One of the most common questions people ask me is, “How do I get shredded for a bodybuilding or physique competition?” This is especially common with people who are planning on entering their very first event.
The answer to that question is somewhat subjective. There is no set formula that will work exactly the same way in exactly the same time-frame for every single person. Having said that, there are some guidelines for figuring out the best way for you to get shredded for a bodybuilding or physique competition and you can use them to make a plan that works for you.
One thing you should understand, though, is that getting shredded is an art as well as a science. Knowing how and why and when the human body burns fat, what causes insulin and cortisol spikes and what makes the body retain or excrete water are all part of the science. Knowing how your specific body will react to certain steps is where the art comes in. Some guys take several years and several competitions to figure out what works best for their particular bodies.
That said, there are three key areas that you need to focus on in order to get shredded for a bodybuilding or physique competition: water intake, caloric deficiency, and carb intake.
If you're wondering why I did not mention ramping up your weight training routine, it's because the whole purpose of weight training when you're cutting is to preserve and protect the muscle you already have while you're trying to lose fat. When you're doing the things you need to do to burn those last few percentage points of fat, you're not going to have the surplus for building new muscle. You just want to keep what you have. The purpose of shredding is to show what you have and really make that definition pop.
First, Decide Where you are Right Now
I've said many times that you have to set, measurable goals. This means definite deadlines and actual numbers. Without these, you have dreams, not goals. You have the deadline; the deadline is the date of your event. What you need now is a number. What body fat percentage are you going for?
My rule of thumb when cutting or working to get shredded for a competition or a photo shoot is to lose 1% of my body fat per week. So, if you're at 12% body fat right now, you need to get started on your fat loss about six weeks out. It will not hurt you to add another week in there just in case something gets you off track.
Get Some Intense Cardio into Your Program
During this time, you should be doing some high intensity interval training for your cardio to create some of that calorie deficit. Not all of it, because burning 3500 calories (which equals a pound of fat) per week is a heck of a lot more difficult than cutting 3500 calories a week. Ideally, your calorie deficiency should come from a combination of cutting calories and burning them. So for instance, you can burn an extra 250 calories a day and cut 250 calories a day to lose one pound of fat per week.
Start Cutting Back the Carbs
One of the best ways to do this is to replace some of the carbs you're eating in the mornings with a high protein, no carb breakfast instead. I recently posted about the meat and nut breakfast rotation and the incredible results that I've gotten from it. In fact, I got to my lowest body fat percentage (4%) in part by doing this myself.
Then about six days out from your event, you want to cut your carbs back even more. Depending on your particular body and how often you're working out, that could be an take of anywhere from 0g to 150g of carbs per day. Do this for two days, then go back to your normal low-carb intake. About two days before your competition, you want to actually increase your carbs from there for two days.
The Formula for Water Intake
This is another area that I get asked about a lot. Guys will ask me, “How much water should I drink when I'm trying to get shredded for a competition?” But the fact is that the number depends on the amount of water you normally need to take in. So what I actually give these guys is a formula to work with.
About eight days out from the competition, I increase my water intake by 50%. I normally drink about four liters of water a day, so eight days out I increase that to six liters a day for another two days. This gets your body excreting more water.
You do not start cutting back on the water until about two days before your competition and you cut it down to 50% of your normal intake, not what you've been drinking that week. So in my case, since I normally drink four liters per day, I'll cut down to two liters two days out. Then the day of the event, you cut that by another 50%, which in my case would be one liter.
If you do all of these things, you'll be well on your way to getting totally shredded for that bodybuilding competition. You'll probably have quite a lot of trial and error on exact numbers and exact methods, and the best ones will change from one competition to the next as your body changes, but these guidelines will help you to get the results you need.