Prep is a term used in bodybuilding to describe getting ready to compete, or getting ‘stage lean.’ This process takes months, reaching around 10-12% body fat. It is not a healthy state to be in. On average, most women prep for 12 weeks, dropping about 30 lbs. It is common to see women on programs demanding 1-2 hours of cardio daily, 1 hour of weight training 5-6 times a week, and very low calories. This is obviously unsustainable, and can lead to severe post show rebound, where someone will put 20-30 lbs back on in a matter of weeks.
It doesn’t have to be that way, but it depends on the individual and their coach.
I prefer to stay closer to ‘stage weight,’ maintaining a leaner physique year round, and longer preps. While this does prevent some health issues that can develop from a prep, it won’t completely offset it. Prep is vigorous, and regardless of how well you execute the plan, there are consequences to under eating and over training. Women aren’t meant to be that low in body fat.
So why do it?
For many bodybuilders, it has nothing to do with getting lean, and everything to do with the mindset that comes with prepping. It’s HARD. Prep requires so much discipline, that it tends to spill over into other areas of your life. You start demanding more of yourself in every way.
I decided to do a 16 week prep, where I will lose 16 lbs total, or 1 lb per week. This is a healthy rate of weight loss for most individuals. What makes it so difficult, is that you’re now fighting against your physiology. Everyone has a ‘set point,’ or level of body fat their body likes to stay at. So when you’re overweight, weight loss can be reasonably effortless, without any negative metabolic consequences. In fact, your blood markers can improve with weight loss in some situations. When you’re already lean, however, your body will fight against further weight loss. This isn’t a bad thing in terms of evolution. These mechanisms kept us alive over the ages, ensuring we don’t accidentally under eat. Thyroid hormones, leptin, ghrelin, estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol will all be affected.
So far, I’ve dropped 4 lbs in my first 4 weeks, so technically, I’m right on track. Where I’ve been going wrong, is my caffeine consumption and sleep. I’ve been consuming about 300mg daily, or 3 cups of coffee a day, and sleeping around 6 hours a night, sometimes less.
So why is that a bad thing?
In prep, you have to conserve energy where you can, or you probably won’t make it to the stage. Caffeine should be kept low in the beginning of prep, so it can be more effective when you really need it. Your body adapts quickly to your caffeine intake, making it your new baseline. This means you’ll need more and more to get the same effect. Caffeine is also really hard on your nervous system, and high doses can lead to issues with your cortisol production, or your stress hormones. Since dieting is already a stressor on the body, we don’t want to add more fuel to the fire. It should be kept low until the final push, or your final month of prep.
Sleep is also really important for successful dieting. Just one night of sleep deprivation can lead to elevated insulin, causing more food cravings and feelings of hunger. Psychologically, this will make a dieting phase much harder than it has to be. In addition, poor sleep leads to more loss of muscle mass when dieting. In a prep you want to do everything you can to preserve muscle and encourage fat loss, so your body composition doesn’t suffer. At the end of the day, it is a physique competition.
Mentally I’ve already been struggling with feelings of hunger and odd food cravings. You start to crave foods you don’t usually eat. I find myself timing when my next meal will be, which isn’t a good way to start a prep. Fortunately, my weight training and cardio sessions have all been excellent, and I haven’t lost any strength. I know the grind is coming, and yet it already feels hard. You question why you’re doing it. You question if you’re going to be ‘ready’ on time. You question if you have enough muscle density to be competitive. It feels like an exercise in constantly doubting yourself, and yet, showing up anyway. Somehow, I love this sport. I love what it demands, and I love showing up everyday. Essentially, I love showing myself that I am capable of always doing more than I thought I could.
Weight Training: 2 upper body sessions, 3 lower body sessions
Cardio Sessions: 5x10 min of HIIT
Nutrition: 1530 calories (130C, 140P, 50F)