stays at a reasonable weight.

The purpose is to make sure the competitor has plenty of calories to spare in order to have a good cushion to pull from when fat loss stalls (it always does), and plenty of cardio to add in when appropriate as well.

Simply put, the more cardio you do in the offseason, the less effective it will be in prep. Doing the opposite of this is why so many competitors end up doing hours of cardio daily. And, to their detriment, more hours doing cardio than lifting. This often leads to a faster rate of muscle loss, slowing recovery and draining the competitors’ energy at a time when they need it the most.

What are the benefits of fasted cardio?

Fasted cardio has not been shown to be superior to fed-state cardio for weight loss or fat loss when macronutrient intake throughout the day is matched. Though it may not be recommended, it is fine if you feel it works best for you from an energy perspective.

What are the 5 heart rate zones in cardio training?

There are 5 Zones of Cardio and all focus on Max Heart Rate.  For bodybuilding purposes, Zone Two is far superior in terms of fat loss and preserving muscle mass. Zone Two also has less of a negative impact on recovery and your metabolism.

The Five Zones of Cardio are:

The first zone is about 50 to 60 percent of your max heart rate. That’s the least intense zone of cardio and is relatively easy. If you’re new to exercise you should start your workouts in this zone. You’ll burn some calories and build up your cardiovascular system to prepare yourself for harder workouts.

Exercise at 60 to 70 percent of your max heart rate and you’re still in a relatively low-intensity zone. Some people will be in this zone when they jog slowly or maybe even just a brisk walk. If you stay in this zone during your workout, you won’t be exhausted after your workout. You might even feel refreshed afterwards.  For Bodybuilding purposes, Zone Two is superior to the other four.

Between 70 and 80 percent of your max heart rate constitutes zone 3 — the perfect zone to train for ENDURANCE ATHLETES. When you run long distances or participate in other events such as a triathlon, you’ll spend a lot of time in this heart rate zone. It’s low intensity enough that you can maintain it for quite a while, as long as you’re trained.

Zone 4, or 80 to 90 percent of your heart rate max, is too intense to sustain for a long time. You reach this zone when going at a quick running speed, just below an all-out sprint. This is a heart rate you would hit during a circuit training workout or while doing interval training, where you work for a short 30- to 90-second burst and then rest.  Fat burning is increased, but so is the amount of recovery time so this should be USED SPARINGLY.

The final zone, which is 90 to 100 percent of your max, is the most intense. It’s incredibly hard to sustain your workout at this heart rate. Most likely this will be the heart rate zone that you hit at the end of an incredibly hard sprint. Your body will quickly hit a wall where you can’t push any harder and start to slow down.

What is Steady State Cardio (SSC)?

Steady State Cardio (SSC), be it low or moderate intensity, has been the bed rock of fat loss for physique athletes for years.  It’s just simply what you did if you were a bodybuilder.

Traditional methods include moving at normal or fast paced walking or cycling speeds.  Equipment typically used includes the treadmill, spin bike, stair stepper and elliptical. Time range from 20 to 60 minutes per session.  In more extreme cases, more than 60 minutes are used.

What is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a highly effective method of training that can substantially induce fat loss in a short amount of time.  The demand on the body is so great that it requires a substantial recovery time, similar to a lower body workout.

It has been argued that 15 minutes of true HIIT is comparable (perhaps superior) to an hour of traditional Steady State Cardio (SSC).  The problem is most people do not do HIIT correctly and never reach optimal benefits.  HIIT is very taxing on the body and requires the athlete to temporarily reach 90% of their max heart rate.

Below is an appropriate protocol using 4 intervals as an example.

  • 5-minute warmup at a normal walking pace
  • 4 high intensity intervals. A high intensity interval will consist of going ‘all out’ as hard as you can for 20 seconds.  “All out” means as hard as you possibly can for 20 seconds.  You will know if you didn’t go hard enough if you could have gone more than 20 seconds.
  • After each interval, you will rest for about 90 seconds then repeat
  • After your last interval, take a 5-minute cooldown at a slow to normal walking pace.

The link below will take you to an example doing Deadmills, which is using a treadmill without the belt moving.  You have to use the strength in your legs to do this.  The machine Natalie is using doesn’t have a motor, so it is the same as a deadmill.

What is better for fat loss, HIIT or SSC?

Until a few years ago, there was very little debate between HIIT and SSC.  According to research, HIIT was better hands down.  However, a couple of studies in the past couple of years seem to suggest one is not better than the other.  The argument is that SSC taps into existing fat stores quickly, while HIIT uses more glucose and glycogen initially before tapping into existing body fat stores.

However, digging deeper into the science, we find that while HIIT will use more glucose and glycogen, HIIT will still use more body fat for fuel than SSC when you compare the two, minute per minute.  One of the reasons is that all that glucose and glycogen that HIIT utilizes needs to be replenished and much of that comes from body fat well after the session is over.

In addition, HIIT (when done properly) increases the mitochondria in the body.  The more mitochondria you have, the more fat you utilize.

In the grand scheme of things, HIIT is still superior to SSC in terms of fat loss and time spent doing cardio.  In addition, you get resistance training benefits when performing HIIT that you do not get from SSC…It is excellent for lower body development.

That begs the question, is there still benefit to doing SSC?

Absolutely.  For one, the demands on the body and need for recovery from HIIT is much higher than SSC.  While you can do SSC every day, it’s not practical to do HIIT every day and should be avoided.  Whatever body part you are using to perform HIIT, you most likely need 48 hours to recover before you train that body part through resistance training.

In addition, just like it is optimal to train body parts across multiple rep ranges, it is beneficial to perform cardio across multiple intensity levels. And...there is also personal preference to consider. The more feasable the method is for you, the more likely you will do it.

Do you provide Meal Plans or do you only focus on Macro Counting?

While Natalie and I specialize in coaching athletes who follow Macro Counting (aka Flexible Dieting), our team of expert coaches is well adept at working with both Macro Counting and Meal Plans. That includes Competitors, Discovery, and Lifestyle clients. This flexibility ensures that every client finds a nutrition strategy that resonates with their lifestyle and goals.

Our nutrition strategy primarily centers around Macro Counting, offering a sustainable and flexible approach to dieting. We emphasize learning how to select foods that align with your goals, rather than following restrictive meal plans. While meal plans can be effective, research indicates there is an increased risk of binging and developing long-term eating disorders due to their restrictive nature.

Studies also show that Macro Counting is more sustainable with is especially crucial during the hard dieting involved during contest prep. Flexible Dieting through macro counting promotes a varied diet, crucial for gut health and metabolic efficiency. Our plans are fully individualized, adjusting to your progress and preferences, whether it's clean eating, keto, vegan, or any other dietary style. You are free to make your own meal plan based on the macros we give you. Its the best of both worlds.

Why should I use Flexible Dieting rather than following a meal plan?

Dieting flexibly has been shown to be associated with a lower BMI than a rigid dieting approach. In addition, a rigid dieting approach was found to be correlated with overeating. Rigid dieting has also been shown to lead to an increased prevalence of eating disorders. Additionally, having a strict set meal plan all week followed by a “cheat day” or “cheat meal” which is basically a binge and is a disordered pattern of eating brings about its own mental challenges. As one of our macro counting clients, you choose the food you eat under our guidance. If you want to “eat clean” you may do so. The important thing is to be sure you hit your macronutrient daily goals while ensuring micronutrient needs are met. The food you eat to meet that goal is your choice.

