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Are you dropping calories too much or too fast during prep?

May 3, 2022 / Contest Prep
Are you dropping calories too much or too fast during prep?

Recently, A member of our “Bikini, Wellness and Figure Guidence Facebook Group” made a comment about how much she (her coach) dropped calories in her last prep. To summarize, after the initial cut, each adjustment was two hundred calories! I’m glad she shared this because it inspired me to write this.

I do not know for certain if it was meal plan based or macros. My guess is meal plans since this is a typical structure of meal plans during prep, though there have been some variations over the years. If it was macro counting, it completely misses the target.

First, in prep the goal should be to consume as much food as possible while maintaining an appropriate, and STEADY, weekly Rate of Loss (ROL). Our bodies respond better, helps preserve our metabolic rate and muscle mass, and makes hunger more manageable.

The method described above is counterproductive to the goal of prep. Sure it may work, but at what cost? Just about anything will work, but what we are looking for is “OPTIMAL” results.

After the initial cut, calorie adjustments are an AUTOMATIC two hundred calorie drop. Nothing should ever be automatic. Each adjustment needs to be based on its own merits. In addition, those calorie drops are too big. Your ROL should NEVER be allowed to slow down to the point you need a two hundred calorie drop. Adjustments should be made well before you get to that point.

It is completely unnecessary and forces Metabolic Adaptation to occur at an ACCELERATED rate. It also can cause muscle loss at an ACCELERATED rate and increases the level of hunger.

None of this works to the athlete’s advantage.

When macro counting, the focus is on macros and easy for macro counters to adjust. For most people, all it takes is a reduction of 10-15g of carbs and about 2-3g of fat to keep Active Fat-loss occurring. Compared to those big drops above, this SLOWS DOWN the rate of Metabolic Adaptation and SLOWS DOWN the rate of muscle loss.

Not to mention, a slow reduction of calories INCREASES adherence compared to large reductions. Now, lets look at some examples.


Official Prep started on March 24th. One month out the Client (Bikini) entered the downshift phase of prep. In this phase, we are “priming the pump” for the beginning of official prep. As with the previous 2-4 weeks, we MODIFIED the client’s CURRENT program (we did not change the foundation) from Hypertrophy focus to Strength Focus. We are setting up for an optimal environment when we MODIFY the client’s CURRENT program back to more hypertrophy at the start of prep. We are also working on cleaning up the diet, dropping calories just a little (103 calories) to get the client to their ideal offseason weight and start tapping the Metabolic Switch toward body fat loss as muscle glycogen levels will drop.

On March 24th, Official Prep started and it only took an initial 381 calorie drop to get her into Active Fat loss. About 4 weeks later, we start with just two sessions of 20 minutes of HIIT. Still no Steady State Cardio. About 2 weeks later, we dropped a mere fifty-eight calories (10g of carbs and 2g of fat) to get her to her weekly ROL of 1.4lbs per week. In fact, it may have been too soon or too much. After I put all this together, this morning her ROL increased to 1.58lbs, which is too fast so we may add those calories back.

Still no Steady State Cardio and I’ll see where she is again on Thursday. She is trending to be stage lean 10 weeks out, but that may change if an earlier National Show falls in line with her progress at the time. Her Adjusted Metabolic Factor is 17.3. That is REALLY high.


Just like Client 1, Official Prep started on March 24th. One month out the Client (Wellness) entered the Downshift phase of prep. The same method was used.

On March 24th, Official Prep started, and it took an initial 523 calorie drop to get her into Active Fat loss. This is a little bit more than Client one. Based on her history and the previous response in the Downshift Phase, I knew it would take a little bit more. Individual response should ALWAYS be taken into consideration. We also started her off with two sessions of 20 minutes of HIIT in the beginning. It is great for fat loss, less impact on metabolic adaptation than Steady State Cardio, and it is GREAT for legs.

If done correctly, it’s more like resistance training. Still no Steady State Cardio. About 3 weeks later, we dropped a mere sixty-seven calories (15g of carbs and 2g of fat but did not decrease fat on refeed days) to get her to her weekly ROL of 1.0lbs per week. Three weeks later, she is still within her ROL goal and no adjustment needed.

Still no Steady State Cardio. She is trending to be stage lean 6 weeks out. Her Adjusted Metabolic Factor is 16.3, pretty darn high as well.

This is how it typically goes for most when adherence and consistency is on point. Both clients nail their macros, nail their workouts, keep NEAT up, and follow the plan as written. Sometimes there are little stalls, but when you have a weight loss trend to follow, like Natalie posted about yesterday, then we understand the history of the client. Accurate history is the best indicator to predict progress. If I know a client will have stalls on the weekend, or right after leg day, that pattern will help determine if we need to wait or drop. And, to the point of this post, it doesn’t take a big drop of calories to get right back in your ROL trend.

Neither of these situations are anomalies. 6 weeks into prep and both still have a Metabolic Factor of sixteen plus. Both of their calculated maintenance calories are over two thousand.

How is that possible? Because fat loss is occurring based on a Weekly ROL of .8 to 1% of weight. It is no coincidence that current research tells us that is the best rate for Active Fat loss while preserving as much muscle mass as possible, therefore added protection to one’s metabolism. That is what the studies tell us, and that is what we are seeing here.

When prep is started CORRECTLY, and the necessary steps are taken in the final month or two prior to prep to set the athlete up CORRECTLY, this is how things go. A reduction of 5-7% of total calories is usually all that is needed after the initial cut. I can’t think of a time in the last five years where we had to drop more than 7% when the client followed the plan. And I have never had anyone do sixty minutes of cardio every day.

This method is not difficult for any coach or individual to do. But what it is, is time consuming. You must know and treat each client on an individual basis. Observe their data. LEARN how each client (or yourself) responds to get a good idea of what to expect. A lot of it is basic math. You do not get this with downloadable and/or cookie cutter plans.

It also makes prep less difficult for the Client. Would you rather have sixty to eighty calories cut, or two hundred? Which one do you think is easier to adhere to? Which way will protect all that hard earned muscle that you worked for? Which one will allow you to enjoy more calories and less cardio in the final phases of prep?

These are things I hope you consider the next time you get ready to start prep. But keep in mind, you start setting the stage to start prep in the final month or two of the offseason. If you do not take care of business there, it can make prep more difficult than it should be.

DISCLAIMER 1: All this information I am providing, it’s out there. This is not exclusive to us (though my spreadsheet is). This is how most Science Based Coaches coach. This is why it is becoming more popular. This is why you are seeing more and more flexible dieters win shows and why the old “bro science” methods are starting to fall to the waste side.

DISCLAIMER 2: This is based on prep going without unexpected and unforeseen circumstances that are out of anyone’s control. There can always be exceptions to a rule, but should not be standard practice. Examples include sickness, injury, unexpected travel, relationship or work problems, etc. These things can cause delays and the need to play “catch-up” which may create a need for a temporary more aggressive approach. But then again, if you add enough time to your prep for the unforeseen, you wouldn’t have this problem if the situation arises.