Bikini Competition Diet: Do You Really Need to Count Calories?

Take it from a seasoned Personal Trainer: Nothing scares clients away faster than telling them they have to count calories on a bikini competition diet.  Many fitness professionals have gotten so used to rejection when proposing this idea that they don’t even bother anymore.

It’s definitely not something I would just throw out there to the average soccer mom or busy professional.  At least not until they’ve given me grounds for my favorite argument, “You’ve already spent an hour per night reading the latest diet book…you can’t spend less time than that on a system that literally ALWAYS works?”.

Of course I’m only this hardcore with clients who need me to be in order to reach their challenging goals.  Which brings me to my question for you…

How challenging are your fitness goals, and how far are you willing to go to reach them? If your goals are modest, or if you’re making steady progress with your current meal plan, you may not need to count calories (at least not until you plateau).  Simple moderation may be enough.

If you’re a little more ambitious or you can’t get those last few pounds off, it’s time to get serious.  No more eating blindly every 3 hours just until you’re full.  That’s not good enough anymore.  If you’re going to get to the next level, you need to spend the next two weeks measuring, weighing, and tracking everything you eat and drink.   That’s the ONLY way you’re going to get that figure or bikini competitor body you’re so close to having.

2 weeks is all it takes to get control of your eating so that your body has precisely the amount of “fuel” it needs to keep your toned muscles looking great while shedding those last few pounds of stubborn fat.   After that, you’ll know well enough what the ideal portion sizes are for your typical meal choices.  From then on, you’ll only need to weigh foods whose nutritional content you’re unfamiliar with…and re-check periodically to make sure 4 ounces is still 4 ounces.

Why is weighing and tracking so important for fat loss? 1 day of tracking would answer this for you, since you would likely be surprised how far you are from your target intake.  But since you haven’t left your desk to go buy a food scale yet, I’ll explain what being “a little off” with your caloric intake can do.  It takes 3500 calories to gain a pound of fat (I know this isn’t as set in stone as they used to say, but it’s still significant).  That means that if you’re eating 300 calories per day more than you think you are, you’ll put on a pound of fat in less than 2 weeks!

On the opposite end, if you have been inadvertently undereating (not uncommon either), you won’t have the fuel your body needs to develop those toned, sexy fitness model muscles…and you’ll slow your metabolism.  All because of a few hundred calories per day, which is nothing when spread across 3-6 meals.

Need another reason? It will keep you from blowing it.  That’s right…writing down what you eat, how much you eat, and your food’s macronutrient content (protein, fat, carbs) will not only help you control portion sizes, it will also tend to keep you away from unhealthy foods.

This is probably half mental and half biological:  Mentally, you won’t want to undo the time you’ve invested in this process by eating something that you won’t be able to make up for by the end of the day.  Biologically, you’ll be so satiated from consistently getting what your body needs, you won’t have the cravings you’re used to having…and if you do, you’ll have all the data you need to make the simple adjustments (and they are simple).

Wondering where to start? I’ll do the best I can from my desk, which is not as good as I do for my clients…but still pretty good:

  • Step 1: Go buy a $40 food scale from Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target or Wal-Mart.  At this price, the scale should have a built in food database that will give you macronutrient content based on the weight.
  • Step 2: Estimate your ideal caloric intake for each day by multiplying your bodyweight by 12.  If this seems just way too simple, I guess you can go use this online calculator that factors in a lot more.  It will probably give you a similar number as bodyweight x 12 though.
  • Step 3: Calculate your macros for each day by using this macronutrient calculator.  I would recommend selecting either “moderate” or “The Zone 40/30/30”.  They’re not that different really, but with 40/30/30, you have the benefit of being able to use The Zone Diet recipes, which cuts down on the math a lot.
  • Step 4: Go to www.calorieking.com and take advantage of their HUGE food library and start tracking!  If you find something you eat often that is not in their database, read the label and input the macros into the database so all you have to do is click from then on.
  • Step 5: Come back here and leave a comment.  Good or bad, let me know how you’re doing with this.  I’ll answer whatever questions you may have.

Check back soon for more Bikini and Figure Competition Prep and Training info!

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Leave a Reply 4 comments

Danielle - 7 years ago Reply

i bought a food scale about 5 months ago and i started keeping my food journal. my wedding is coming up on nov 13th and i was really wanting to get into shape for it so i started reading alot off of bodybuilding.com and i subscribed to m&f hers. needless to say i tried to hurry the process up and kinda over did it a lil. i was lifting heavy wts 5x /wk and doing cardio 5x/wk plus i would keep my calorie intake down to about 1200-1500. well everything was going great i got down to 135 from 150 and i lost inches and dropped my body fat from 29% to 23% but then i started to plateau. i also noticed over the last 3 months that i havent had my period. i was reading tonight on bb.com that having this happen is a huge sign that something is wrong. my all time goal to reach (not just for the wedding) is 125lbs w/ 17% bodyfat. since i now know that i have been hurting myself more then helping i am at a loss. any suggestion on where to go from here would be great!!!
thanks for the help! love the new site i just saw it in this months issue! 🙂

Joe Lenihan - 7 years ago Reply

Hi Danielle

I definitely understand your dilemma, as its a common one for those dieting down for an event/contest. Your period having stopped is definitely a sign of being in a severe caloric deficit for too long (which you clearly have been from your description).

The best thing to do at this point, assuming your calories are still as low as you’ve indicated, is to give yourself a good ol’ refeed. Don’t worry about numbers here…just gorge on some of your favorite foods…whatever you’ve been depriving yourself of the most. Do this for a full day, then get back to the diet. I wouldn’t necessarily change your caloric intake by much considering your wedding is right around the corner, but it would be good to stay on the upper end of that range (1500), and maybe add 10% (so 1650). Macros are obviously important too, and I would suggest using the method I outline in my blog.

Now you do need to get yourself out of that severe caloric deficit and into a more moderate one. I would suggest doing that by cutting your weight training down to 3-4 heavy days per week and limiting cardio to 45 minutes (consider cutting it to 4 days a week if you’re still having problems after a few days). This way you’re addressing the deficit as well as any potential overtraining (localized and “global”), which seems inevitable at the pace you’ve chosen.

Hope that’s not too vague. Its really difficult to get specific without knowing all the details. After your wedding, it would be a good idea to continue weighing/tracking, this time using a more conservative approach as detailed in my blog posts. That way, the next time you want to kick it up a notch, you’ll know yourself/how you respond better.

BTW, what magazine did you see my blog in? I wasn’t aware I had been published anywhere. What kind of things did they say about me? Details? 🙂

Joe

Olga - 7 years ago Reply

Do this formula “BW x 12” fits to women for fat loss who weight 170 pounds x 12 = 2040 kcal?

Joe Lenihan - 7 years ago Reply

Yes, its a good starting point regardless of bodyweight. There are always other factors such as activity level, thyroid function, etc…but the point of the post was just to find what would amount to a moderate caloric deficit for most active adults without overcomplicating things. You’ll invariably end up making adjustments as you go anyway, so an estimate is fine for the initial setup.

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