The Metabolic Factor is a simple calculation and rating scale we use to determine if a client is metabolically ready for prep. It’s remarkably simple and everyone can use it. Maintenance Calories divided by weight. If you are in a surplus or deficit, you will need to use your “calculated” maintenance.
I’m a data junkie. For the previous 20 years prior to becoming a coach, I was an eagle-eyed analyst for the DoD, CDC and Department of Veterans Affairs sniffing out hidden trends and finding ways to optimize processes. Little did I know that those very same data digging, and process improvement skills would make all the difference when it came time to take my career in a new direction – becoming a coach! My background has been invaluable ever since.
When analyzing our competitors’ data, it wasn’t long before I started to see some patterns develop. There were distinct correlations developing between a client’s weight and maintenance calories, in numerous ways. I decided to apply this simple calculation already used by many: it wasn’t anything revolutionary but still allowed us further insight into the numbers.
By taking a deep dive into the data and crunching it across hundreds of competitors, I uncovered some fascinating trends! With this knowledge in hand, I pursued new paths that would have otherwise remained unexplored.
Metabolic Factors of 10 or below can make it incredibly challenging to increase calories without rapid weight gain. These folks have a suppressed metabolism, so they experience low energy and struggle to get stronger in the gym – even after several weeks! Even minor calorie increases like 60 extra per day can cause unwelcome increases on their scale numbers.
If you’re looking to grow and build muscle, the speed of your progress matters. While it’s important that we consume food for growth, going too quickly can cause an increase in body fat accumulation instead of healthy muscle gain. Eating right is key but having a good body composition plays just as big a role when building up our strength! Body composition has just as much impact on anabolism as calorie intake.
If body composition gets too skewed towards fat, it can impede the process of building muscle. Trying to push more food can make the situation worse. Though many believe that size and strength go hand in hand in, it is only true to a point. There comes a point of diminishing returns. Once you go to far, you are adding much more Fat Mass than Fat Free Mass, and more weeks to your next prep. We take about this at length in our 5 Phases of Off-Season and 5 Phases of Contest Prep E-book, in particular during the Transition Phase of Off-Season
“Remember that the more fat you gain, the longer you’ll have to diet and the deeper you’ll likely have to hammer into a calorie deficit. In 25 years of coaching, that always means less lean body mass retained. I know it’s counterintuitive—we like to think the size and strength we gain at higher body fat levels is worth it—but once you’re moderately above your metabolic setpoint, the law of diminishing returns isn’t in your favor. You gain much more body fat than lean body mass and you lose both on your way back to the stage.” ~Joe Klemczewski, PhD
At a metabolic factor of 10 to 11, athletes begin to see tangible results. Small calorie increases lead to enhanced strength and improved overall wellbeing without any increase in body fat. Increases may be still far and few in between…but the pick-up in pace is noticeable. It’s an exciting time when the hard work begins paying off!
Once crossed over into a metabolic factor of 12, increase frequency usually picks up a little more. By 13, it became clear that steadily increasing calories over a couple of weeks (sometimes weekly) was allowing participants to stay lean and energized. Even weekly increases were yielding little to no weight gain, but strength continues to rise!
At 14, some clients started noticing they are not just holding weight with increases, they actually get leaner as we let their progress lead us down more aggressive pathways with increased calorie intake. We start flirting with some positive changes in body composition without changes to workout programming or nutrition methodology. It just starts to happen naturally for man.
As a general rule of thumb, starting prep with Metabolic Factor 15 and higher is ideal. Such an environment usually allows clients to achieve body recomp without drastic changes in nutrition or exercise programming before prep even starts. In the past four years, all those who began prepping at this 15 or higher (barring a few exceptions) made 1st callouts.
When someone reaches 16, we see a sharp rise in those who win their divisions, overall titles and/or pro cards. Those who reach 17, may not even do much cardio during prep. Our Wellness client Amanda Wright just won her IFBB Pro Card without doing any Steady State Cardio. Her metabolic rate was so high when prep started, it was never needed.
Can someone do well starting prep lower than 15? Sure, but the lower you start, the more difficult prep may be as you would need much more cardio and have to dive deeper into lower calories which means a higher rate of muscle loss.
Everyone follows the same Metabolic Factor rulebook, but athletes have higher expectations. Competitors must target a 15 Metabolic Factor or greater before commencing Contest Prep in order to reach extreme levels of leanness and diet down harder for longer periods of time. Non-competitors are not obligated to do so; that level of leanness is to extreme and unhealthy so attaining 13-14 is suitable for them, prior to starting any dieting phase!
