From Powerlifter to Bodybuilder – Why and How I dieted to 7% Body Fat – Part 1

Many readers may be aware that I recently competed in my first ever bodybuilding show – The IBFA Silver City Classic 2014 held in Aberdeen, Scotland.

As a Powerlifter who loves his food (don’t we all) and someone who sniggered at the goal of aesthetics in the past, I really do still find this humorous. Although perhaps not as much as the folks at the Aberdeen University Weightlifting Club..thanks guys ha ha. It’s also actually quite surreal looking back to the changes that I made to my physique – as if somehow I couldn’t achieve the aesthetics many desire or get in the best shape I’ve personally ever been in through my 23 years of existence. I found out these things are very much possible if of course, you want it bad enough.

Before we begin, I’d like to mention that I’m well aware my transformation is nothing staggering or earth shattering. I’d also like to first apologise that you don’t see a generic eye-catching title not dissimilar to – “man loses whopping 7 stone in record time to get remarkably ripped for first bodybuilding show”.

However, where I lack in offering the inspirational story of the year, I feel like I can offer you something even more valuable than that. How your average person (recreational trainee, Powerlifter, Olympic weightlifter etc), if so desired, can get in good enough shape to compete in a bodybuilding show or even just get in the best shape of their life.

I’d like to point out that it’s simple to do – pretty much anyone can diet to single digit body fat for aesthetics or competition. Simple of course does not mean painless – it demands a synergy of will, determination, persistence, fidelity and some knowledge.

So, this will be a series of articles, where in this part along with part two of “From Powerlifter to Bodybuilder – Why and How I Dieted to 7% Body Fat”, I’d like to outline the process of me reaching contest shape over the past 3 months or so. The third part will address the show itself and how I fared, while the fourth will present how you could do it too with lots of tips from the trenches.

Buckle up and let’s begin.

Why

Too many people have asked me why I bothered committing to a bodybuilding show in the first place when it really represented the polar opposite of my attitude and goals pre-injury, so I’m going to lay it out plain and simple:

  • My hip injury had stopped me being able to do any worthwhile heavy training on the squat and deadlift movements, as a Powerlifter this is the furthest from ideal you could get.
  • Because of the injury I needed direction – I needed to stop beating a dead horse, if you will. I’m very goal-driven as a person and needed something that wouldn’t hinder and make it worse, while I was trying to get back to 100% with it. Bodybuilding was now this goal.
  • I have always respected the extreme discipline bodybuilders epitomise so I wanted to experience the process of this and find out what it really takes.
  • I wanted to tick the box.

How – Introduction

How did I approach the daunting task of constructing a plan for bodybuilding when it was so incongruous to me?! I had very poor knowledge on bodybuilding nutrition/diet and bodybuilding itself, one might say I was ignorant to it all.

To try and rectify this, I had to do a significant amount of background reading, along with corresponding with friends in the know and my good pal Sam Bingham and I discussed my diet and training approach at length before it was time for me to grow a pair and begin the journey.

In advance, I would like to extend my thanks to Sam for his time and effort throughout (Sam can be contacted through his Facebook for diet and training consultations – https://www.facebook.com/sam.bingham.568?fref=ts). Not only this, but also his support, accountability and unwavering belief in me over the duration of the experience made all the difference. If you had bared witness to our email messages back and forth you would not know what to think with all the progress photos being sent across…

In my last article “Down to the 66’s I go…” from July (please see here – http://www.deluxenutrition.co.uk/2014/07/down-to-the-66s-i-go/), I had outlined both Phase 1 of the process which took me from 75kg to 72.5kg bodyweight for the IPF World Classic Powerlifting Championships and Phase 2 which moved me from 72.5kg on the 13th June to 69.3kg on the 8th July.

From 69.3kg on July 9th I brought my bodyweight down to 62.3kg the morning of the show on the 9th November through Phases 3 and 4. Here’s a rough snapshot of my progress taken from the very VERY handy app ‘MyFitnessPal’ (which I mentioned in the last article):

Figure 1
Figure 1: MyFitnessPal Screenshot of my monthly progress

Please note that although the progress illustrated here is pretty linear, my experience was not. I simply logged any new lows in bodyweight that I had reached, omitting the ups and downs for peace of mind while I was dieting.