Many clients like the convenience of pre-prepping their meals and do create meal plans consisting of foods of their own choosing, within their assigned macro/micro goals.  This is perfectly fine and encouraged for time management.

What is a Refeed Day?

A refeed day is a single day in which overall calories are higher than other days. Usually calories are raised by increasing your carbohydrates.  The data tells us that out of carbs, proteins and fats, raising your carbohydrates has a greater positive effect on thyroid and leptin hormones.  When you schedule your refeed day in the week, you will need to reduce the other days to keep your total calories for the week the same.

What is the difference in a Refeed Day and a Cheat Day?

A Cheat Day (or cheat meal) is typically a time when a competitor thinks it is okay to eat whatever they want without restriction.  The problem with this method is that ALL CALORIES COUNT and your weight decreases or increases based on the number or calories you consume.  Since Cheat Days have no restrictions, you can easily go overboard and stall your fat loss, or even cause some gain with this philosophy.  We do not subscribe to this.  Rather, we give competitors routine Refeed Days that have higher calories, but structured Macro Goals which take into account their weekly calorie goals.

What is the benefit of a Refeed Day?

The advantages are increased performance in the gym due to an increase in glycogen storage due to the carbohydrate increase the day of or the day after your refeed day.  You will also get a slight metabolic spike and may slow down the rate of Metabolic Adaptation.  Then there is a huge psychological benefit from not being in a calorie deficit.

When should I use my Refeed Day?

Refeed Days typically involve just raising carbohydrates to a set amount, thus increasing your glycogen stores and improving performance in the gym.  As a result, you should schedule your Refeed Day on the day of, or the day before your hardest workouts.  If you workout in the morning, take your Refeed Day the day before your hardest workout.  If you workout in the evening, take your Refeed Day on the day of your hardest workout.

What is a Diet Break?

A Diet Break is exactly what its name implies, a break from dieting.  It’s like an extended Refeed Day that usually lasts a week, but sometimes longer based on individual circumstances.  During this time, calories are raised to your new maintenance levels.  The goal of a Diet Break is not to see weight loss but to keep your weight steady during the length of the break.

What is the benefit a Diet Break?

There are many benefits of a Diet Break.  It can give you a psychological break from dieting which in and of itself has a host of benefits.  It will have a larger positive effect on your metabolism and hormone levels than a single refeed day and will improve performance in the gym for the length of time you are on the break.  Interestingly enough, recent studies suggest that diet breaks not only have no negative effect on total weight loss but you may have an increase of weight loss once you return to normal dieting.  This phenomenon is most likely a result of a slight spike in your metabolism due to the break, and a psychological effect of being out of a deficit for a while.

How much protein should I be consuming?

Protein intakes of greater than ~0.8-0.9g/lb of FFM (Fat Free Mass) in athletes who are not dieting have not been shown to result in greater strength or hypertrophy (muscle size/growth). When you are dieting, very lean, and training hard…slightly higher intakes up to ~1.2-1.5g/lb of FFM at the most may be needed to help prevent muscle loss. However, higher levels of protein do not hinder fat loss.  There are several studies on this topic and the ranges are pretty similar with only slight variations.

When should I take a Diet Break?

Taking Diet Breaks depend on a number of factors such as the length of your prep, performance in the gym, the number of calories you are consuming, your weekly ROL (Rate of Loss), mental capacity, etc.  So there is no “one size fits all” here.  But, if you allow enough time in your Contest Prep, it would be advantageous to take diet breaks periodically during prep.  Doing so can improve motivation and adherence to your Nutrition Plan.

That said, it’s best that you do not take Diet Breaks when you are already stage lean, or close to it. Because once you hit stage lean, you should be in the “Metabolic Building” Phase of prep, and already slowly increasing calories while staying stage lean. Though there may be circumstances in which it is appropriate at that stage of prep.  But again, that would be on a case-by-case situation.

Why do you recommend a slower rate of weight loss during dieting?

Dieting at rates faster than 1% of bodyweight/wk has been shown to result in a greater reduction in muscle mass, strength, and hormones than dieting at a 0.5-1% bodyweight/wk rate of weight loss. During contest prep, we will start you out (and maintain you at) at a fat loss to muscle preservation ratio that is optimal to your goals. You will have plenty of time to come in properly conditioned.

Why should I keep my food as high as possible while dieting?

Dieting results in a number of physiologic changes including metabolic adaptation. By keeping food as high as possible while still making appropriate progress, you can slow down the rate of metabolic adaptation which will allow you to reduce the number of times you have to decrease calories.  This will enable you to have more room to pull back food further, if needed, later on in your fat loss phase.  In short it allows for a more effective and efficient weight loss phase which helps keep adherence higher.

Why should I Reverse Diet after a fat loss cycle such as a cut or contest prep?

Caloric restriction for a significant period, as occurs during preps and long fat loss cycles, results in metabolic adaptation and the body decreases its ability to lose fat. By reverse dieting an athlete can minimize weight gain after fat loss cycles compared to just going back to what they were doing prior to the start of prep. During rebound after contest prep, the body’s fat storing process is high as it starts to fight to get back to homeostasis.

What is the difference in a calorie Surplus, Deficit, and Maintenance.

Calorie Surplus, Deficit, and Maintenance are terms used to describe the relationship between the number of calories you consume and the number you burn, impacting your weight and body composition.

  • Calorie Surplus: This occurs when you consume more calories than your body burns. The excess energy is typically stored as fat, leading to weight gain. It's often used strategically in bodybuilding to facilitate muscle growth.
  • Calorie Deficit: This happens when you consume fewer calories than your body needs for daily activities and maintenance. In a deficit, your body taps into stored energy (fat), leading to weight loss.
  • Maintenance Calories: These are the number of calories where you neither gain nor lose weight; it's the "balance point."

NOTE: A common misconception is that if you eat the same number of calories consistently, you're on maintenance. That's not always true. Your body's calorie needs can change due to factors like metabolic adaptations, changes in physical activity, or alterations in muscle mass. If you're eating what you believe to be maintenance calories but are consistently gaining or losing weight, it indicates that those are no longer your maintenance calories. It's a dynamic balance, not a static number.

Understanding these concepts is crucial for effectively managing your diet, whether your goal is to lose fat, build muscle, or maintain your current physique. Regularly assessing and adjusting your calorie intake based on your body's response is key to staying on track with your fitness goals.

Why is Fiber so important?

Pay attention to your fiber.  When we conduct our consultations, it still amazes me that so many competitors have no idea how much fiber they are getting.  Fiber plays an important role in your nutrition.  Fiber’s effects on digestion and cholesterol are big, but fiber is also a decent thermogenic and helps with Satiety, which is defined as “the absence of hunger”…or feeling full.

In addition, when athletes start to experience gastrointestinal (GI) distress, especially in the later stages of prep when calories are low and our metabolism is low, in many cases an adjustment to fiber (and keeping it consistent) can remedy some of the problems.

So how much fiber should you consume?  Well, the Institute of Medicine recommends that healthy adults consume around 14g of fiber for every 1000 calories.  However, when calories get low in prep, if you can get at least 10g in for every 1000 calories you should be good to go.

What about Soluble and Insoluble fiber?

They both have their benefits.  Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is believed to help with cholesterol and glucose control.  Insoluble fibers don’t dissolve in water but it does help bring water in to the digestive track and helps make your poop softer.  It’s also good for insulin sensitivity.

Booth are good to help combat diabetes, and both are found in most plant based foods.