Now that you understand the importance of Metabolic Factor, let’s explore how this formula can be put into practice. Remember: when calculating your factor, we are looking at maintenance calories. If you are losing weight or gaining weight, the calories you are consuming IS NOT your Maintenance Calories.
Let me give you an example.
Losing or gaining weight is all about the numbers. A 500-calorie deficit each day will cause you to drop 1 pound per week, while a surplus of this amount causes the opposite effect. Your daily calories and caloric balance either give your body energy…or take it away! If you are losing or gaining as shown below, the numbers below indicate how many calories you are in of a deficit or surplus.
- 1.0lbs = 500 calories
- .75lbs = 375 calories
- .50lbs = 250 calories
- .25lbs = 125 calories
Let’s assume you weigh 130 lbs., and you are gaining .75lb per week at 2100 calories. That means you are in a 375-calorie surplus.
Lets do some math!
To find your Maintenance Calories, subtract 375 from 2100 and that leaves you with 1725 “Calculated Maintenance Calories.” To find your Metabolic Factor, divide 1725 (Calculated Maintenance Calories) by 130 (weight in lbs.) which equals 13.269, so round up and your Metabolic Factor is 13.3.
If you are losing weight, you do the same thing, but you would add the calories back in. In the example above, the Calculated Maintenance Calories would be 2100 + 375 which equals 2475, for a Metabolic Factor of 19.
The Metabolic Factor is an easy-to-use rating scale that helps you decide when your metabolism is ready to entera dieting phase like Contest Prep. It considers the individual’s Maintenance Calories divided by their weight – if they are in surplus or deficit, it uses “calculated maintenance”. Hopefully this will give you a little guidance regarding where your metabolism should be before you start your next phase.
Peak Week, your last chance to put all the pieces together to deliver your best physical possible once you hit the stage. It can make or break even the best competitor. Nail your peak, and you will be walking off the stage with your head held high. However, even the slightest miscalculation can leave you disappointed and take a physique destined for First Place, thrown into a Second Call-Out placement.
Before you read any further, you need to understand what the “variables” are that we discuss in each strategy. Variables are the things we use to alter our physique during Peak Week and Show day.
Peak Week nutrition variables includes:
· Sodium · Potassium
NOTE: When going through these methods, keep in mind that it typically takes 24-48 hours for carbohydrates to fully assimilate.
Your week starts off with three to four days of carb depleting followed by three days of carb loading with cutting water the last two days. As the carb loading increases, water will start to be pulled. This creates an environment where the competitor start to get really flat, which is often misunderstood as a lack of carbohydrates. As a result, carbs continue to be increased as the competitor flattens out further. Since it takes carbohydrates 24-48 hours to fully assimilate, the consumed carbs cannot be converted by gluconeogenesis and shuttled into the muscles fast enough resulting in the competitor being flat if not enough carbs where consumed and resulting in spillover if too many carbs are consumed. The high concentration of glucose present out-side of the muscle cells, with the low remaining water in the body due to decreasing water, is pulled outside the muscle and under the skin, leaving the competitor flat and potentially a little watery.
This is an old school approach that is being phased out by most coaches. The water and sodium depletion is extremely dangerous. You have probably heard stories of competitors using this approach and looking better the day or to after their show, claiming they just “missed” their peak. Once the show is over and the competitor goes out and consumes a lot of food (and a lot of sodium with it), and a lot of fluids, the competitor will look their best the following morning. This is a very aggressive approach, VERY high risk, high reward, and low predictability due to rapidly changing variables with little to no time to observe and correct since you aim to have your highest carb day on the day before the show.
FRONT LOAD PEAKING
Your week starts off with carbs higher than usual. Protein and fats should typically stay consistent, but may be a little lower when carbs are at their peak. We are looking for a little bit of spillover to ensure we find the tipping point. Carbs should be lowered the following three to four days to clean up the spill. You should start looking a little crisper with improved definition. The next day or two, carbs are increased to tighten you up. This is common for bikini, figure and wellness competitors.
This is a conservative approach, low risk, moderate reward, and moderate predictability. Though variables change rapidly, you do have a day or two to observe and adjust should spillover occur before show day.
