Fitness Competitors Nutrition: On-Season

We analyze the most important points about nutrition in Fitness Competitors in pre-competition periods, or also known as On Season.


What is it

On-Season is preparation period which includes the point where the competitor finishes the volume / bulking or the post-competition period (as there does not necessarily have to be a volume period in between) and decides to start preparing for the competition .

This period is characterized by a defining phase, as with or without volume, a competitor’s body fat percentages are not sustainable in the medium term.


Characteristics of a Fitness Competition

All the preparation of an athlete fitness aims to reflect the best possible aesthetic image on a platform based on the canons of the category.

However, reaching this point leads to a series of psychological disorders and physiological that must be reversed as soon as possible after the competition to avoid generating serious health problems.

Fitness competitors step onto the platform with a body fat percentage of 4.1-10.9% of body fat in men and 8.6-11.3% in women; depending on the category in which it competes (Chappell et al., 2018).

Achieving this physical state leads to metabolic endocrine alterations such as reductions in total and free testosterone, in IGF- 1, in leptin, in dopamine concentrations, in the synthesis of thyroid hormones, increases in ghrelin production.

Also alterations in normal sexual, cognitive and physical function: decreasing strength and power , both maximum and average (Pardue et al., 2017; Mitchell et al., 2018; Fagerberg, 2018). In addition to many other alterations.

Alterazioni metaboliche

Figure I. Endocrinometabolic disorders due to energy restriction.

For this reason, just like an ultra-strong athlete loses body weight and trains to reach peak fitness the day of the competition, but then relaxes, regains weight and reduces the training load; a fitness athlete must do the same to restore the balance of the organism.

Getting started

Before you start preparing for a fitness contest you need to have a significant amount of muscle mass.

This is somewhat relative, again, to the category you compete in , but I always recommend starting an on-season period with more muscle mass than necessary to compete in your category.

If I say this, it is because the average loss of body weight during a preparation is 14% in men and women (with a range of variability of up to 20%).

So think that “I weigh 90kg, let’s see if I can compete in 82kg “is not a reality; depending on your body fat percentage, you are much more likely to compete in the 76kg weight with 90kg.


Loss of muscle mass on -season

Keep in mind that, despite the fact that this phase is characterized by the loss of the maximum amount of fat possible without affecting lean tissues , this is also impossible, especially from the percentages excessively low fat.

We have case studies like that of Kistler et al. (2014) in which a bodybuilder who lost 13.3kg of body weight in 26 weeks, going from 17.5 to 7.4% body fat, also lost 6.6kg of lean mass.

So the most normal thing is that the change at this stage looks like this at best, since Jeff Nippard is an exceptional case, due to knowledge, experience and genetics:

Jeff Nippard

Figure II. Jeff Nippard, natural bodybuilder.

Even if you look relatively thin, we tend to underestimate the amount of fat we need to lose , and then come difficulties, aggressive energy deficits and drastic loss of lean mass.

Even under ideal conditions, loss of lean mass is a process that will somehow unequivocally occur.

I’ll explain in this article how to minimize losses during the on-season.

Preparation characteristics

Currently the trends in fitness competitions have changed, we have gone from 16 weeks of preparation on average in the 80-90s to a average of 32 weeks now (Roberts et al., 2020).

Indeed one of the gr The difference between professional and amateur fitness competitors is the speed of weight loss.

Professionals vs Amateurs

Professionals tend to do longer preparations with lower weekly weight loss (28.1 weeks with a loss of 0.5% body weight / week), compared to amateurs who tend to generate more aggressive calorie deficits in shorter preparations (21 weeks with a loss of 0.7% body weight / week).

Season planning should be long, the longer the better , also due to possible interruptions that may occur (accidents, unforeseen social commitments, illnesses …).

Longer programs make the energy deficit less aggressive , providing a availability of lower magnitude of low energy and even being able to implement some strategies that we will deepen later to control some of the negative physiological effects of the preparation.


