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Vegan Bodybuilder's Pre-Contest Diet

by Vegan Bodybuilder Robert Cheeke January 7th 2007

In competitive bodybuilding, we typically have different 'seasons' just like other athletes. We have our competitive season where we spend as long as 16 weeks preparing for a single competition; and we may compete multiple times throughout the year. During our off-season we bulk up, add mass, eat more of a variety of foods and we don't get near a stage or bright lights (unless we're guest posing or presenting awards at a contest.).

In the off-season, I eat pretty much whatever I want. I consume vegan ice-cream, chips, bagels, as well as more quality foods such as tofu, stir-fried vegetables, sandwiches, lentil soups, burritos, fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, bars, and shakes. I don't count calories, grams of protein, carbs, or fat. I just eat about 8-12 times per day (not necessarily meals, but times) and drink around a gallon of water each day. I like to eat as much as possible, train as hard as I can and add a significant amount of size when I'm not cutting fat to compete. In the off season I'll typically eat about 5,000 calories a day, including around 300 grams of protein daily.

The pre-contest diet is designed to reduce body fat, is focused on eating clean foods, and is the preparation period leading up to competition. The diet is altered, the training is altered, and the focus turns to new goals of getting ripped and shredded for competition. The time a bodybuilder spends preparing for a contest is determined by many factors including the date the last competed, their genetics, their shape in the off-season, and general life factors such as work/school or family schedules.

I start my pre-contest diet about 12 weeks away from the competition. Some bodybuilders start 16 weeks away, and some maybe only 8 weeks away. Due to my genetics and training/eating history, I never get 'out of shape' or have high body fat percentage so I can get away with dieting for just 12 weeks or even less.

At the 12-week mark, I cut out all pastas, breads, chips, and other junk foods. I also cut down on processed foods like canned soups, energy bars, and cereals. I also begin to incorporate some form of cardiovascular exercise at this point to help burn off some fat and shed some calories. It also gets my lungs and heart prepared for a change in training that takes place as I approach the contest. I ease into the cardio because it's not my favorite aspect of training so I typically start small with walking/jogging, stair climbing, and cycling.

At this point I'll eat oatmeal and fruit in the morning, fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, seeds, beans, tofu and tempeh for afternoon and evening meals, and a variety of supplements throughout the day. Some of those include protein or meal replacement powders, multivitamins, vitamin E, C, and B-12, Flax Oil, and some amino acids like L-glutamine. My total caloric intake will begin to reduce to around 4,000 calories a day. I keep my meal frequency up, eating 8-12 times a day to keep my metabolism (the body's ability to burn fat) fast and active, which helps me reach my goal of dropping body fat.

When I hit the 8-week mark, I start changing my weight training routine. I train with less rest periods between sets, higher intensity, and start doing cardio 3-5 days a week. I don't lift quite as heavy because I have less amount of rest time between sets. I'll still have some heavy lifting days in there, but in general, my intensity is increased to really get a good sweat and pump going during each training session, and the weight I use is slightly decreased.

My cardio training usually consists of riding a stationary bike for 20 minutes before my workout and for 30 minutes following my workout. I feel that the time immediately after a weight training session is one of the best fat-burning opportunities for cardio. In addition to the bike, I also use the stair-stepper and elliptical equipment inside the gym. If the weather is nice, I prefer to do cardio outdoors in the form of cycling, running (especially on trails in the woods) and playing sports such as basketball and soccer. For me, cardio has to be enjoyable, so I pick something fun and it is a great way to shape up while really enjoying the calorie-burning activity. Intense sports are a great way to accomplish this.

At 8 weeks out, my diet is similar to what it is at 12-weeks out. I'm focused on eating clean foods; mostly raw, unprocessed fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, seeds, beans, tofu, tempeh, and protein powders. At this point I may drop my intake down to about 3,500 calories a day and my protein intake will still be very high; between 200-300 grams a day.

When I get down to 6 weeks before the contest I cut out most high carb foods and I completely cut out anything that could be considered a 'junk food'. I continue to eat oatmeal in the morning to start the day with some long-lasting energy, and the rest of the day is filled with tofu, beans, rice, yams, potatoes, spinach, tempeh, protein powders and supplements. I also bump my cardio up to 5 days a week for the final month and a half. My cardio sessions usually include riding a stationary bike, jogging outside, or playing competitive sports like basketball. I may bump my post workout cardio session up from 30 minutes to 40 minutes depending on how my body is progressing toward my contest-shape goal.