MID LOAD PEAKING
Your week starts with carbs at its lowest, and gradually increasing to their highest level when you are two or three days out. Protein and fats may be a little lower on the highest carb days. There should also be a little bit of spilling the last day of your carb up. Use the last one or two days to clean the spill and tighten you up. This is common for bikini, figure, wellness and Men’s Physique competitors.
This is a fairly conservative approach, moderate risk, moderate reward, and moderate predictability. Though variables change on a slow and steady approach early in the week, they change rapidly two to three days out, but you do have at least a day to observe and adjust should spillover occur before show day.
BACK LOAD PEAKING
This is very similar to old school Conventional Peaking without water and sodium depletion. The week starts with very low carbs to fully deplete glycogen from your muscles. This should continue for three to four days with rapid carb increases the next two to three days before show day. We are looking for glycogen supercompensation during the carb up phase, right up to show day. Protein and fats should be at their highest while depleting, then dropped during the loading days. This is common for men’s bodybuilding and classic physique and women’s bodybuilding and physique where more extreme levels of conditioning are necessary.
This is a very aggressive approach, high risk, high reward, and moderate to low predictability due to rapidly changing variables, glycogen dynamic change, and little to no time to observe and correct since you aim to have your highest carb day on the day before the show.
BACK LOAD PEAKING WITH A CLEAN UP DAY
This follows the same path as Back Load Peaking, except for hitting your peak one day out, leaving a day of carb reduction if “slight” spilling occurs. This reduces the risk a little and slightly increases predictability. But because the back loading is so extreme, if spill over is more than slight, you will still not have enough time to clean it up. This is common for men’s bodybuilding and classic physique and women’s bodybuilding and physique where more extreme levels of conditioning are necessary.
This is a very aggressive approach, high risk, high reward, and moderate predictability due to rapidly changing variables, glycogen dynamic change. There is slightly more predictability than standard backload peak due to the clean up day which gives a little time to observe and correct.
RAPID BACK LOAD PEAKING
Your week starts with a slight increase in carbs for one to two days, followed by four to five days of glycogen depletion. This is a carb depletion phase, not a calorie depletion phase. In fact, you should be no more than a couple of hundred calories below, or above, your normal dieting calories prior to peak week. This should continue until the day before the show when the rapid-carb loading begins.
We are looking for glycogen supercompensation the last 24-hours before taking the stage. Protein and fats should be at their highest while depleting, then dropped during the loading days. Carb intake is so high (extreme amounts over 800 carbs the day before she show is common) and the process is so fast that this is one of the very few times that potassium loading may be involved, in a VERY SPECIFIC way. You start with your potassium load first thing in the morning, then sodium later in the day.
This is an EXTEMELY AGGERSSIVE, EXTREMELY HIGH RISK, HIGH REWARD, and very low predictability since you are allowing little no time for observation and adjustments and variables change dramatically. Even with a clean-up day tagged at the end, the carb intake is so high, one day clean-up is not enough and can lead to a bloated appearance in the core, even if spillover does not occur. However, the reward for perfect timing is extremely high and produces the most extreme levels of hardness and tightness IF the competitor is lean enough.
NOTE: Rapid Backload Peaking was developed by Cliff Wilson, which took him about 10 years to perfect. It is EXTREMELY difficult to pull off and you really need to be dialed into the competitor and have an excellent eye. Potassium use in this method must be damn near perfect, and is timing based. Time it wrong and blurring will occur, the core can give the appearance of some bloating, and in some instances sickness can occur. It should be noted that Cliff adamantly states, “This should only be used for the most extreme levels of conditioning such as Men’s and Women’s Bodybuilding only, not suitable for other divisions.” The risk it to high when other protocols can give the same or better results for levels of less extreme conditioning are required, with less risk to the competitors physique. Though it may be something to look at for Women’s Physique in the NPC/IFBB as this division has increased the level of conditioning the last couple of years.
PROGRESSIVE LINEAR LOAD PEAKING
Peak Week begins with a slight modification to calories, usually with an increase of carbs. Prior to Peak Week, the competitor should already be increasing calories as stage lean has been achieved for some time now. Muscle glycogen is full, but not quite at full capacity, and the competitor is now less sensitive to carb increases.
When Peak Week begins, a simple increase of 15-25g of carbs may be all a competitor needs. Protein and fats typically remain consistent, or slight variation. Each day, the competitor should start looking a little fuller and tighter. By two to three days out, the competitor should be at or near his/her peak. For the remaining one to two days, a slightly larger increase in carbs, maybe fats, may be used with an increase in sodium to fine tune the physique. By the night before the show, the competitor should be at or near full glycogen capacity.