How much fat do I have to lose

The rate of body fat loss should be fixed 0.3-0.5% weekly across the board to ensure maximum lean mass retention.

The higher the no The lower our relative lean mass, the more deficit we can tolerate without affecting the muscle tissue.

The secret is the following rule:

  • Body fat percentage / 20 = X%
  • That X% is the percentage of body weight you can lose per week.

Women who have low muscle mass, especially in categories like bikini fitness, have been seen as they even went so far as to gain muscle mass during prep periods.

In these types of competitors (with little muscle mass and little experience of training with loads), apply an energy deficit that leads to a loss of 0.4 or 0.75% of weight body per week has no negative effects on muscle mass.


Figure III. Fitness bikini competitor.

In male competitors, differences are observed between weekly losses of 0.5% of body weight and 0.7 or up to 1% ; the former is more effective.

Maybe it’s for this is that professionals lose less weight weekly and present a better image on the platform than amateurs.

How long should it last

The duration of the preparation is very subjective, it depends on factors such as:

  • Initial fat percentage;
  • Energy deficit that is generated;
  • Imagine you want to reach the platform.

It can be calculated as follows:

If you have ever competed a few times :

You should have estimated the percentage of body fat, through skin test, DEXA, bodpod or the desired objective measurement method.

If in your last competition the sum of your total crease was 32mm and the image was good , i.e. you defined yourself up to the pu nto necessary to compete, you will be ready again when your sum of 32mm folds.

If you weigh like last time, you wasted time during the off-season; if you weigh less you did an off-season that did not help you; if you weigh more, congratulations, you did things correctly.

If you have never competed:

Calculate the your body weight and body fat percentage through objective methods and establish linear weekly weight loss (although it should be calculated logarithmically but exceeds the characteristics of this article) as follows:

  • I have 17% starting body fat and weight 92kg.
  • 17% / 20 = 0.85% of the weekly weight I can lose.
  • 92 * 0.85 / 100 = I can lose 782gr in a week.

Taking into account the fact that weight loss is not stable and as the percentage of body fat decreases the amount of weight to lose is reduced , we establish a stable loss of 350-600gr per week , in which we will approach the upper ratio at the beginning of the preparation and the lower one at the end of the preparation.

  • (350 + 600) / 2 = 475gr of average weight loss per week.

If I calculate that I want to lose 10% fat body before the competition , I have to lose 9.2kg of total fat.

If we establish that for every 475gr of body weight loss, about 175gr will be of lean mass (63.2-36.8%).

Eventually we will lose 5.35kg more than the calculation (9.2 + 5.35 = 14.55kg in tot ale), a value close to that observed in the reality of competitors .

We tend to lose 14550g of total weight at 475g per week = 30.6 weeks of preparation.

We add another 2.5 for mishaps.

In 33 weeks we will go from 92kg with 17% body fat to 77.45kg with 7% body fat in case of being a person who answers” average “And does things well.



Caloric intake is highly variable among competitors and there is no way to calculate the standard accurately, absolute or relatively without direct calorimetry.

The best way to calculate the amount of calories to consume is to make an R7, i.e. monitor EVERYTHING we eat during 7 days and establish a daily average.

Weigh yourself daily, add each day and divide by 7.

For every 100g of body weight gain or loss there are 90kcal of daily calorie surplus or deficit, that is:

If I want to lose 400 grams per week and I gained 200 grams on this diet, I have to reduce my calorie intake by 540kcal per day (600/100 * 90).

A good starting point is start from 35-40kcal / kg of body weight.

Male competitors start at around 37.2kcal / kg and finish the preparation at around 36.6kcal / kg (from about 3200kcal / day to 2600kcal / day).

Female competitors start with 34.5kcal / day and finish co n 32.2kcal / day (from about 2000kcal / day to 1600kcal (day) (Chappell et al., 2018; Chappell et al., 2019).

Obviously there is enormous variability in these measurements and there are competitors that easily drop from 2000kcal / day and competitors 1200 kcal / day .

