Pre-Contest Diet Phase I (13-15 weeks out)


Saturday, July 2nd, 2005. 89 days (approximately 13 weeks) until show day. Most bodybuilders start their pre-contest diets at about 12 weeks out. However, the amount of time it takes to prepare for a competition depends on your body fat level to begin
with. I’ve developed a pretty good system for figuring out exactly how long you’ll need to diet in order to come in for a perfect landing on the one day that counts. Check it out…

Some bodybuilders maintain low body fat (6-9%) all year because they have fast metabolisms and they’re naturally lean (ectomorph) types (or they intentionally stay lean because they are models or it’s their personal preference). In this case, it may only take 8-10 weeks or less to get ready.

Bodybuilders who have slower metabolisms and endomorph body types often start their contest prep with body fat in the 10-13% range. That usually takes about 12-16 weeks to get ready.

An easy way to estimate the required time for dieting is to choose a target body fat percentage (usually 3-5% for men), then subtract that from your current body fat percentage to see how much you have to lose. If you are 10.5% body fat and your goal for contest day is 3.5%, then you have to shed 7% body fat.

Next, based on losing 0.5% (1/2%) body fat per week, divide that weekly fat loss target by the amount of fat you have to lose (7% divided by 0.5% per week = 14 weeks of dieting to reach 3.5%).

Finally, add one week because the final week before the show is not for losing fat, it’s simply for taking care of your water and carbing up. If you still have body fat 7 days out, you screwed up. That makes 15 weeks total.

This is a conservative estimate. Many people can strip off 0.6%, 0.7% or even more body fat per week no problem, but I prefer to lose fat slowly and to include a fudge factor by allowing more time than necessary. I’d rather be ready too soon than scrambling at the
last minute.

This year I started at 15 weeks out, simply because that was when I chose a competition date, and my body fat was definitely up around 10% or so (I will start having my body fat measured next week and will be keeping records of my weight, body fat and lean body mass).

However, this period of time, from 3-4 months out, is not really strict dieting yet. It’s more like a “pre-diet” diet for me. At 13-16 weeks out, my diet is still very much like my off season diet with a few small changes:

  • I drop out the post workout drink, if I was using one (don’t want the refined sugar any more…NO, not even post workout)
  • I cut out all cheat meals (even if I could “get away with it” and still lose fat at the desired rate, it’s just a personal discipline thing… besides… my competition may NOT be cheating)
  • I cut out bread, pasta, and any other man made carbs, even whole grain varieties, if I was using them
  • I cut out dairy products, if I was using them
  • I fine tune my meal timing, getting 6 meals a day every day ON TIME (no late or missed meals whatsoever)
  • I sometimes cut the starchy carbs from the last meal of the day
  • I keep my water intake at about 1-1.5 gallons per day and cut out calorie containing liquids

Aside from these minor changes, my diet remains more or less the same as it is the rest of the year. What you see in the example below is the first phase of my contest diet, but it’s pretty close to how I eat all the time:

Meal 1: 6:45 am
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup blueberries
8-12 egg whites
1 whole egg
Meal 2: 9:30 am
1 cup oatmeal
2 scoops vanilla protein powder (or 8-12 egg whites)
1 grapefruit
Meal 3: 12:30 pm
8-10 oz yam or sweet potato or white potato
6-8 oz chicken breast
8 oz broccoli
Meal 4: 3:00 pm
8-10 oz yam or sweet potato or 1.5-2.0 cups of brown rice
6- 8 oz lean sirloin, top round or flank steak
8 oz broccoli
Meal 5: 5:30 pm
8-10 oz yam or sweet potato
6-8 oz chicken breast
8 oz asparagus
Meal 6: 8:00 pm
6-8 oz chicken breast or 1 can tuna or 8 oz Alaskan salmon
Spinach and lettuce salad (approx 4 cups), 1/2 cucumber, tomato
2 tbsp low calorie salad dressing

This adds up to approximately 3600-3800 calories, 360-380 grams of carbs, 360-380 grams of protein and about 80-90 grams of fat. (Previously, my calories were at about 4200-4400 as I was still in a weight-gain mode).

My diet is going to change quite dramatically over the next week or two, as I kick things into high gear and start cycling the carbs and calories. I was taking in at least 400-450 grams of carbs a day most of the past year. I already reduced them slightly a couple weeks ago. Next week I will cut them substantially on the low carb days. I will post my exact low carb cycle sometime next week. So far, I’ve begun losing weight and fat with only these minor dietary changes and the addition of a 30 minute cardio session every day.

The only supplements I’m using now is some protein powder in my oatmeal (mainly for convenience and because I think it tastes good), a multi vitamin (plus an extra gram of vitamin C), creatine, and a tablespoon of an essential oil blend or flax oil (I may increase to 2-3 tbsp when my carbs go down later). I am very much a supplement “minimalist” and I’ll always choose whole food over meal
replacements before a contest.