So, if you are getting a lot of food variety, you should be fine.  Shameless Plug:  This is another reason I believe macro counting is superior to meal plans.  Meal plans (not the same as prepping food based on macros) are very restrictive which takes away a lot of food variety, and food variety is essential for gut health…especially in a deficit.

Are "Superfoods" real?

The term “Superfood” has been blown out of proportion.  We can blame this on marketing.  Most of the foods that are termed “superfoods” are not backed by scientific evidence.  Instead, you will find many companies paying for so called “research” to give them the results they want.  HOWEVER, there are a few Superfoods which are backed by science such as Garlic, Dark Berries, Spirulina and Leafy Greens.

Always be leary of the word “proven”, as this term gets thrown around a lot.  If the study has not gone through Peer Review, use caution relying on the data.

Should sugar be limited during Contest Prep or Offseason?

You should not fear sugar during offseason or contest prep, it will not interfere with your progress as long as all macronutrient goals are met.  “Diets high in fructose have not been shown to affect weight loss compared to low-fructose diets.  Similarly, diets high in dairy (lactose) have not been shown to inhibit fat loss.  The problem that may arise is that calories from added sugar can increase hunger due to the lower volume of the food.

Are detox and cleanses effective?

“Detox diets” are the ultimate manifestation of the “clean eating” obsession. Such diets commonly limit foods to plant-based juices, sometimes seasoned with a supplement. After a few days of that regimen, you’re supposed to be cleansed of … Well, detox-diet companies don’t really know. A 2009 investigation of ten companies found they couldn’t name a single “toxin” eliminated by any of their fifteen products — let alone prove that their products worked.

By reducing your intake of the nutrients needed to perform these functions, a detox diet can hinder your body’s natural detoxification process! If you wish to promote this process, your best bet is to load up with various foods that can help these organs work optimally,[89] such as cruciferous and other fibrous veggies.[89][90] Detox diets are not necessarily safe, either. Every now and then a case report emerges about potential risks, such as kidney damage from green smoothies[91] or liver failure from detox teas.[92] But if detox diets are more likely to harm than help, what explains their current popularity? One answer is: quick weight loss. Deprive your body of carbs and you can exhaust its glycogen stores in as little as 24 hours. The resulting loss of several pounds can convince you that the diet had a positive effect.[93] When the diet ends and you resume your regular eating habits, however, the glycogen and associated water come rushing back in, and with them the pounds you’ve shed.

Is sodium bad for me?

Some myths contain a grain of truth. Studies have associated excess salt with hypertension (high blood pressure),[53] kidney damage,[54] and an increased risk of cognitive decline.[55][56] But salt (sodium) is an essential mineral; its consumption is critical to your health. The problem is when you consume too much sodium and too little potassium. Another issue is the source of all that salt. The average North American eats an incredible amount of salty processed foods[57] — which means that people who consume a lot of salt tend to consume a lot of foods that are generally unhealthy. That makes it hard to tease apart sodium’s effects from overall dietary effects. Except for individuals with salt-sensitive hypertension,[58] the evidence in support of low sodium intakes is less conclusive than most people would imagine.[59][60] As it stands, both very high and very low intakes are associated with cardiovascular disease.[61]

NOTE:  This answer came from  It is an EXCELLENT write up, using many studies as its base.

What are the Five phases of Contest Prep?

The Five Phases of Contest Prep are the Transition Phase, Core Phase, Set-Point Phase, Metabolic Building Phase and Fine Tuning Phase.

You can read more about the 5 Stages of Contest Prep in our FREE E-book

What is the Transition Phase?

The Transition Phase of prep is when you shift from Offseason to Contest Prep and usually lasts for 2 to 3 weeks.  This is the time you start your prep with calories and body fat at their highest point before your initial deficit.  Once you start with your initial deficit, body fat will start to come off, but glycogen and water will result in the biggest drop the first week or so.  Eventually, the ROL (Rate of Loss) will start to slow down, but that doesn’t mean body fat loss slows down as well.  It just means that you have lost the excess glycogen stores and the water that comes with it.

That said, some people may not experience that big initial drop right way.  It may take a couple of weeks to get to that point since there are so many other physiological things that can contribute to a faster, or slower, ROL in the beginning.

It is important to give some time for your body to work through this rather than increasing cardio or dropping calories too much or too fast.  Both can have an unnecessary negative effect on your metabolism.  Instead, give your body a little more time to work through all the physiological changes going on.  If a couple of weeks have gone by and weight is not coming down, then make few subtle adjustments until you reach your desired ROL.

What is the Core Phase?

The Core Phase of Contest Prep is where you will spend the most time.  Once your body settles in during the Transition Phase, and you are at an appropriate ROL, you will shift into this phase.

During the Core Phase, your ROL should be pretty consistent.  As fat loss stalls, and it will often, you will need to make subtle calorie and/or cardio adjustments, and your metabolism will down regulate as a normal part of Metabolic Adaptation.  You may go a few weeks without needing any adjustments, and there may be times where you need an adjustment a couple of times per week.  This is a normal part of the process.

Eventually, you will notice that fat loss will start to slow down and become harder to achieve as you get close to the next phase, the Set-Point Phase.

What is the Set-Point Phase?

The Set-Point Phase is when your body starts to resist fat loss. You probably have been in Contest Prep for several months at this stage, but a lot of that depends on how lean you were, or were not, when you started prep.  This is where your body starts to fight back because you are wanting to take it out of homeostasis, the weight range that your body likes to be in.

You weigh less, probably much less than you have ever been (unless you have gone through prep a few times) and your body is much more efficient as it has gotten used to less calories, so it burns them at a slower rate.

For some, this can be the hardest mental part of prep.

First instinct is to drop calories lower or add in more cardio.  However, I caution you on this approach because more often than not, doing so is the not the best option as it will PUSH your metabolism down even further and at a faster rate…the opposite of what we want to do during Contest Prep.

Instead, a more practical and beneficial approach would be to adjust to the slower ROL.  If you think about it, you will see a bigger visual difference of 1lb of loss than you did in the beginning.  You will also start to see a more “hardening” look to your physique.  But if you give it some time, do it right, your body will likely start to resist less, and in some cases, less calorie reduction will be needed to keep fat loss going as you approach Stage Lean and go into the Metabolic Building Phase.

What is the Metabolic Building Phase?

The Metabolic Building Phase of Contest Prep starts when you have reached your goal of being stage lean.  Unfortunately, many competitors never even make it to this stage, or make it at the very last minute due to poor planning and not allowing enough time for the length of their prep.

Once you have made it to being stage lean, it is now time to start slowly increasing calories, while keeping you at your stage lean goal.   Notice I did not say “weight goal”. At this point, it’s all about the look and not the scale.  

You will start to look harder, and tighter as you move along in the phase.  You may even notice that you look much better with your “stage lean” appearance NOW than you did with your “stage lean” appearance at the beginning of this phase, even if you weigh a little bit more.

The reason?  As carbs go up, the extra glycogen from the extra carbs will start to fill your muscles out more resulting in a harder and tighter physique.  After all, the glycogen in your muscles doing all this adds weight to your physique.  Remember, glycogen is about 66% water, and that water is right where we want it…in your muscles.

What is the Fine-Tuning Phase?

If you focus on building a properly conditioned physique (not just treating it as dieting for fat-loss) through the Core Phase and Set-Point Phase, and make it through the Metabolic Building Phase, you will arrive to the Fine-Tuning Phase that less than 10% ever make it to.  That is a HUGE advantage.