This will be determined by the percentage of weight loss they are achieving with a certain amount of energy.

RED-S and LEA in preparation

In general , it is not advisable to go below 30kcal / kg of lean body weight per day as we enter a difficult field called “LEA” (“low energy availability”).

This accelerates disorders of bone metabolism (bone demineralization), of the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis (by altering the production of testosterone and estrogen), reducing glucose concentrations to the fame.

Alterazioni mestruali

mode IV. Menstrual disorders based on scores on energy intake ratios. To the left, fewer calories and more cases of endocrine disorders.

This effect is very visual in women, as those who consume fewer calories suffer more from menstrual disorders, which is why amenorrhea is so common in competitors (Loucks y Thuma, 2003; Loucks et al. , 2011).

Fagerberg’s (2018) recommendations to prevent alterations of the male organism as much as possible are:

  • Do not go below 25kcal / kgFFM / day.
  • Do not go below 40kg total body fat.

And even so, these negative adaptations will happen , but to a lesser extent and the health impact will also be less.

Importantly (and I do not intend to incite anyone) that if the lower limit of the daily energy intake fails c to lose the necessary weight, we have to increase the energy deficit:

Both by increasing energy expenditure and decreasing energy intake, the organic effects are the same, since they are produced by the LEA.

So, if we continue to want to compete, we must put ourselves in the hands of a good sports endocrine and continuously monitor our state of health until we replace the normal intake.

Another aspect to consider is the development of such frequent eating disorders, which I find in almost all the athletes I have worked with.

But we will cover this superficially more later in the article.




Proteins are important for gaining and maintaining muscle mass , you have many articles in this blog where we discuss them and you can expand the concepts by reading the meta-analysis by Morton et al. (2016).

Precisely in this article, the recommendations of 1.6g of protein per kg per day to optimize muscle protein synthesis were established. This article had a confidence interval of up to 2.2gr / kg / day.

This agrees with those presented by Schoenfeld and Aragon (2018) who established optimal intake 0.4-0.55gr / kg / intake * 4 intakes / day.

Protein and organic health

Bodybuilders consume more protein than stated in these studies: men consume an average of 2,9gr / kg / day and women 3,2gr / kg / day.

Can there be advantages?

Yes, we know that consuming high protein diets does not present health problems in young and healthy people (Antonio et al., 2014; 2016) and however, higher protein diets are present some metabolic benefits (facilitating the achievement of an energy deficit equal to calories) (Antonio et al., 2015).

Percentuale grasso

Figure V. Changes in fat percentage between two isocaloric diet groups and different protein content. HP = high protein content / MP = normal in protein.

In addition to contributing to the control of hunger, the improvement of general mood and the fight against anxiety associated with this stage (Helms et al., 2015).

Recommendations on proteins

Recommendation: 1.6-3.5gr / kg / day, greater than:

  • Lower percentage of body fat.
  • Greater calorie deficit.
  • More training and stress.

* As long as you don’t over-modify other nutrients.

Carbon hydrates

Carbon hydrates are a highly energy efficient nutrient and important to maintain our performance during training.

Not only because of the perception of fatigue , but also because the low availability of this nutrient in the body alters the kinetics calcium of the sarcoplasmic reticulum and the ability to exert force on the tissue to muscular.

The Intake of carbon hydrates among competitors is highly variable, ranging between 3-7gr / kg / day.

Studies such as those by Lenzi et al. (2019) point out that the average consumption of carbohydrates in the definition period was on average 2.3gr/kg/day.

Keto or no keto, what science says

Many Bros recommend ultra-low carb diets at the time of definition as a strategy to promote weight loss , and if it is true that you will lose weight, will not be significant (Boaz and Raz, 2015), because body weight does not mean body fat.

Two isocaloric and isoproteic diets rich in carbohydrates or fat will have the same effect on fat loss for a long time term, so the ideal is to determine the dietary approach that suits you as a competitor.