About two weeks ago, I weighed 205 with shoes on. Yesterday I weighed 201.5 lbs (shoes, t shirt, sweats). I took the shoes off and the scale said 199.5 lbs., so that’s my official weight today. Every Friday from now on I will do an official weigh in: It will be with shoes off, on the same scale at the gym, at 8:00 am in the morning before training and after one meal. Weighing under the same conditions each week will give me the most consistent results. The Natural USA competition, being sanctioned by the NBI, has height
classes, not weight classes. However, I may do a second show, possibly an NPC event, and if so, I will need to make middleweights (the cutoff is 176.25 lbs). This will be no problem, because even if I weigh 180-185 the week before the show, I can lose water weight
very, very easily (that would actually make me a “dehydrated light-heavyweight”).

Until next time, train hard, eat right and think about these words of champion wrestler and Olympian, Dan Gable:

“When I’d get tired and want to stop, I’d wonder what my next opponent was doing. I’d wonder if he was still working out. I tried to visualize him. When I could see him still working, I’d start pushing myself. When I could see him in the shower, I’d push
myself harder”

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Comments on Pre-Contest Diet Phase I (13-15 weeks out) Leave a Comment

July 5, 2005

Chris @ 11:27 pm #

I have to thank you for making a difference in my life and giving me the tools to build the body I want. I consider myself pretty knowledgable when it comes to nutrition, but your book blew me away, filling in gaps by telling the whole story. I’ve been following your recommendations to a tee and the fat is stripping off and I couldn’t be more excited or motivated as I am “now”.
Add to your book this website, which is packed with some of the best workouts I’ve ever had the pleasure of performing (or is that pain) and I’m seeing results like I’ve never seen before. I always wondered if I could compete. People have told me time and time again I could, but I was never able to drop my bodyfat low enough to where I felt comfortable getting on stage and going for the gold. I have a renewed hope, vision, and commitment to making it happen, and in large part thanks to you. To your success,

July 6, 2005

Matt K @ 4:19 pm #

Quick question for you Tom…What kind of oatmeal do you use? I’ve always used the quaker instant oats, but I was recently told that the old fashioned regualar rolled oats (not the instant ones) are much better because they of the glycemic index level of the two (the instant oats have less fiber I was told, and had a greater impact on blood sugar creating more of an insulin spike). Should I trade in the convenience of the instant oats for the “non-instant” oats, or is the difference not as much as this seemingly knowledgable person has told me…? Thanks.

Tom Venuto @ 4:36 pm #

I use Quaker old fashioned oatmeal. Your “seemingly knowledgeable” friend is correct. Old fashioned oats have a Glycemic index of 48, while instant oatmeal (“quick oats”) have a glycemic index of 66 (GI values vary depending on the source you quote). I’m not sure it makes that much of a difference. The important thing is to avoid the sugar-sweetened varieties of oatmeal. I’ve used both Quaker “quick” oats and Quaker “old fashioned” oats without noticing any difference in my results. Both microwave in minutes just fine. Glycemic index is highly overrated as a food selection tool for fat loss diets, in my opinion, and is only ONE factor to consider in your carb choices, not “THE” factor. What’s more important is calories in versus calories out and whether the carb source is natural or refined. Check out my e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle for more info on this subject. One time you may want to consider GI is in the post workout meal. Some people avoid white potatoes on fat loss diets because of the high GI, but I’ve never cut them out of my diets. I simply eat them after my workouts and/or on high carb/re-feed days (great carb up food!) People who are extremely carb sensitive /insulin resistant may also want to give more weight to GI in choosing carb sources.

Kev @ 4:53 pm #

Hi Tom
I was surprised at how much your eating at this phase (esp the fat amount), although your probably burning off a lot of cals too
could you elaborate on the fat intake – good/bad fats please?
I also noticed creatine in the supplement list, could you also elaborate on how much, when etc…
on the dairy products is it wise to cut them out completely? what about the calcium/protein deficiency or is that covered in the multivitamins/protein from food?
I take it the oats are mixed with water?
Over the last 2/3 months I have gone down to skimmed milk (from semi) and have noticed a remarkable difference (too many coffees 😉 caffein equals code ;)), some days I use skimmed milk with my protein shake but would never consider removing milk from my regime
thanks for any feedback