How – Diet & Supplements

So let’s begin on the process and what was involved. For shedding body fat it is generally accepted that your diet is king. This held true with me for sure. I corresponded with Sam weekly since my last article in July (see above) and we altered calories and macronutrients (carbs/protein /fats) week to week depending on my progress photos and scale weight.

I was dropping calories gradually pretty much weekly but kept a relatively ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (IIFYM) approach and my nutrient timing stayed the same throughout – use of intermittent fasting till around 12pm and last meal around 10pm.

I had a week long holiday held in Rovinj, Croatia for the music festival ‘Unknown’ in the second week of September which I had to contend with – I let the chains on my diet loose for that week, but not excessively.

I came back weighing in the high 66’s, similar to the weight I jetted off at. This was surprising considering most days all the shop had was salami and loaves of bread, which led to every meal being this flattering combination…

Although I hadn’t gained bodyweight, I had lost precious momentum and my drive slightly waned after returning from the trip. From here, it was back on the diet, with my bodyweight gradually falling again.  I was aiming for a standard loss of 0.25-0.5 kgs per week, as I had been previously.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Back Progress Photo. Left – 69.5kg July 2014, Right – 62.3kg November 2014

However, as many people who have done a bodybuilding or figure show will know, dieting can make you neurotic and obsessive. I woke up one morning in the high 66’s without having deviated from my calories and after being in the low 65’s for a week or so before.

Fluctuation in weight is perfectly normal and can be down to many factors such as water and salt intake etc. I shook it off but woke up the next day at the same higher weight, again not having veered off my diet. Feeling disheartened and thinking I should be coming down faster than I was, I decided to go out and have a cheat meal.

This led to 3 days of cheating – Domino’s boxes and Ben and Jerry’s tubs a-hoy. The logic in this was ridiculous – there was none. But this happens to many inexperienced dieters when trying to lose fat, they panic and ultimately fail. I pulled myself together however 3 days later, with no fat gained after I lost the water weight from all the salt in the Domino’s etc.

Problems arise here in generally thinking that you have ruined your diet and there is no turning back because you ‘cheated’ after investing so much time and energy in trying to lose the weight in the first place. Wrong!

The key here is to accept what you have done, accept you cannot take it back, but perhaps most critically, accept that you can control anything you do from that point on if you want the outcome bad enough. The cheating was a psychological release for me too and afterwards I was feeling composed, ready to push past where I’d never been.

4 weeks out: calories were down to around 1,200 a day, macronutrients as follows – 135g protein, 105g carbs, 27g fat. The reason my calories were so low was to play catch up as time was running out to get in true contest shape.

2 weeks out: I then – with the recommendation of Sam – implemented the pressing back-up contingency plan we had reserved in the pipeline – ‘The Rapid Fat Loss Protocol – A Scientific Approach to Crash Dieting’ by Lyle Macdonald (http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/the-rapid-fat-loss-handbook/).

This sounds like your usual laughable fad diet but this is not the case, Lyle is a very well-informed nutritionist and if you read the book, you will realise you can have confidence in his knowledge and methods. After establishing my individual intake based on my ‘category’ and BMI found within the book, my breakdown was now as follows – 900 calories, macronutrients – protein around 200g, carbs nil (<15g), fats nil.

This permitted 200g of lean protein along with unlimited leafy greens (salads etc). I was ready to push my body into such a deficit of calories that it had no choice but to lose more fat.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Front Progress Photo. Left – 69.5kg July 2014, Right – 62.3kg November 2014

I would like to state that I (along with the author of the book) do not recommend this diet to anyone that is not pushing for a bodybuilding show or similar, nor anyone who truly doesn’t need to utilise such an approach.

You do not need to use such a harsh diet for simple fat loss, it is not sustainable, will consume your life temporarily, can spoil your relationship with food, is difficult to adhere to and is not the healthiest approach (hence why it is only a 2 weeks in duration).

However, it was what I needed to shift any stubborn fat I still had. It was very effective in doing so, as you can see in Figure 1 it brought my bodyweight down from 65.5kg on October 30th to 62.3kg on the day of the show on the 9th November. While not the god damn extreme leanest I could have been, I was still in contest shape for a first timer.

Here I have outlined the process of me getting into contest shape for a bodybuilding show, which included an introduction and diet discussion. Part 2 is coming soon and will cover supplements, my training, posing and other considerations over the duration of the experience!

Share article

Blog Categories