In most cases, a diet rich in carbohydrates is preferable for its effects on maintaining sports performance.

In women , it is also preferable to use high-carbohydrate diets in order to prevent feasting as they signal less appetite, more satiety and satisfaction with diets high in carbohydrates that are high in fat (Zhou et al., 2015).

Recommendations on carbon hydrates

Recommendation: 2-5gr / kg / day.

Better if they come from fruit, vegetables and whole grains to increase satiety and reduce net metabolizable energy.

It is inevitable that at this point in the pre This carbohydrate intake cannot be maintained.


Bodybuilders significantly reduce their lipid intake, as does not provides them with benefits such as proteins (plastics) or carbohydrates (energetics).

The lipid intake in competing men varies between 8-33% of their total caloric intake, in women between 9-35% (Spendlove et al ,. 2015).

Again, there is a lot of variability.

Fat Recommendations

Recommendation: 10 -25%.

  • Mainly from sources rich in monounsaturated fatty acids.
  • Provide quantity required of essential fatty acids (w3-w6) on a daily basis.
  • Consumption of dietary cholesterol.

Cholesterol and muscle mass

Regarding the latter, it is not clear why it occurs, but a correlation has been observed between the amount of cholesterol consumed through diet and gains in muscle mass and strength (Riechman et al., 2007).

We know that dietary cholesterol is esterified and is not associated with increases in serum cholesterol concentrations ( except for mutations of the ABCG5 and NPC1L1 gene), as well as its restriction is not associated with the reduction of plasma cholesterol concentrations.

Although correlation does not imply causation … do not remove the white from the ham … will give you even more strength.

Low fat and low testosterone, is this a coincidental relationship?

The associations between low-fat diets and decreases in testosterone synthesis are wrong inferences in thinking that a reduction in fat leads to a reduction in cholesterol and a reduction in testosterone synthesis.

The decrease in testosterone concentrations observed in the case studies of the competitors is determined by the total energy deficit (calories) and not by fat , since there are cases in which with energy restrictions, equal to fat, negative regulations also occur.

If your cholesterol levels are healthy, there is no relationship between the amount of fat in the diet and endogenous synthesis of testosterone.


Competitors eat an average of 6 times a day (Chappell et al., 2018). This is due to the belief that:

  • Increases protein synthesis.
  • Increases basal metabolic rate.
  • There are times of assumption that are superior to the others (anabolic window).

Let’s analyze it:

Timing of the protein

One of the models currently proposed that has led to terrible confusion is the “full muscle effect”, this is what led to the misconception of “not absorbing more than 30gr per food”, which is a sovereign stupidity .

This stems from the refractory period of protein intake (which Norton covered in his first study published in 2010) and that Areta et al. (2013).

Figure VIII. Changes in fractional protein synthesis ratio for 12 hours depending on the protein administration regimen.

The consumption of 4 intakes of 20gr of protein (intermediate) was higher than the consumption of 8 intakes of 10gr (pulse) and that of 2 intakes of 40gr (bolus).

The reason why a moderate consumption in quantity and frequency of proteins is higher is because we have to achieve a minimum content of leucine (trigger) without the which we will not reach the maximum potential for protein synthesis (and again, for the refractory period).

And protein synthesis over a period of 12 hours is greater with distributed intakes when using protein intakes from sources quickly digestible (such as whey); in real life this is not so closed, since we normally consume meat, eggs, fish…

They have a slower release of amino acids into the bloodstream than whey.

It is preferable to divide the protein intake ( not excessively) during the day to increase muscle mass gains, but in the long run, the net daily amount of protein will be the ultimate determinant of our changes in body composition.

Protein during training

Post-workout is the anabolic window of bodybuilders , a delicate moment as we know that training with loads stimulates turnover protein and we can use it to amplify the effects of protein on MPS.

