There has been, in my opinion, a very welcome trend developing lately in the area of contest prep. Websites like Siouxcountry.com and individuals like Layne Norton have been speaking up and waving their arms around trying to get people to increase their awareness of ‘metabolic damage’. If we were looking to define exactly what metabolic damage is, it might look like this:
A dysfunction in the body’s biological systems making it difficult or impossible to lose weight using conventional methods.
Most of us have had the lovely experience of hitting a plateau during prep at some point – your fat loss is plugging away at a steady rate when all of the sudden, BOOM, 3 straight weeks of losing nothing. Your body has adapted and is asking you to do something different to give it a reason to continue changing. This might be varying the duration or intensity of your workouts/cardio for a few days, it might mean a cheat meal is in order, or perhaps just a refeed followed by a temporary drop in calories. Whatever it is, we’re basically tricking the body into moving in the direction we want it to.
Metabolic damage is like that, but zoomed out into the long-term – and those tricks don’t work. If you are doing 2 hours of cardio a day and eating 1100 calories a day and still legitimately have fat to lose and it is not going anywhere – you are probably a candidate for this condition. It is fixable, but it takes something that most competitors have a difficult time accepting – patience. Legitimate metabolic damage is not going to be fixed in weeks – it will take months or even a year or longer. This, however, is a much higher priority than stepping on stage. This is your health and future we’re talking about; your health long after you’ve stepped on stage for the last time.
Typically men and women who experience this are competitors who have prepped too aggressively for too many shows without giving their body a chance to rest. If your body is functioning properly, you shouldn’t have to follow an extreme diet or cardio plan to get the results you need, assuming you give yourself enough time (key failing #1). For these people, competing regularly and frequently won’t be a significant problem. If you find yourself in the group of people who are doing 2 hours of cardio and eating 1100 calories daily and somehow manage to get up on stage that way, the last thing you want to do is step off stage and immediately start planning for your next show. Rest instead.
The flip side of this equation is something I’ve seen from a lot of coaches on forums, Facebook, and Instagram – the “look at my client and how awesome she is, and I got her this way by feeding her 2500 calories, 350g of carbs daily, and we did 20 minutes of cardio 3 times a week” self-promotional posts. Congratulations coach, you have a genetic freak on your hands. Holding up someone like that as a shining example of how awesome you are is only going to give others false hope and disappointment, because people who can prep on that kind of regimen are a rare find.
My approach is always a little more balanced, and middle-of-the-road. Moderate calories, moderate cardio, and 4 days of lifting a week is my default, assumed plan for a new competitor until they or their body tells me we have a reason to deviate from that. So many factors go into determining a starting point for someone, things like:
- What is your dieting history?
- Have you competed before?
- How intensely do you lift (and how can we increase that)?
- How do carbs make you feel?
- What is your conditioning like?
- What is your daily schedule?
- How long til we need to get you on stage?
- How hungry are you?
- How tired are you?
And on and on it goes. When looking for a coach, take the time to ask them about their philosophy regarding this stuff. Whenever I talk to a prospect on the phone I offer this information readily and make sure they know that their health is the #1 priority – even above hitting the target date for stepping on stage.