The chance of spillover is low due to the drop in sensitivity to carb adjustments, and the adjustments themselves are slight. By show day, food intake is primarily used to keep the competitor from getting too hungry, with some benefit to maintaining fullness. Sodium and water are the main variables to put the finishing touches on fullness and tightness. This is a conservative approach, exceptionally minimal risk, high reward, and high predictability since you are allowing time all through Peak Week for observation and adjustments. Changes to variables are usually subtle.
If the competitor is still dieting down prior to peak week, a little more aggressive carb increase(s) may be need the first few days or so, perhaps a fats as well.
NOTE: Progressive Linear Load Peaking was developed by Dr. Joe Klemczewski and can be used for all levels of conditioning. Best used when competitors reach stage lean early and are already in a state of reverse dieting. It is an innovative approach developed in just the past few years, but its popularity is on the rise resulting from its high level of success and minimal risk, high reward, and high predictability methodology.
Peak Week, “The final week leading up to a bodybuilding contest and the sole purpose is to “fine-tune” the athlete’s physique for the grand reveal on the stage.” Although there is no specific definition of Peak Week, this statement summarizes it best.
The three criteria that must be met prior to Peak Week for a bodybuilder to optimize his or her peak are: being stage lean, knowing and stabilizing macronutrients, knowing and stabilizing sodium and water intake. If any one of these is lacking prior to Peak Week, your chances of peaking optimally greatly diminish. And if you are not already stage lean (the most important criteria), you will not be stage lean come show day; it’s not “magic week!”
Criteria 1: Your must be stage lean PRIOR to the beginning of Peak Week
This is your Number 1 Priority and can not be overemphasized. It is THE MOST IMPORTANT criteria. To peak properly at the right time, you must already be stage lean, and look your best “to date” during the final week before peak week begins. If not, criteria 1 and 2 will have little to no effect. Body fat should already be at its leanest. Lines should already be showing and prominent. We have judged over one thousand competitors over the last several years, and it’s safe to say that three-quarters of the athletes that reach the stage in local and National Qualifiers are not lean enough, if not more. That reduces to about half the competitors that compete in National Shows.
There is an inherent, yet misguided belief, that most competitors head into peak week with a mind set of “once I lose all the water, I will look drastically different by the time I hit the stage.” However, that is nothing more than wishful thinking and setting up for failure. While losing some water weight can be effective IF YOU ARE ALREADY RIPPED AND STAGE LEAN, for most people it’s more body fat that needs to be lost. And that’s not going to happen during peak week. At least not enough to have influence on the naked eye.
Criteria 2: You baseline Macronutrients must be dialed in and stable
Knowing how many carbs, fats, and protein you consume daily is essential for proper peaking. Think of your macronutrient intake like a road map to your final destination. Or in this case, your final look. Your current location is the best indicator of the optimal path to take to that destination.
Understanding the amount of protein, carbs and fats and their individual physiological effect on your physique is imperative. Not to mention, their effect on each other has a direct impact as well. For example, Fats are carb sparing. Carbs are protein sparing. Understanding the relationships and how to apply them on an individual basis can be the difference in being flat, hard, full, tight, or spilled. That can be the difference in first place or second call-outs. If your macronutrients are not known and stable prior to peak week, how can you plan and predict their effect on your physique leading up to the stage?
Something to consider here.
Carbohydrates have significantly more impact on peaking compared to protein and fat. And considering that carbohydrates take approximately 24-48 hours to fully assimilate, their timing is crucial the last couple of days.
Criteria 3: Know your daily water and sodium intake
Knowing your sodium and water intake, and its stability leading up to peak week, is just as important, and for similar reasons, as your macronutrient intake. And just like your macronutrients, the longer they are stable prior to peak week, the less difficult they will be to manage. Water has a greater impact on fullness. Sodium (and carbs) has a greater impact on tightness.
You have put in a lot of demanding work, dedication, resources and made a lot of sacrifices on your journey to the stage. If you do not meet these three criteria leading up to peak week, perhaps consider pushing your show out to a later date.
If you are going to do this, do it right.
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.
Accomplishing contest prep and off-season goals together used to be a pipe dream. Not anymore. When done correctly, you can achieve both at the same time.