The ideal amount of protein to ingest post-workout is 0.32gr / kg of body weight , as long as we do not train on an empty stomach (which is not highly recommended in this case), we are not elderly or suffering from a serious illness and the food source has high nutritional quality indexes ( Moore, 2019).

We know that there is no difference between consuming protein before or after training , so consume it when it is most comfortable for you, there are advantages between one moment or another (Schoenfeld et al., 2017).

Pre-bed protein

Trommelen is the author who focused his efforts on proving that the 1980s bodybuilding practice of using a slow-digesting source of protein before bed was a good thing for increasing anabolism. nocturnal.

Says protein before bed is a way to take advantage of “protein nutrition opportunities” staying sleepless for so many hours and using a slow-digesting source allows more radical bodybuilders not to wake up in the middle of the night to eat.

For this he uses casein, and has shown that to maximize protein synthesis 40gr are sufficient, but 30 gr is not (Trommelen et al., 2017ª; Trommelen et al., 2017b). This is due to the leucine trigger we were talking about earlier.

Conclusion: Daily protein is spread over 4 or 5 meals, enough to reach a network of at least 25g of high quality net protein per intake.

One of the intakes can be in pre-bed peri-workout if a slow digestion source is used.

However, over a long period of time, it appears that if we standardize the daily protein content and frequency, consuming it during training, pre-bed or at other times of the day has no practical effect on hypertrophy.

Carbohydrates during training

The distribution of the rest of the nutrients throughout the day is irrelevant, both in frequency and quantity, except when we refer to carbohydrates during training.

In sports where glycogen concentrations are severely impaired (such as cycling or triathlon), the replenishment of glycogen through the consumption of high glycemic index carbohydrate sources before , during and / or after training is the key not to affect sports performance in future sessions.

For more information on questions related to Carbohydrates before, during and after training click here.

In reality, training with loads does not exhaust our muscle glycogen stores, about 30% , so that through gluconeogenesis by the protein you recover easily.

Furthermore, a competitor trains each muscle group between 1 and 2 times a week, in extraordinary cases, 3 vol te , so the advantage of cellular uptake of glucose by insulin-independent mechanisms that induces the formation (Murray and Rosenblom, 2018) is not something we can take advantage of.

When it is interesting to use carbohydrates for training:

  • If we train fasting.
  • If we consume less than 1gr of carbohydrates / kg / day.
  • If we train a muscle group / week F3 + or do whole body workouts.
  • If we train with double daily sessions.
  • If we do a lot of high intensity aerobic exercises (HIIT or MISS).

Division of meals

Despite the fact that more food intakes have always been associated by bodybuilders with improvements in body composition due to increased resting energy expenditure, the truth is that nothing is further from the truth.

Consume a moderate number of meals (between 3 and more of 5) shows no differences in body composition (Schoenfel, Aragon y Krieger, 2015).

There is evidence showing that smaller, more distributed intakes increase cravings and anxiety for food, leading to to multiple unplanned diet breaks (Perrigue et al., 2016).

Even so, in meta-analyzes such as Schoenfeld’s, there are no consistent changes that associate the highest feeding frequency and body weight.

The reality is that you eat as many times as you want or which is best for you.

In any case, you should try 4 daily intakes, maybe 5 if your diet is high in protein and you are awake for several hours so that you can respect the period refractory, but no problem making 3 protein shake-based intakes and a large intake with all your nutritional needs of other nutrients.

It may not be ideal from a sports performance point of view, but it will have no effect on body composition and therefore better suit your diet …

Go ahead, it won’t negatively affect fat loss or muscle mass.

Diet Periodization

Many authors have studied a very frequent practice among competitors and are diet breaks.

The famous “cheat meal” or the well-known “ refeeds ” which focus on trying to reverse the negative adaptations generated by the continuous energy deficit. If you want to learn more about this concept visit this link.

First of all, we must take into account that both linear diets (100kcal of deficit every day) compared to non-linear (2 days of normal calories and 5 days of total deficit 700kcal weekly) are equally effective on changes in body composition (Cioffi et al., 2018).