July 7, 2005

Tom Venuto @ 11:00 am #

The diet posted in this July 2nd blog is a 13-16 weeks out diet. Like I mentioned in the blog, it’s not really a strict pre-contest diet, it’s more like a pre-diet, diet. I will start carb cycling soon and those carb amounts will be cut in half on the low carb days and the calories will get down in the low 3000’s. Remember, I’m coming off a 4200+ calorie per day weight gain diet, so this is a drop from what I was doing. Most people don’t eat enough. The typical Barnes and Noble bookstore best-selling diet book will prescribe something like 1800 calories for men. Are you kidding me? That’s not enough calories for my left leg! What if you plateau? What then? 1200 a day? I’m at 3800 and already dropped a few pounds at that level. When my fat loss plateaus as it always does, I can drop to 3200-3400 or so and I’m still no where near starvation. Then I can even drop to 2700-2900 or so and even though that will be an aggressive deficit for me, it’s still not starvation. My goal is to burn fat slowly and keep the muscle and this is how I do it: BURN THE FAT, FEED THE MUSCLE.
Re: good fats vs bad fats – check out chapter 9 in my ebook for the entire story on that, or just go to
Re: creatine; I take 10 g a day maintenance dose now (two 5 g scoops). I loaded previously at 25 g a day for 5 days. I realize all the experts are now saying you don’t need to load, but loading saturates your tissues faster. Why wait? Creatine works, but I have to say it’s overrated and overhyped. It worked best for me the FIRST time I ever used it, many years ago. I’ve never come close to those results ever again.
About the dairy products – there’s no reason whatsoever to cut out dairy products unless you’re on a contest diet. Bodybuilding competition dieting is a whole different ballgame than your average Joe wanting to go from “poor” body fat to “average” body fat. many of the dietary modifications I will be implementing in the coming weeks are designed strictly for the purpose of going from “already lean” to “ripped to shreds.” The way I eat – and the way I train, for that matter – is NOT what I recommend for everyone else.

July 9, 2005

viv @ 3:56 pm #

Hi Tom…so glad you sent the email to let me know about this site! A quick question. I am doing a 12 week Challenge, my 2nd try, and was wondering whether or not dairy could RUIN my end results. I don’t drink regular milk, but I do drink oat milk (only 1 cup per day) in a soy protein shake. Is this as well as 1/2 cup of low fat cottage cheese (or yoghurt) going to sabotage my end results, or is it all dependant on how hard I train? If I train hard, and eat those foods, although small amounts per day and per meal, will I be as “ripped” as I could be, or should I cut out the dairy altogether?
Thanks! Viv

July 10, 2005

Tom Venuto @ 8:55 pm #

Dairy products will not “ruin” anyone’s results on a fat loss program. In fact, I recommend that most people who are not lactose intolerant include dairy products as part of a balanced diet. Only on very, very strict pre-contest bodybuilding diets would I recommend the temporary removal of dairy products – based on the way your body responds. Fat loss is more a matter of calories in versus calories out than it is a matter of whether you include dairy or not. Make your food choice decisions based on your results: If you’re eating dairy and getting leaner, don’t change it – keep the dairy in. If you’re on a strict contest diet and you’re not getting leaner, ditch the dairy and see if it makes a difference

July 19, 2005

Tiago @ 10:09 am #

Hey Tom,
Great Blog, I just found out about it and I’m lucky I did because I always wanted to know a bodybuilders point of view on things. I really admire you and your success and hope to one day acheive what you have done. You really have changed the way I look at things.
Anyways, I know you believe that you don’t need supplements to accomplish your goals, but what about creatine? Would this be a supplement that you would recommend taking? I don’t like taking or take any supplements, besides postworkout, and like to stay as natural as possible. I’m 15 years old and been working out for a little more than a year. I’m looking to add muscle weight and increase strength. Any advice?

July 20, 2005

Tom Venuto @ 5:39 pm #

Creatine is a legitimate supplement, and yes I use it.

August 18, 2005

Tkd @ 1:20 am #

Quote : “The typical Barnes and Noble bookstore best-selling diet book will prescribe something like 1800 calories for men. Are you kidding me?”
LoL I gotta say that’s very true… well Before I started reading you I was much more into Dr John Berardi stuff(I still follow him) and whenver I preach wat he talks about it.. I got flamed 😀
well Tom, I didn’t knew you had an awesome blog too tho I am your subscriber.. huh..
thnx for sharing your knowledge

Tom Venuto @ 1:24 pm #

John Berardi puts out some GREAT information. his cookbook, “Gourmet Nutrition” is a great complement to my Burn The Fat ( ebook. I posted a short review of it on my Fitness renaissance site here:

August 30, 2005

mike @ 9:27 am #

tom, this blog is awesome — thank you. I read the thread about eating dairy products. I’m just curious: what is it about dairy products specifically that might cause some people from achieving their absolute best results? insulin response? I had always thought of low-fat cottage cheese as a perfect food — not just for normal health and wellness, but for really getting ripped. can you please share some more thoughts on dairy science here?

September 5, 2005

Tom Venuto @ 2:31 pm #

Dairy products are simply a highly allergenic and bloat-producing food for many people. Dairy products can and should be included in a fat loss program for the “average person” or for an off season bodybuiding diet.
For a bodybuilder or fitnes/figure competitor in the final stages of a strict contest diet, I recommend taking a pass. You are likely to appear harder and less bloated/water retentive by at removing the dairy products at least temporarily.

March 15, 2006

Manny Mims @ 11:53 pm #

Hey Mr. Venuto,
Thanks for posting your eating schedule along with all other things that you generously post! And I just want to say I admire your work! You do indeed speak the truth comparing to so many other bodybuilding con artists out there! And I also sincerely admire your natural way of doing thing without all the supplements others use!
Manny Mims

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