The popularity of natural bodybuilding has greatly increased in the past decade. However, until recently very little research has been done on natural bodybuilders during contest preparation.

Prior to 2013, a pubmed search of “bodybuilding” resulted in studies on psychological disorders associated with bodybuilding and adverse events in bodybuilders using performance enhancing drugs. The few case studies on contest preparation performed prior to this time were primarily in bodybuilders competing in untested competitions and/or using performance enhancing drugs.

Fortunately, with the past few years three case studies have been published in male bodybuilders:

  • Rossow et al.[1] studied a 26 year old professional natural bodybuilder during 6 month contest preparation and 6 month recovery. The competitor placed highly in competition and qualified for the IFPA Yorton Cup.
  • Kistler et al.[2] studied a 26 year old natural bodybuilder during a 6 month contest preparation leading up to the competitor winning his natural pro card.
  • Robinson et al.[3] studied a 21 year old amateur physique competitor during a 14 week contest preparing for his first competition. The competitor placed near the middle of his class.
  • This month, Halliday et al.[4] published the first case study in a female competitor. They followed a 26 year old natural figure competitor during a 20 week contest preparation and 20 week recovery.
  • Although these four case studies are the only peer-reviewed data available on natural physique competitors using science-based approaches to contest preparation and significantly more data is needed on this population, there are several lessons that can be learned from the available data.

1. Lean mass is lost during contest preparation in a natural athlete

It is not uncommon to hear competitors say they are going to add muscle and grow into a show. However, this does not appear to be possible in natural athletes. All 4 athletes studied lost lean mass during contest preparation. Lean mass accounted for 21-43 percent of weight loss in the athletes studied [1-4]. Although some of the lean mass loss was likely due to things such as water, glycogen and organ weight loss, there was also likely muscle mass as well based upon the relatively high percentage of weight lost as lean mass.

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