While most people don’t train to enter figure or bodybuilding shows, it’s possible to look “competition-ready” year-round. As a long-time fitness competitor, I’ve learned how to avoid yo-yo weight cycling and maintain a low body fat percentage without having to feel starved or virtually live at the gym by adhering to these simple, effective guidelines:
Eat Enough Calories It’s common for dieters to drastically cut calories—but a consuming too few calories can actually sabotage your diet. Fitness guru Jackie Warner recommends never eating under 1,200 calories a day because crash dieting slows the metabolism by 20 percent and can ultimately lead to putting pounds back on. Figure champion Alicia Marie also advises that if you attempt to deprive your body of nutrients, it will “rebel” by absorbing all the calories it can and then protect itself from any future fasts or extreme diets by storing fat.
Eat Frequently Many people think dieting means having to eat less—but eating more frequently can support weight and fat loss goals. Having five or six healthy meals and snacks every three to four hours can keep your metabolism revving, increase energy, keep insulin levels constant and help support appetite control.
Eat Low-Glycemic Carbs Some diets advise eliminating or restricting carbohydrates—eating carbohydrates with low glycemic levels can help you lose weight. The glycemic-index is a measure of how fast carbohydrates increase blood sugar. Low-glycemic carbs such as whole grains, oatmeal and brown rice are broken down more slowly, while high glycemic carbs like white bread, white potatoes and white pasta higher in simple sugars break down quickly and can cause a rise in insulin levels, contributing to fat storage.
Eat Healthy Fats A misconception is that all fats can make you fat—but eating healthy, unsaturated fats can help keep you lean by suppressing hunger, lowering cholesterol levels and creating a faster metabolic rate. Unsaturated fat sources that the body can burn for fuel instead of storing as fat include wild salmon, nuts, avocados, olives and flaxseed. These healthy fats can also help lower blood pressure levels and decrease the risk of heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Add Dietary Fiber Many dieters who feel starved often overeat—but to alleviate hunger pains and curb cravings, eat high-fiber foods that make you feel full and also promote weight loss. Dietary fiber fights hunger by forming bulk in the intestines and increasing levels of hormones that produce satiety (fullness), decrease fat absorption and reduce blood sugar and insulin levels.
Weight Train Dieters often step up cardiovascular exercises to lose weight—but weight training can boost your metabolic rate and help make it possible to burn more calories throughout the day, even when resting.
Be Flexible Be open to trying new exercise routines to avoid hitting plateaus and to address certain “problem areas.” You may find the need to add or eliminate certain movements to achieve your ideal physique. For example, if your butt isn’t as round as you’d like, you may have to start doing more exercises to specifically target glutes such as deadlifts. Or if you notice building up your obliques is making your waist look wider, you may need to eliminate twisting motions.