Updated: Jun 15, 2019
There's a time and a place to shock the body into change. Sometimes, you do need to shake things up. But for the majority of people most of the time, small adjustments are a lot better than major changes. Why? It keeps things systematic and predictable. And it allows you to make the most of the least. If you do it smart, you can identify and manipulate a small number of variables to create the biggest bang for your buck - a precise dietary change, a practical technique to manage your stress triggers, or a tried and tested training protocol that your body tends to respond to, etc. You can monitor things and maximise the results of each little change before you decide if you're ready to push things along and implement another change.
I applied the 'less is more' mentality to set up my diet at the start of my 13 week prep into the WBFF Australia 2017 show. That contest, I stepped on stage in my best shape yet.
It's just one case, but it says a lot.
A planned diet for one person doesn't necessarily mirror a generic BMR calculator. It can be quite different!
Small, deliberate changes can have big results. Based on skin folds data, I put on an estimated 1.3 kgs of muscle while holding at 11.3 % body fat 8 weeks out of a contest.
It is possible to build size but not gain fat. Yes, there's limits and it's not necessarily optimal to shoot for this - ie, if your priority is to put on muscle and you're really lean, then you'll need to ramp up your calories and that may cause you to put on a moderate amount of body fat, but it's all part of the process if you're going to really boost your anabolic potential.
I had already competed earlier in the year and remained quite lean the second time around. This data is unique to my body and circumstances at that time as a fitness athlete in season.
How did my calorie baseline compare to a standard BMR and TDEE calculator?
I used a couple of different BMR tools available online. I selected the 'moderate activity' option, as I trained 5 times a week with a fairly sedentary day job.
Here's what the calculators said.
Here's a simplified snap shot of how I designed my contest prep diet based on my body at that time, recent food choices and eating patterns, and my competition time line and goals.
I deliberately ate lots of food because my main priority was to build or maintain muscle while maintaining my body fat percentage at the start of my contest prep. The end game was to look fuller and more defined on stage. I didn't want to look skinny and frail. I wanted to look lean, muscular and strong.
Here's the number crunching. Of course, there's far more at play in any body recomposition story than just calories, macros, caliper data and body weight. But even this snippet of data illustrates that you don't automatically shoot for the obvious if you plan it properly - ie, immediately cut calories, eliminate carbs, and pray to see the number on the scales drop each week. In fact, I did the complete opposite.
So what happened?
I deliberately increased my calories.
I adjusted my macros to bump up carbs. I did this strategically so that my body would respond better to carbs to fill out my muscles closer to competition. (I had used a higher fat diet and carb cycling approach for my prep earlier in the year and didn't come in to stage as full as I could have, so this time around I dramatically increased my carbs to prime my muscles to hold a full, muscular shape. I still maintained moderate to high fats and protein.)
I put on about 1.4 kg in 4 weeks.
My skin folds site indicate that I put on about 1.3 kg of muscle mass. (Note - is this technically true? Maybe, maybe not. But it's beside the point - skin fold data is valuable because it helps me to track the direction that things are moving. I use the mirror and photos and video to see whether my physique is filling out and looking more muscular. Ultimately, that's all that really matters in an aesthetic sport.)
I didn't put on fat. All the different methods of data collection that I use - skin folds, scales, photo and video, the look and shape of my body - all support this.
How does this make any sense?! It's simple.
I trained hard and consistently.
I prioritised my sleep schedule.
I ate real foods.
I timed and measured the foods I ate.
I deliberately increased my calories early in my prep.
I cycled calories and macros on certain days.
I based all of these decisions on the body that I had at that time and its recent history.
The results lie in the details of a careful plan, not a linear calorie cut.
Keen to learn more?
My earlier blogs are practical guides to help you manipulate the different components of your metabolism so that you can build your unique calorie foundation.