At this point, fat loss is the furthest thing from your mind.  As you are getting ready for peak week, you should be confident that calories and carbs are right where they need to be in terms of hardness and fullness for an optimal physique.  You will know how many carbs it takes to keep you full and tight, your limit to avoid spillover (which you should be less sensitive to if you had enough time in the metabolic building phase), and how many carbs you will need to avoid looking flat.  

Confidence should be high as this phase carries you through Peak Week, stress should be low, and you will know what to expect during those final days leading up to the show while others are still stressing out, riddled with uncertainty and trying to find “hope” for the best outcome rather than enjoying that final week.

What are the Five phases of Off-season?

The Five Phases of Off-Seasonare the Transition Phase, Anabolic Sure Phase, Metabolic Pulsing Phase, Anabolic Threshold Phase and Downshift Phase.

You can read more about the 5 Stages of Off-Season in our FREE E-book

What is the Transition Phase of Offseason?

The Transition Phase of Off-Season is when you end your Contest Prep and move right into off-season.  Workout programming typically moves to focus on strength adaptations, and calories begin to methodically increase on an incremental basis. Starting this phase is critical as it sets the tone for the rest of our off-season, and your next prep by default.

What is the Anabolic Surge Phase of Off-Season?

If you successfully completed the Transition Phase, or you ended prep in the 4th or 5th Phase of Contest prep, you are at a place where most of your calorie deficit has been erased without a lot of unnecessary body fat accumulation. You may be around 5 lbs. or so above your stage weight due to a transition upward with full glycogen tables and a little more body fat. We may slow the rate of calorie increases down a little, but we will continue simply assessing and responding with calorie increases as needed.

If you are a new client, this is best phase to start. You are starting out with a strength focused block. You need to have time to adapt and optimize strength adaptations prior to going into a hypertrophy focused block. You should be at or near Peak Strength performance before going to the next phase. Time in this phase is typically 6-8 weeks.

What is the Metabolic Pulsing Phase of Off-Season?

The Metabolic Pulsing Phase is for the person who still might have another four or six months—or longer—of off-season. This is good time to move from normal strength training to more of a hypertrophy focused block. This is where you will spend the remaining time of your offseason, up to the final last month or two.

What is the Anabolic Threshold Phase of Off-Season?

As a client nears the final two months of off-season, we start looking for the right body composition to start official prep. At this point we’re no longer looking for surges or upward pulses through which to cycle, but one final upward Pulse Phase that does not create body fat gain. We want to know we’re at maximum food intake that pushes maintenance calories to the limit.

What is the Anabolic Downshift Phase of Off-Season?

In this phase, we start setting our sights on starting Official Prep.  We want strength to be at peak levels and start making adjustments to start prep at an ideal weight, even if that means we must drop calories a little. The Downshift Phase should appear to be much like the Pre-Contest Diet Transition Phase, but the exception is you are not locked into official prep-level dieting. You’re simply taking a step in that direction.

What is Peak Week?

Peak Week, your last chance to put all the pieces together to deliver your best physique possible once you hit the stage. It can make or break even the best competitor. Nail your peak, and you will be walking off the stage with your head held high. However, even the slightest miscalculation can leave you disappointed and take a physique destined for First Place, thrown into a Second Call-Out placement.

Below this FAQ you will find the most common Peak Week Strategies used today.  With each description you will find the Risks, Rewards and Predictability for each strategy.

Before you read any further, you need to understand what the “variables” are that we discuss in each strategy. Variables are the things we use to alter our physique during Peak Week and Show day.

Peak Week nutrition variables includes:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein
  • Fats
  • Water
  • Sodium
  • Potassium

NOTE:  When going through these methods, keep in mind that it typically takes 24-48 hours for carbohydrates to fully assimilate.  That means turned into glycogen and makes its way to your muscles.  This is what “fills you out”, in other words…gives you fullness.

Conventional Peaking

Your week starts off with three to four days of carb depleting followed by three days of carb loading with cutting water the last two days.  As the carb loading increases, water will start to be pulled.  This creates an environment where the competitor starts to get really flat, which is often misunderstood as a lack of carbohydrates.  As a result, carbs continue to be increased as the competitor flattens out further.  Since it takes carbohydrates 24-48 hours to fully assimilate, the consumed carbs cannot be converted by gluconeogenesis and shuttled into the muscles fast enough, resulting in spillover.  The high concentration of glucose present outside of the muscle cells, with the low remaining water in the body due to decreasing water, is pulled outside the muscle and under the skin, leaving the competitor flat and watery.

Once the show is over and the competitor goes out and consumes a lot of food, and a lot of fluids, the competitor will look their best the morning after the show.

This is an aggressive approach, high risk, low reward, and low predictability and should be avoided at all costs.

Front Load Peaking

Your week starts off with carbs higher than usual, protein and fats may be a little lower the first couple of days. We are looking for a little bit of spillover. Carbs should be lowered the following three to four days to clean up the spill. You should start looking a little crisper with improved definition. The next day or two, carbs are increased to tighten you up. This is common for bikini and wellness competitors.

This is a conservative approach, low risk, moderate reward, and moderate predictability. Though variables change rapidly, you do have a day or two to observe and adjust should spillover occur before show day.

Back Load Peaking

Similar to Conventional Peaking the main difference is that water is not pulled during the week. Your week starts with very low carbs to fully deplete glycogen from your muscles in similar fashion to the old school peaking principle. This should continue for three to four days with rapid carb increases the next two days, then a slower increase the last day or two before show day. We are looking for glycogen supercompensation during the carb up phase, right up to show day. Protein and fats should be at their highest while depleting, then dropped during the loading days. The same risk of spilling over applies, but at least keeping the competitor hydrated still applies.

In addition to the risk of spillover, the timing has to be almost perfect.  In today’s contest format, shows can speed up and slow down at any time which can throw timing off. The basics of physiology here apply.  For every extreme reaction given to the body, the body will counter with an extreme reaction of its own and the timing of the counter reaction is highly unpredictable.

This is a very aggressive approach, high risk, high reward, and moderate to low predictability due to rapidly changing variables with little to no time to observe and correct since you aim to have your highest carb day on the day before the show.

Back Load Peaking with a clean up day

This follows the same path as Back Load Peaking, except for hitting your peak one day out, leaving a day of carb reduction if “slight” spilling occurs. This reduces the risks a little and slightly increases predictability. But because the back loading is so extreme, if spill over is more than slight, you will still not have enough time to clean it up.

Slow Back Load Peaking

Your week starts with carbs at its lowest as you gradually increase carbs to their highest level until you are one day out. Protein and fats should stay consistent with a slight drop of both by the end of the week. There should be no spilling, you should be tightening up as the week goes along and look your best by the night before your show. If some spilling should occur, you will need to start tapering down immediately.

This is a less conservative approach. Though it may sound like low risk with high predictability because variables increase at a steady pace, they still change (increase) each day, and the approach is to target your peak carb load the day before the show. This makes it moderate risk, moderate reward, and low predictability due to little or no time to observe and adjust should spillover occur.

Mid Load Peaking

Also known as “Undulating Load Peaking.” Your week starts with carbs at its lowest, and gradually increasing carbs to their highest level when you are two or three days out. Protein and fats may be a little lower on the highest carb days. There should also be a little bit of spilling the last day of your carb up. Use the last one or two days to clean the spill and tighten you up.

This is a fairly conservative approach, moderate risk, moderate reward, and moderate predictability. Though variables change on a slow and steady approach early in the week, they change rapidly two to three days out, but you do have at least a day to observe and adjust should spillover occur before show day.

