The Importance of Sticking to your Macros


How important is it to stick to your macros close to your competition?
As the WBFF worlds are approaching fast, many competitors will be in the final stages of their competition preparation. Having been there myself, I know how tempting it may be to ditch the diet in the final few days. However, even a few days of cheating will certainly have an impact on your physique, and you run the risk of undoing all the hard work you have already put in. Sticking to your macros right up until the very end is wiser and here’s why;

Less calories, less flexibility

During competition prep, there is no good time be flexible with your calories/macros, and even if there was a good time, it would certainly not be in the final few weeks!
Towards the end of your prep, it’s common for calories to be reduced to the absolute minimum. Less calories to eat means less calories to play around with, as you still need to get all your micronutrients, essential fatty acids, and protein that your body needs to function.
An energy deficit causes stress on the body, therefore hitting each of your macros is vital. For example, ensuring you have the correct intake of Omega 3’s is of paramount importance. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation (which is especially important with the increased training you will be doing), and have a positive influence on many processes in the body. They are also essential, meaning that your body cannot synthesise them itself, and therefore these must be obtained through dietary intake.
Furthermore, with weight loss, it is not only ‘excess fat’ which is lost. Some of the weight loss will be due to lost muscle tissue which is undesirable for the physique competitor. Ensuring that we are consuming the correct amount of protein helps prevent the loss of muscle tissue so it’s therefore important to hit your protein requirement every day and not to “waste” calories on nutrient poor foods. It’s much easier to hit your protein and fatty acid requirements on a 2500 calorie diet than on a 1500 calorie diet.
The use of structured refeeds/‘cheat meals’ is a different discussion but if you have to have one, go for pre-packaged foods. This may sound like a controversial bit of advice coming from a nutritionist, but this makes the cheat more measurable and it’s easier to action ‘damage control’. Steak and chips in a restaurant may be more enjoyable and I would definitely prefer this in the early stages of prep, but there’s no way of knowing what happens in a restaurant kitchen. What is added to your food, how is it cooked and what are the exact quantities of each ingredient used? These things are impossible to know if you’re eating out. A tub of ice-cream on the other hand, can be weighed and measured exactly to the amount of calories/macros you need as you can read the exact macronutrient breakdown on the label. You can then balance the rest of your meals for the day and make sure you still hit your macros!
Peak week revolves around hitting macros
During the final week before getting on stage many athletes use carbohydrate and water loading strategies to make sure they look their best on stage. If timed/measured incorrectly it can cause the athlete to get to stage bloated and looking soft. Nothing is worse than putting months of work in, but feeling as though you do not look your best on the day. Not sticking to your macros can ruin months of hard work.
Your body is the most resistant to fat loss
Competition prep is essentially a form of controlled starvation.
The leaner you get, the more resistant your body will become to losing any more body fat.
Hormonal changes and a slower metabolism make the body far more resistant to fat loss than during the earlier stages of prep. This means that you may have to work much harder to lose the last few grams of fat than the first kilogram.
Even at an elite level the tiniest difference can be the difference between placing or not, therefore, sticking to your macros in these final stages is a must!
Competition prep is more of a mental challenge than anything else. Finding strategies to deal with cravings and temptations is part of the process. During the final few weeks of prep, I found it easier to stick to my diet than in the first few weeks. I applied a strategy to deal with something that is referred to as ‘ego depletion’ in social sciences.
Ego depletion is the idea that you have a limited “amount” of willpower per unit of time, for example per day. Once this resource is used up self-control tends to be low. Resisting temptations in the form of prep-unfriendly foods reduces the amount of self-control you have and if it is completely depleted, it may result in you cheating on your diet. The more you tell yourself “no” in one day, the more this amount is reduced, depleting your willpower or self-control to stick to a diet. So rather than telling myself “no, you can’t have this food”, I told myself “I can, just not right now”, thereby not reducing my willpower ‘stores’. If you can tell yourself that you can have this food in a week as opposed to next month, it makes the process far easier! It’s the final stretch and it’s important to realise you won’t be on prep forever, even though it sometimes feels like that.
So stick to your macros
To summarise, towards the end of the prep you have less flexibility with your diet as you still need to hit your (micro)nutrient requirements but you have less calories to do so. Remember , every calorie is important! At the same time your body is more resistant to further fat loss, which means you need to work harder than before to lose the same amount of fat. Even though cheating on your diet just before competition may not instantly ruin your hard-earned physique, it is important to stick to your macros until the end, as this can be the difference between making it to the podium or not. If you’ve made it all the way to the final weeks, you can keep it up for a few more days. We believe in you!

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