With 2 weeks left I cut out all packaged and flavored tofu and other processed foods. I buy blocks of plain tofu and bake it myself and use salsa to add some flavor and eat it with spinach, yams or other veggies. I totally focus on raw, alkaline, enzymatically alive foods to fuel my workouts and nourish my body. I still eat some cooked foods but the bulk of my diet is raw, unprocessed foods. I focus heavily on green vegetables for nutrition and immune system boosting effects they have on the body. I will also take in small amounts of berries for antioxidant benefits and to enjoy the "sweet" sensation that I am not getting from other foods. This is when the body will begin to crave certain foods and it is important to have a strong will and stay focused on the goals I set for myself.

At the 2-week point, my diet consists of oatmeal and fruit in the morning, hemp protein powders, baked tofu, yams, broccoli, spinach, beans and rice in the afternoon and evening, and supplements throughout the day. My calorie intake will most likely be around 3,000 calories a day at this point. I may go slightly lower if I feel I need to, but I still want to take in high amounts of protein to feed my muscles and help the repair and grow after intense weight training sessions.

In these final 14 days I boost my cardio to 2-3 times per day for 30-min each time, 5 days a week. My goal is to burn off any remaining body fat and get shredded. I'll alter this based on how I'm progressing and how I'm feeling. If my energy is low, I may not push it too hard, but I'll be sure to get some solid cardio sessions in when needed. The more cardio I do, the more I can eat, so I don't have to 'starve' as I get down to the final weeks before the contest. A lot of bodybuilders feel like they are 'starving' as they get down the final few weeks before a show. I feel great leading up to a contest because I allow myself to eat foods I enjoy as long as I do enough cardio to balance it out.

In the final week, I cut down on my sodium intake as I near the contest because it causes me to hold water and not look as hard or conditioned when I'm on stage. It can be very difficult to get this just right, but I experiment each time and learn from my trials and errors and improve each time.

My goal is to be hard and tight and have lots of muscle definition and vascularity. In this final week I will also focus on total body workouts with high intensity, short rest periods, making workouts as aerobic as possible.

Nutritionally, the final week is very similar to the diet the week before. I eat the same foods, but I cut down on the ones that contain traceable amounts of sodium.

I will go very low on carbs at the beginning of the final week, cutting down on some fruits and rice. I'll also have smaller servings of oatmeal in the morning. If the competition is on a Saturday I will most likely reduce carbs on the Sunday leading up to it and go low carbs Sunday through Tuesday and then carb-up Wednesday through Saturday.

In those final 2-3 days I will increase my carbohydrate intake to fill my muscles and satisfy my hunger, while providing me a lot of energy and a psychological lift I need to compete. I carb-up with potatoes, other veggies, rice, fruits, and juice. I also alter my water intake and cut down from a gallon a day to ' a gallon a day on Wednesday, 1/4 of a gallon of water on Thursday, just sipping water on Friday and on the day of the contest I may sip some before going on stage and then drink ' of a gallon after posing.

On the day of the competition I eat fruit in the morning along with rice cakes, and high sugar foods for an insulin spike and for much needed energy. I eat pretty light because I don't want a full stomach when I'm posing on stage.

My hope is that all my preparation goes as planned and I'll be in good shape on stage and feel good about the physique I'm presenting to the audience and the judges.


An overview of my pre-contest diet would look like this:

Off-season: A variety of foods are consumed without concern of fat content or amounts of carbs or sugars.

12 weeks to go: Cut out breads, pastas, and junk foods. Start some form of cardio training.

8 weeks to go: Eat high protein, low fat and low carb foods. Start to cut out processed foods. Pump up the cardio a notch.

6 weeks to go: Cut out most high carb foods, increase vitamin supplementation, and protein powders. Eat quality protein foods to maintain muscle mass during a cutting phase. Increase the length of cardio sessions if needed.

2-3 weeks to go: Cut down on sodium, cut out processed foods. Eat raw foods, baked tofu, fresh green veggies to boost immune system, high protein-low carb powders, yams, nuts, and seeds. Intense workouts with intense cardio sessions are done to burn off body fat.

Final week: Cut out sodium intake for a few days, high vitamin consumption, high protein from raw sources, carb-deplete at the beginning of the final week, carb-load in the final days of preparation.

Step on stage and hope everything went as planned.

Enjoy myself and have fun!