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Nutrition, Bodybuilding

Doing Your First Bodybuilding Competition - Everything You Need to Know

By Joe Talarico on May 13, 2024 9:00:00 AM
6 Minutes Reading Time


Entering into your first bodybuilding competition can be a super-involved, but rewarding process. You need to make sure your diet, training, mental preparation, and posing are all locked in over time. It’s a huge upgrade from just recreationally going to the gym and eating right.


As you may already know, nutrition is everything. You are going to have periods of bulking and cutting to put on muscle and then peel away fat, so you are as conditioned on stage as possible. This may also involve manipulating carbohydrates and sodium levels as you get closer to show day to make sure you are looking as full as possible to present your best body on stage. When in a surplus, make sure you are eating 1 gram per pound of bodyweight in protein. I would recommend a higher carb intake, as research has shown a higher carb approach may be slightly more optimal when it comes to completely optimizing muscle gain for the purposes of doing a bodybuilding competition. When you enter a diet mode, you want to make sure your diet keeps your protein at that same rate, if not higher, to help maintain all that hard earned muscle as you restrict calories elsewhere.

Timing Matters

As mentioned before, timing is everything when it comes to the actual competition. Give yourself AMPLE time to diet down. You are better off dieting longer to make sure you peel away all the fat versus shortening it for the hopes of gaining slightly more muscle. An extra 4 weeks of bulking won’t add that much muscle compared to how much fat can be lost in that same time frame. You want to be practicing posing throughout your prep. I have beaten guys who looked better than me simply because I knew how to create angles that made me look bigger than them on stage. You want to play around with different carb sources and water depletion techniques, to see what allows you to present the best physique on stage. Eat too many carbs and you can look soft come show day. Eat too little and you may look too flat. One thing to accept early on is, chances are you won’t absolutely nail down your conditioning routine in your first show. It can take several shows to figure out the recipe that fits your body the best.


Building up to higher volume usually makes more sense during the off season. You are trying to maximize muscle growth overall, and studies show more sets per muscle tend to do slightly better than less sets. As you diet down for a show, you are no longer trying to build muscle. Bring the volume down, and focus on keeping the intensity high but let the fat fall off. Allow time for recovery by not doing too much work in the gym. We want to stay injury free.

The Mental Challenge

Understand going into this you will go through a mental battle. The off season may feel like a breeze as you get to eat and train as much as you want. Come diet time, and particularly within the final couple months, let’s not forget you will be leaner than you’ve ever been (4-6% body fat), while being on the least amount of calories you’ve ever eaten. You may get irritable and ready to give up. Hold strong, and understand this is part of the process. Incorporate practices that allow you to keep stress low.

Compete in a Variety of Shows

Don’t just enter into the biggest show in your city and expect to win. Like I said before, it may take some dialing in and experimentation. Doing smaller, more local shows, allows you to get your feet wet and see what being on stage actually feels like. Practice going through the motions of the week leading up to and the day of the competition. Each present their own challenges, and the best way to practice is by going through it in real time. It doesn’t hurt to have a diet coach and posing coach if you can afford it. They have the experience to make sure you are bringing the best package on stage.

Be Prepared for Post Competition

Not many people talk about what happens AFTER your show. This is where mentally and physically things can take a turn for the worse. You’ve likely been dieting for 3+ months. You are insanely lean, and all you can think about is food. Stay strong. Don’t just pig out on all the food you can think of. Competitors have a tendency to give in and overeat, which can cause a host of metabolic and mental issues. Give yourself a chance to enjoy some foods you’ve been craving, but keep it within reason. Try to get back on track with your diet and bring your calories back up slowly over time. The idea isn’t to binge but to bring your calories back to a healthy maintenance range to rev your metabolism back up and get your mindset right.

While there are many things to consider, just please don’t forget; have fun! You’ve worked hard for this moment. Win or lose, I want you to enjoy your time on stage. It’s the best physique you’ve ever had and you should be proud! You will have a new appreciation for what it took to get there and a life experience you can apply anywhere going forward.

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Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

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