Rapid Back Load Peaking

Your week starts with a slight increase in carbs for one to two days, followed by four to five days of glycogen depletion. This is a carb depletion phase, not a calorie depletion phase. In fact, you should be no more than a couple of hundred calories below maintenance calories prior to peak week. This should continue until the day before the show when the rapid-carb loading begins.

We are looking for glycogen supercompensation the last 24-hours before taking the stage. Protein and fats should be at their highest while depleting, then dropped during the loading days. Carb intake is so high (extreme amounts over 800 carbs the day before the show is common) and the process is so fast that this is one of the very few times that potassium loading may be involved, in a VERY SPECIFIC way. You start with your potassium load first thing in the morning, then sodium later in the day.

This is EXTREMELY AGGRESSIVE, EXTREMELY HIGH RISK, HIGH REWARD, and very low predictability since you are allowing little to no time for observation and adjustments and variables change dramatically. Even with a clean-up day tagged at the end, the carb intake is so high, one day clean-up is not enough. However, the reward for perfect timing is extremely high and produces the most extreme levels of hardness and tightness IF the competitor is lean enough.

NOTE: Rapid Backload Peaking was developed by Cliff Wilson, which took him about 10 years to perfect. It is EXTREMELY difficult to pull off and you really need to be dialed into the competitor and have an excellent eye. Potassium use in this method must be damn near perfect, and is timing based. Time it wrong and blurring will occur, the core can give the appearance of some bloating, and in some instances sickness can occur. It should be noted that Cliff adamantly states, “This should only be used for the most extreme levels of conditioning such as Men’s and Women’s Bodybuilding only, not other divisions.” Though it may be something to look at for Women’s Physique in the NPC/IFBB as this division has increased the level of conditioning the last couple of years.

Progressive Linear Load Peaking

Peak Week begins with a slight modification to calories, usually with an increase of carbs. Prior to Peak Week, the competitor should already be increasing calories as stage lean has been achieved for some time now. Muscle glycogen is full, but not quite at full capacity, and the competitor is now less sensitive to carb increases.

When Peak Week begins, a simple increase of 15-25g of carbs may be all a competitor needs. Much depends on whether the competitor was adding calories back in before Peak Week begins, or if they were still in the dieting phase.

Protein and fats should remain consistent. Each day, the competitor should start looking a little fuller and tighter. By two to three days out, the competitor should be at or near his/her peak. For the remaining one to two days, a slightly larger increase in carbs, maybe fats, “may” be used with an increase in sodium to fine tune the physique. By the night before the show, the competitor should be at or near full glycogen capacity.

The chance of spillover is low due to the drop in sensitivity to carb adjustments, and the adjustments themselves are slight. By show day, food intake is primarily used to keep the competitor from getting too hungry, with some benefit to remaining fullness. Sodium and water are the main variables to put the finishing touches on fullness and tightness. This is a conservative approach, exceptionally minimal risk, high reward, and high predictability since you are allowing time all through Peak Week for observation and adjustments. Changes to variables are usually subtle.

NOTE: Progressive Linear Load Peaking was developed by Dr. Joe Klemczewski and can be used for all levels of conditioning. Best used when competitors reach stage lean early and are already in a state of reverse dieting. It is an innovative approach developed in just the past few years, but its popularity is on the rise resulting from its high level of success and minimal risk, high reward methodology.

What is the Metabolic Factor (MF)?

The Metabolic Factor (MF) is a simple way to determine where your metabolism is with regard to starting Contest Prep.  It is your current Caloric Maintenance (the calories you are consuming to MAINTAIN your weight) divided by your weight.

For example.  An athlete that is consuming 1800 calories while maintaining a weight of 130lbs will have a MF of 13.8.  However, if the same athlete were consuming 2200 calories while maintaining a weight of 130lbs that athlete will have a MF of 16.9.

When considering Contest Prep, the higher the MF the more efficient and effective your prep will be and the greater your chances of truly reaching stage lean.  The higher your MF, the more calories you are consuming which means the higher your calories will be at the start of prep.

This is a huge benefit because it will give you more of a calorie cushion when fat loss stalls and can greatly reduce the need for higher levels of cardio which can be counterproductive to prep since a higher amount of cardio can lead to an increased rate of muscle loss while in a deficit.

Typically, athletes who wait to start their Contest Prep with at least a MF of 15 have a less difficult prep and face a less difficult rebound period once their Contest Prep ends.

What is NEAT and what does it mean?

NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and is described as “the amount of energy you spend doing little movements throughout the day that is not related to exercise” (your workouts).  Basically, anything that is done out side of your workouts.

What is BMR and what does it mean?

BMR stand for Basal Metabolic Rate.  It is the rate at which your body uses energy when you are resting in order to keep vital functions going such as breathing. The rate at which your body uses energy to breathe and stay warm is an example of your basal metabolic rate.  On a simplified level, basically the amount of energy (calories) needed to keep the lights on.

What EXACTLY is my Metabolism?

In simple terms, metabolism is the internal process by which your body expends energy and burns calories. It runs 24/7 to keep your body moving, even when you’re resting or sleeping, by converting the food and nutrients you consume into the energy your body needs in order to breathe, circulate blood, grow and repair cells, and everything else it does to survive.

What AFFECTS my Metabolism?

First off, your metabolism is largely determined by your genetics.  Some people have a naturally fast metabolism, some people have a naturally slow metabolism.  Age can often have an effect on our metabolism too.

However, those things are just some of the factors that have an effect on our metabolism.  Actually, the only things we cannot control.  Other things that we can control, also have the greatest impact.  Exercise and increasing food intake are big factors.  The more food you eat, consistently over time, the more your metabolism will go up…so long as you don’t overdo it.  Slowly increasing food intake 100-200 calories over maintenance (the number of calories to maintain your weight) can increase your metabolism over time, with little to no weight gain.  This means, as your metabolism goes up…so should your food intake to make sure you are increasing your metabolism.

Will eating more often increase my Metabolism?

Digestion does raise your metabolism a little, so many people believe that eating less food more often keeps your metabolism elevated. However, the size of the meal matters, too: fewer but larger meals means fewer but larger spikes in metabolism. Moreover, some studies suggest that having smaller meals more often makes it harder to feel full, potentially leading to increased food intake.  More to the point, the evidence shows that, given an equal amount of daily calories, the number of meals makes no difference in fat loss.

Can I gain significant muscle while losing fat during a cutting cycle?

While it is possible, contest prep results in declines in anabolic hormones, strength, and lean mass, even in high level successful natural bodybuilders. In general, muscle gain while losing fat is typically the result of Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) usage, and in some cases “newbie gains”.

What is DUP?

DUP stands for “Daily Undulating Periodization” where training variables such as volume, intensity, density and frequency are utilized.  DUP is a theory, concept, methodology, or system of training based upon the last 25 years of scientific research.  It’s not something you can just download from the internet and plug in your numbers.  A properly written DUP program MUST BE customized, or modified, based on the athlete’s goals as there are an infinite number of ways to utilize it.

The basic premise of DUP is that the lifter will take a specific exercise and perform the exercise more than one time per week (or every 10 to 14 days…don’t get fixated on the time frame) but hit a different rep range (i.e., strength rep range, hypertrophy rep range) each time they perform the exercise.

The majority of our programs include DUP methodology.

DUP is the most science backed style of training known today.  Dr. Mike Zourdos is the leading researcher in DUP.  Dr. Zourdos earned his Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from The Florida State University (FSU) in 2012.

What is Progressive Overload?

Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training.  Simply put, the ability to increase the load you move over time. There are three main variables that you should focus on, all of which we use when customizing our workout programs for you.  Intensity, Volume and Density.

What does the Density of a workout mean?

Density actually relates to volume.  In simple terms it is the amount of volume you move over time.  If you want to increase the Density of your workout, decrease the amount of time it takes you to do it.  For example, if you are doing squats and it takes you 20 minutes to complete your sets/reps and you move 4500lbs of volume, you can increase the density by moving the same volume in 18 minutes.  So, 4500/20 = 225lbs per minute which is the density of that workout, compared to 4500/18 = 250lbs per minute which is the density of that workout.  As you can see, the same volume moved in 18 minutes compared to 20 minutes is more dense.

What does the Volume of a workout mean?

The Volume of a workout the number of sets x’s the number of reps x’s the amount of weight moved.  If you perform 3 sets of 10 reps of 150lbs, your volume for that exercise is 4500lbs.

What does the Intensity of a workout mean?

Intensity is the percentage of your one Rep Max (1RM) that you are using on an exercise.  If your 1RM of an exercise is 200lbs and you are using 140lbs, the intensity is 70%.  If you are using 180lbs, the intensity is 90%.  Therefore, the heavier load (180lb at 90% of 1RM) is more intense than the lighter load (140lbs at 70% of 1RM).

What does RIR mean?

Reps in Reserve (RIR) mean the numbers of reps you have left, after you completed your set, before you hit failure. For example, if you have a target of 0 RIR, that means you couldn’t do another rep with appropriate form. However, if you have a target of 2 RIR, that means after you completed your last rep, you could only do 2 more reps before you hit failure.

What is different about your coaching philosophy?

As experienced IFBB Pros and NPC Judges, our coaching philosophy, dubbed 'Physique Readiness Coaching™', is rooted in a comprehensive understanding of bodybuilding dynamics. We've identified a critical trend: athletes often enter competitions without significant improvements, a result of coaching strategies overly focused on short-term contest goals.

Our methodology diverges by emphasizing long-term athlete development and health. We meticulously craft plans that foster continual physical growth and peak performance, tailoring every aspect of our guidance to align with the athlete's long-term objectives. This ensures not just immediate competition readiness but sustained advancement and success in their bodybuilding journey.

What sets you apart from other coaches?

As Physique Readiness Coaches™, our unique blend of IFBB Pro and NPC Judge expertise enables us to craft comprehensive bodybuilding career plans. Our Forward Thinking Strategic Philosophy focuses on more than just prepping for a single contest; it’s about continuous improvement throughout your competitive journey.

Our proactive coaching strategy encompasses Offseason, Contest Prep, Peak Week, Contest Day, Stage Strategy, and Reverse Diet. Each phase is meticulously tailored to your long-term goals and health. As an athlete, this approach provides you with a holistic strategy that emphasizes sustainable progress and overall health, integrating your support network and setting realistic milestones for long-term success in bodybuilding.

What services are included in your coaching plan?

Our coaching utilizes Trainerize for a streamlined, modern experience, surpassing conventional online training with its integrated approach. This centralizes your training in one user-friendly app, free from the usual distractions of other communication channels. The USA Physique app includes:

  • Customized Workout Programs and Nutrition Plans
  • Progress Tracking
  • Private, Secure Communication
  • Notifications and Scheduling
  • Unlimited Messaging
  • Graphs and Analytics for Progress Visualization
  • Increased Monitoring during Contest Prep
  • Daily Communication during Peak Week
  • All day communication on show day
  • Reverse Plan ready to go Post Prep

The system also seamlessly integrates with MyFitnessPal, Apple Watch, and Fitbit, ensuring comprehensive tracking and support throughout your fitness journey.

Do you have additional coaches on your team?

Absolutely! Thanks to the remarkable success of our athletes, the demand required it. We have an incredible coaching staff with the additions of Molly Greer, Valerie Ocano, and McKay George to our team. Our coaches have a minimum requirement of being a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), Achieve at least 90% on the National Academy of Metabolic Science (NAMS) Tier I and II certification test, and Top 5 at a National Qualifier.

Furthermore, we're proud to announce 2x Olympian, IFBB Pro and Judge, Karin Hobbs, as our Head Posing Coach and Advisor. This addition significantly enhances our team's knowledge and experience, allowing us to offer unparalleled coaching services to all our clients. Note that while Karin provides posing advisory services for our team, there is an additional fee to utilize her as your personal posing coach.

Note: McKay is not taking on any more coaches at this time.

What role does your Advisory Board play in your coaching approach?

Our advisory board, established in 2022, is a cornerstone of our coaching approach. It consists of renowned experts in various fields, each bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to our team. This board is not just an asset for our competition team but a valuable resource for all our clients, addressing the specialized needs and challenges of bodybuilding competitions.

  • Dr. Joe Klemczewski, PhD: A WNBF Pro with multiple PhDs, Dr. Joe is a mentor with extensive expertise in nutrition and exercise science. He has a notable 30+ year record of coaching over 400 clients to pro status, 150 pro titles, and over 50 world championships. Even if you have never heard his name, you most likely know his work and may even use it daily. If you consider yourself a "flexible dieter" or "macro counter", you can thank Dr. Joe for creating this concept. He is in large part, if not singularly, responsible for the creation of the contest coaching industry as a whole. Chet and Natalie are proud graduates of Dr. Joe's APEX Coach program and his National Academy of Metabolic Science (NAMS) intensive coaching certifications are required to become a coach for USA Physique. We are pleased to have "The Godfather of Flexible Dieting" and creator of "Perfect Peaking" offering our coaching team and clients unparalleled guidance and insights.
  • Dr. Laurie Minarich, MD: As a Nationally Qualified Bikini Competitor and Endocrinologist, Laurie provides essential knowledge about hormones and the physical demands of bodybuilding. Her dual expertise offers a unique perspective for Competition Team clients, especially beneficial for providing second opinions during and post prep. Unlike guidance that you might find in a typical "hormone optimization clinic" staffed by those who are not medical doctors, her advice is not geared toward creating customers, but on actual medical concerns and long-term health.
  • Karin Hobbs: A two-time Olympian, IFBB Pro, judge, and posing coach with over 23 years in the bodybuilding community. Karin's experience enhances our clients' posing skills, enriching our team's approach and understanding in this crucial aspect.
  • Impact Beyond the Competition Team: The board's insights and expertise extend to all areas of our service. Their diverse knowledge influences how we assist all our clients, from competition preparation to personal fitness goals, ensuring everyone receives informed and effective guidance.

The synergy of expert knowledge and practical application from our advisory board is a significant advantage for our clients. Whether it's for competition prep or achieving personal fitness milestones, the wisdom of our board directly enriches our clients' journeys. This multidisciplinary team ensures that our clients benefit from a broad spectrum of expertise, enhancing their path to success in bodybuilding and fitness.

What is your approach to cardio?

In bodybuilding, there's a lot of debate about how much cardio exercise is good. At USA Physique, we believe in doing as little cardio as possible, especially during off-season and contest prep. Cardio is great for staying healthy and losing fat, but it might not be the best for building the best physique, which is our goal in bodybuilding. However, when it's time to get ready for a competition, a bit of cardio becomes necessary.

Our approach is simple. To look your best on stage, you need to have a high metabolism. This starts in the off-season. We focus on eating plenty of food (without gaining too much fat) and doing very little cardio. Why? Because the more cardio you do now, the less helpful it will be when you're preparing for a contest. Your off-season should be about workouts, good nutrition, and everyday activities, not cardio.