Refeed to correct the impact of preparation

Strategies such as refeeds, which are re-feeding periods of 12-72 hours , in which the consumption of dietary carbon hydrates has significantly increased, claiming to be able to counteract the attenuation of adaptive thermogenesis due to caloric deficit, leptin regulation, replacement of normal testosterone synthesis …

Although some of the effects buiti to it are true, they only occur in the short term, by the time it returns to the caloric deficit, we go back to where we left it.

There is little to think about, we have case studies showing that after natural preparation for a fitness contest, recovery can take up to 6 months (Rossow et al., 2013).

In fact, I speculated years ago that some regulators (such as leptin ) did not recover or after 6 months of ad libitum re-feeding , and that perhaps because of this reason every definition is we suffer more anxiety and are more resistant to fat loss.

Just once?

It is ridiculous to think that a refeed can mitigate this because, in addition to energy intake, it is affected by fat loss, since leptin is one of the main hormones produced by adipose tissue , and if it is reduced, it is the same happens to its concentrations, regardless of the refeeds that are made.

Learn more about Satiety Hormone in this post.

Diet Breaks to correct the impact of the preparation

Other approaches that can make more sense are the breaks de lla diet, which consists of having long periods of normal caloric intake with a sufficient intake of carbohydrates.

This is effective, it can even have benefits (boosted by the dopaminergic system and motivation) when it comes to losing fat like Byrne et al. (2018).

The problem is that, in order for weight loss to be equal, the deficit has doubled in the seasons of energy restriction or the preparation is done twice as long, counting that we do not exaggerate by estimating our maintenance calories …

Doesn’t seem very smart to most competitors …

This is not an absolute truth, since that authors like Layne Norton defend ad nauseam that rebounds serve to mitigate the endocrine-metabolic impact of energy restriction in athletes with low percentages of fat mass.

Again, this is due to partial viewing during or immediately after the refeed, that if a week-long follow-up were done on a low calorie diet, it would again observe how it dissipates.

Cheat meals to correct the Impact of Preparation

Another widely used strategy is cheat meal , which obviously has no physiological benefits and can ruin an entire week of calorie deficit.


Moderate approach = Success

What is the best strategy? That that suits you.

Personally with my athletes I use a flexible IIFYM approach with a set of guidelines in place, but which allows them to configure the daily or almost daily consumption of hypertangible foods (ice cream, pizza or similar) in small quantities.

This helps competitors’ binge eating and reduces food anxiety.

In the end, since the origin of nutrients is irrelevant to energy equality and net protein, you just have to spend some time calculating your intakes and don’t get reduced to a “day of diet x7” as no one can handle a preparation like this.

The more flexible the approach, the more potential it must negatively affect the preparation; the more rigid the approach, the less potential benefit it offers us on a psychological level.

I personally use cheat meals with my athletes when they have a social commitment, I instruct that there are no “good” and “bad” or “clean” and “dirty” foods and that if they want to eat X food, they simply consider to fit the nutritional guidelines I have established for them.

And so, everyone (those who listen to me), passes to points below 8% body fat , their ability to resist hypophagy maintained over time already comes into play.


There are numerous supplements that can be used directly for muscle hypertrophy, to improve sports performance and indirectly to control some health parameters that can be altered by nutritional deficiencies resulting in improved performance and body composition.

You have an article available where I consider each of these supplements specifically, all the information is there.

Those with the most direct relationship on muscle mass maintenance are:

Supplement How to take it
Creatine Monohydrate 0,3gr / kg for 7 days + 0.07gr / kg indefinitely, ó
or 0.1gr / kg indefinitely
HMB From 3 to 6gr in periods of high energy restriction
Beta Alanine From 4 to 6gr for at least 28 days.
Caffeine From 3 to 6mg / kg one hour before training.
Citrulline Malate 8gr pre-workout. Better if combined with 3gr of L-arginine HCl
Nitrates 500mg pre-workout (2-3h)

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