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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation

Eric R Helms1*, Alan A Aragon2 and Peter J Fitschen3

Author Affiliations

1 Sport Performance Research in New Zealand (SPRINZ) at AUT Millennium Institute, AUT University, 17 Antares Place, Mairangi Bay, Auckland 0632, New Zealand

2 California State University, Northridge, CA, USA

3 Division of Nutritional Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA

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Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2014, 11:20  doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-20

Published: 12 May 2014

Abstract

The popularity of natural bodybuilding is increasing; however, evidence-based recommendations for it are lacking. This paper reviewed the scientific literature relevant to competition preparation on nutrition and supplementation, resulting in the following recommendations. Caloric intake should be set at a level that results in bodyweight losses of approximately 0.5 to 1%/wk to maximize muscle retention. Within this caloric intake, most but not all bodybuilders will respond best to consuming 2.3-3.1 g/kg of lean body mass per day of protein, 15-30% of calories from fat, and the reminder of calories from carbohydrate. Eating three to six meals per day with a meal containing 0.4-0.5 g/kg bodyweight of protein prior and subsequent to resistance training likely maximizes any theoretical benefits of nutrient timing and frequency. However, alterations in nutrient timing and frequency appear to have little effect on fat loss or lean mass retention. Among popular supplements, creatine monohydrate, caffeine and beta-alanine appear to have beneficial effects relevant to contest preparation, however others do not or warrant further study. The practice of dehydration and electrolyte manipulation in the final days and hours prior to competition can be dangerous, and may not improve appearance. Increasing carbohydrate intake at the end of preparation has a theoretical rationale to improve appearance, however it is understudied. Thus, if carbohydrate loading is pursued it should be practiced prior to competition and its benefit assessed individually. Finally, competitors should be aware of the increased risk of developing eating and body image disorders in aesthetic sport and therefore should have access to the appropriate mental health professionals.

Keywords:
Hypertrophy; Calories; Frequency; Nutrient; Body fat; Resistance training; Competition