When you begin contest prep, you'll start with a good sized calorie deficit. It's important to have enough calories to reduce when fat loss stops, which happens often. Also, keep initial cardio low (preferably none for the first phase) so you can gradually increase it without overdoing it. Too much cardio can slow down fat loss, cause muscle loss, make recovery slower, and lead to extreme tiredness. It can also make your physique look less than ideal on stage and cause problems after the contest.

Ever noticed competitors doing a lot of cardio close to the competition? This often leads to stalled progress, muscle loss, and overall exhaustion. Research shows that excessive cardio can hinder the benefits of weightlifting, especially when combined with very low calories. We try to prevent this by planning smartly in the off-season.

Sometimes, we might need to do more cardio than usual in the final stages of prep due to unexpected issues, like not having enough prep time, low metabolism, injuries, or personal challenges. And once in a while cardio my go to the extreme, but we consider 60 minutes 5 days a week to be extreme. We factor in extra time to your prep to account for and mediate these surprises.

What is your stance on the use of Performance Enhancement Drugs (PEDs) in bodybuilding?

When it comes to performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs, our approach is neutral but informed. We don't encourage or discourage use. This means we don't push you to use them or tell you to stay away. Instead, we focus on supporting you, whether you decide to use PEDs or not. If you're thinking about using PEDs, we'll give you all the information you need about their good and bad points. This way, you can make a choice that's right for you. The focus is ensuring you can make an informed decision.

It's important to use PEDs ethically. Using them in competitions that are supposed to be drug-free is cheating, and we're strongly against that. If any athlete we coach is caught cheating in these competitions, we will stop coaching them without a refund. In some leagues like the NPC/IFBB, using PEDs is more common and accepted.

Remember, PEDs aren't necessary to be successful in bodybuilding. Success is defined by the individual, there is no set standard. You need to think about whether using or not using PEDs fits with your goals. We recognize that bodybuilding can be complicated, especially when it comes to drugs. Our job is to help and guide you, making sure your bodybuilding path is successful, and as healthy as possible!

Are your workout programs individualized or standardized for competitors?

Our workout programs are precisely tailored to each athlete's unique needs. The process begins with a foundational phase, where we establish core compound lifts. This initial stage, lasting about 10 weeks, sets the groundwork for customization based on your division, experience, and progress. As you evolve, so does your program, incorporating techniques like supersets, drop sets, and blood flow restriction, and other methodologies to target specific strengths and weaknesses. Nutrition is similarly individualized, aligning with each training phase. Our approach is dynamic, adapting to your ongoing progress and specific goals, ensuring a continuous cycle of improvement from off-season to contest prep.

This method is proven, adaptable, flexible, feasible, and suited to continuous improvement. However, it's crucial to remember that your commitment to nutrition and training significantly impacts your progression. Consistency is key, and we only make changes to your program when it's beneficial for your development.

What about your approach to Discovery clients?

Our Discovery plan is tailored for individuals who are intrigued by the bodybuilding lifestyle but may not be ready or sure about stepping onto the competition stage. This plan serves two main purposes:

  1. For Non-Competitive Enthusiasts: If you're passionate about embracing the bodybuilding lifestyle without the intention of competing, this plan offers a balanced approach. It includes key elements of bodybuilding training and nutrition, but with less intensity and rigidity than our competitive programs. This allows you to enjoy the process and benefits of bodybuilding, such as increased muscle mass, improved body composition, and enhanced physical strength, while fitting comfortably into your daily life.
  2. For Potential Competitors: If you're considering competition but aren't yet committed, the Discovery plan acts as a stepping stone. It is not as detail oriented as a committed competitor, but does provides a glimpse into the discipline, training, and nutritional habits essential for competitive bodybuilding. This plan is structured to give you a realistic experience of what it takes to prepare for a competition, helping you make an informed decision about whether to pursue it further.

In both cases, the Discovery plan is less demanding than our competition-focused programs, offering a structured yet flexible approach. It's ideal for those who want to experience the bodybuilding lifestyle at a pace that aligns with their current goals and lifestyle.

What about your approach for Lifestyle clients?

For our Lifestyle clients, the focus is primarily on health and overall fitness rather than just aesthetics. Our workout programs are more standardized, with several to choose from based on individual goals, experience, and needs, but can be modified as you progress. They are designed to enhance your quality of life by incorporating a variety of functional and strength training exercises. These routines are crafted to improve your everyday strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular health, aligning with your personal health goals. Whether it's losing weight, gaining muscle, improving posture, or increasing stamina, each program is tailored to your specific needs. We emphasize sustainable fitness habits that can be integrated into your daily life, ensuring long-term success and well-being.

Do you provide meal plans, or do you focus on macro counting?

While Natalie and I specialize in coaching athletes who follow Macro Counting (aka Flexible Dieting), our team of expert coaches is well adept at working with both Macro Counting and Meal Plans. That includes Competitors, Discovery, and Lifestyle clients. This flexibility ensures that every client finds a nutrition strategy that resonates with their lifestyle and goals.

Our nutrition strategy primarily centers around Macro Counting, offering a sustainable and flexible approach to dieting. We emphasize learning how to select foods that align with your goals, rather than following restrictive meal plans. While meal plans can be effective, research indicates there is an increased risk of binging and developing long-term eating disorders due to their restrictive nature. Studies also show that Macro Counting is more sustainable with is especially crucial during the hard dieting involved during contest prep. Flexible Dieting through macro counting promotes a varied diet, crucial for gut health and metabolic efficiency. Our plans are fully individualized, adjusting to your progress and preferences, whether it's clean eating, keto, vegan, or any other dietary style. You are free to make your own meal plan based on the macros we give you. It's the best of both worlds.

When can I start contest prep?

When can I start prep is on of the most common question we hear, reflecting the eagerness of many to compete. However, rushing into prep without considering key factors can lead to suboptimal results. Unlike the standard 12 or 16 week preps commonly offered for their simplicity and profitability, we at USA Physique believe in a more tailored approach.

The decision on when to start prep is based on three main criteria: your metabolism, base physique, and personal schedule.

  1. Metabolism: A critical factor is understanding your metabolic health, particularly your maintenance calorie level. This is the daily calorie intake needed to maintain your current weight. A simple way to estimate this is to multiply your body weight by 15. If your calorie intake aligns with or exceeds this figure without weight gain, it indicates your metabolism is ready for the fat-reduction phase of contest prep.
  2. Base Physique: Your physique should already align with the muscle development and body composition standards of your chosen division. Having the necessary muscle mass and an appropriate body composition is crucial for effective competition in your category.
  3. Personal Schedule: Your ability to commit the necessary time and effort, without undue stress or disrupting other life commitments, is equally important. Prep should be a manageable part of your life, not a source of overwhelming strain.

At USA Physique, we discard the 'one-size-fits-all' mentality in favor of a customized prep strategy. We consider these essential factors to determine the ideal start time for your contest prep, ensuring it's tailored to your unique metabolic rate, physique, and personal circumstances. This approach sets you up for success, aligning every aspect of your prep with your individual goals and lifestyle.

What is the typical duration of your Contest Prep plans?

Everything we do is tailored to each competitor. We don't have a one-size-fits-all plan – that's just not our style.

When we start your contest prep, we plan it based on losing about 0.8 to 1% of your body weight in pounds each week. Losing weight too fast can lead to muscle loss and other issues. We also add extra time for diet breaks, mock peak week, and to handle unexpected things like getting sick, injured or having personal problems. This means your prep could last 16 weeks, 24 weeks, or however long it takes for you. This careful planning is key to successfully completing the Five Stages of Contest Prep.

Many of our competitors reach their ideal stage weight a few weeks early. By that time, we often start increasing their calories, sometimes by 500 or 600 more per day. Mood and energy go up. They get fuller, tighter, leaner and less sensitive to carbs which decreases the likelihood of spillover come show time.

Our goal is to build "Competitive Athletes," not just a lot of "competitors." While some coaches focus on getting as many people as possible on stage with standard prep plans, we focus on what's best for each individual. By working through the Five Phases of Contest Prep, we help our athletes become truly competitive on stage.

How many clients do you have?

At USA Physique we understand concerns about client numbers and the quality of coaching. As of December 2023, Chet and Natalie are coaching 83 clients together. Our other coaches make up for another 40-50 that they manage on their own, with our guidance if needed. For 2024, we're planning to have a maximum of 85 clients. We chose this number carefully to make sure we can give each client the attention they need.

There are two main reasons why we limit the number of clients we coach. First, for us, coaching is about passion, not money. We've retired from our other jobs, so we don't need to coach for income. This lets us focus on quality coaching and really caring about our clients and the sport.

Second, we want to help the whole bodybuilding community, not just our clients. By having a manageable number of clients, we can give detailed advice to everyone we coach, and also teach others who are interested in bodybuilding. We love helping the sport grow and being the best coaches we can be. Its also why we judge and are on many online discussion boards giving out free information ad advice. Its our way of paying it forward.

Most of our clients are in their off-season at any given time, which doesn't need as much time from us as contest prep does. To give you an idea, out of our 83 clients, 12 are Lifestyle/Discovery clients, 53 are in the off-season, and only 15 were in contest prep this year. We're expecting 23 clients to compete in 2024. This spread of clients allows us to really focus on those who are preparing for competitions, while still supporting everyone else.

Our coaching focuses on getting each athlete's body and metabolism ready to be competitive before they officially start contest prep. It's important to us that anyone thinking about joining our team understands how we work. We want each client to feel important and not just like a number. It's why we reduced our client cap from 95 to 85 for next year to keep our quality high, especially since we expect more clients to be in contest prep.

What do you look for in a potential competition client?

We're pretty selective about who we coach. Our goal is to work with people who are serious about winning and ready to do the detailed, tough work it takes. Bodybuilding is all about patience, discipline, and sacrifice. If you're looking for quick results, we're probably not the right team for you. This might sound tough, but it's nothing compared to how strict the judges are. We want clients who think and act like athletes, no matter their current shape.

We're not just looking for people who want to be part of the competition; we want people who aim to be at the top of the competition. You don't need to have an amazing physique to start with – that's not our focus. We're skilled at building competitive physiques, no matter where you're starting from. The more time you're willing to invest in improving your physique and metabolism before starting prep, the more interested we are in working with you.

Ultimately, this sport demands your willingness to make sacrifices, step beyond your comfort zone, and commit to rigorous, meticulous effort. If you're hesitant to embrace these challenges, bodybuilding might not be the right path for you.

How often do I need to check in with you?

Our check-in system is designed to be responsive and individualized, adapting to each client's unique needs and progress. We've implemented a system that closely monitors our clients' progress, ensuring it aligns with our expectations. This approach surpasses the traditional once-a-week check-ins. We are instantly alerted, on any day, if a client's progress deviates from the desired or expected path. This proactive strategy allows us to maintain a consistent and effective oversight of our clients' development.

This is especially true for those in contest prep or facing specific challenges. Adjustments to your plan are made as needed – sometimes this could be multiple times a week, or it might not be necessary for a few weeks. You can expect at least a weekly update from us, either to confirm your progress or to suggest changes, effectively shifting the responsibility from you to us.

You have 24/7 access to communicate with us. Picture this: if you have a question in the middle of the night, you can send us a message through our private messaging system and then go back to sleep. Whether it's a weekend, holiday, or any time of day, we're here for you. We don’t just let messages pile up; we respond as soon as we can. That said, there will be times when we're occupied – with other clients, in meetings, during family time, or when we're sleeping – and we'll have our system on silent.

Remember, weekends are primarily our family time. While we often try to respond to messages during weekends, it's not something we guarantee, except in certain circumstances. If you're in contest prep, rest assured we monitor and communicate with you every day of the week. During peak week, we may be in contact with you multiple times a day, and all day long on show day.

We check messages frequently and aim to reply on the same day. But, if you haven't heard back from us within 24 hours during the week, please send a follow-up message.

What would my responsibilities be as a client?

While we provide comprehensive support and guidance, the success of our coaching also heavily depends on your active participation and commitment. It's crucial for you to do your part.

You are responsible for consistently providing accurate and up-to-date information, all done through our app. This includes tracking and reporting your weight, adhering to your nutrition plans, and logging your workouts and cardio sessions. Skipping or neglecting to record this data can be detrimental to your progress. Remember, as coaches, we base our advice and adjustments on the data you provide. If the information is incomplete or inaccurate, our guidance won't be as effective as it could be.

Staying diligent in keeping your records helps us help you more effectively. It's a partnership where your consistent effort and honest reporting are just as important as our expertise and guidance. This means that if you mess up, your responsibility as a client and athlete with big goals is to immediately communicate that to your coach. We rely on your data to tailor our coaching to your specific needs and goals. Without it, we're working in the dark.

In summary, your commitment to maintaining accurate and thorough records is a key part of the coaching process. It ensures that the feedback and adjustments we provide are based on a true reflection of your progress, leading to more effective and successful coaching outcomes.

Coaching is a team effort, at least it should be.

I like to ask questions because I want to learn. Am I able to do that or will I get "Trust the process?"

We have a strong stance against the often-used phrase “trust the process.” To us, as coaches, it's more than just guiding; it's about educating. You won't hear us telling you to trust the process. We believe in making sure you understand why you're doing what you're doing. Understanding the reasons behind each step of your program not only builds your trust in the process but also enhances your commitment and effort.

Why would anyone give their all if they don't understand the purpose or the expected outcome? Plus, our goal isn't to coach you forever. Ideally, you'll learn enough to eventually create your own training and nutrition plans. We're here to teach you, not just to give orders. So, if you have questions, always feel free to ask – that's a big part of our role.

After-all, an informed athlete is a better one!

We do encourage you to ask questions about your program, but we also ask that you check our FAQ page first. Many common questions are already answered there. If your question is covered in the FAQs, we'll direct you there first. This approach helps streamline communication and ensures that our time spent answering questions is as efficient and beneficial as possible.

How much do your plans cost?

We offer three different coaching plans, each designed to meet various needs and goals. You can find all the details about these plans on our Online Coaching page. Importantly, we do not charge any setup or initiation fees for these plans.

Believing strongly in the quality of our service, we don't tie you down with a contract. Our pricing is simple: a flat rate charged monthly. You have the flexibility to cancel your plan whenever you need to. Just remember to cancel at least 7 days before your next payment is due, as our system processes payments automatically.

How do I get started and what is next?
  • Fill Out the Competitor Application: Your first step is to complete the Competitor Application. This helps us to understand your goals and background.
  • Response Time: After submitting your application, expect someone from our team to reach out to you within two business days. We'll focus on arranging a free consultation to discuss your needs and aspirations in more detail.
  • Read Our FAQ Section: While you wait for our response, we highly recommend exploring our FAQ section. It’s filled with valuable insights about our coaching methods and the principles behind our approach.
  • Competitor Application