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.
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.
THERE IS A DIFFERENCE IN THE JUDGING CRITERIA AND JUDGING TREND
Looking to compete in the Bikini class in 2022? Let me shed some light on the physique of Today’s Bikini Competitor. If you think coming in soft without well developed muscle from lifting a lot of weight, but doing hours and hours of cardio and circuit training will put you in the top spot…think again. A few years ago, maybe. But not so much anymore.
Before you blast me and remind me of what the Judging Criteria is for Bikini, let me remind you…I am an NPC Regional Judge and I keep up with the local trends, as well as trends in each district, national level and pro. And let me tell you, the trends are very different at each level. Rarely will you find that written “criteria” followed. For one, the criteria is subjective. Two, judges see things different and have different perspectives.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying soft won’t win. You will find a few shows here and there that place the more “soft” competitor at the top…but that’s usually only when today’s bikini competitor doesn’t show up.
Sorry if that gives some of you butt hurt or it pisses a few coaches off, but this is an industry where truth and reality is required to get to the next level. Hold that back and you will have even more butt hurt when an underdeveloped/unconditioned competitor expects to win, but gets placed in 3rd call-outs. So save the sugar coating for the drama folks or sports where everyone gets a Participation Trophy.
Let me be the first to tell you, there is a distinct difference between the “judging criteria” and “judging trends.” The written criteria is one thing, but the trends are based on how Regional Judges are actually scoring since they are the ones that are sending competitors to the National shows. lately, that “trend” is fuller muscles, moderate hardness (and probably harder in 2022) with shoulders and arms that have a good amount of “distinction” between the shoulders and triceps. Notice I did not say “seperation” because that is not entirely accurate. But you can tell where the shoulder ends and the tricep begins so the word “distinction” is more accurate. That said, we are still seeing some overall winners that actually have a bit of striations in their shoulders. Just 2 years ago, they would have been marked down. Not any more.
It sounds confusing, I know. But again, judges can only judge based on who shows up, and thats what is showing up more and more at the bigger shows, and someone has to win.
Of course, well conditioned with solid glutes and hamstrings (see Team USA Athlete Valeria Ocano to the left) are still staples for Bikini, as has been the case for awhile, but a little harder now with tie-in’s that slightly show have been scoring better.
Indulge me for a moment and let me try to explain it a different way.
Take the bikini girls on the Olympia stage as a true representation of the Judging Criteria. They are there because in one way or another, they are as close to a perfect based on the judging criteria and every other competitor is missing something. At the national level, most of the time it’s going to be something related to conditioning. If the difference is one competitor being less conditioned and/or too small and the other competitor being more conditioned and/or a little big, who do you think is going to get the call? And keep in mind, this is BODY-BUILDING!
THE BIKINI DIVISION HAS FINALLY EVOLVED
Take a step back and look from the outside for a minute. The reality is, Bikini is a part of bodybuilding. We’re not judging models or beauty pageant contestants. And when most of the competitors that appear before head judges Tyler and Sandy at national shows are harder and more conditioned than the criteria, that’s all they and the other judges have to go off of and someone has to win. So bite your tongue if you feel they are not judging based on what the criteria is. Again, that is what is showing up at National Shows these days. Softer athletes may fit the criteria better, but Regional Judges are not sending many to the National Shows. They are the ones setting the trends. And quite frankly, I like the harder look myself. Again, this is BODY-BUILDING!
So, how do you get to the current “trend” and standout among your fellow competitors?
You have to lift, HEAVY…PERIOD!
When I say lift heavy, I mean it. You have to start building your base up. You have to have body curves, and some muscular curves too. You need to hit your shoulders (arms too) just as hard as you hit your glutes. As glutes are the standard from the back, shoulders are becoming the standard from the front.
Light weight, high reps, lots of cardio and circuit style training is now a thing of the past. Get over it. Those who follow this style of training will most likely continue to fall down further and further in the standings.
Don’t get me wrong…cardio and circuit training has its place. But it would be a mistake to make them the foundation of your training program. They are tools…nothing more. Anf if you are doing more cardio than resistance training, you need to re-evaluate your programming.
I recommend lots of big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, barbell hipthrust, shoulder press, and a lot of lateral raises too. I recommending putting a program together that utilized both strength (4-7 rep range) and Hypertrophy (8-12 rep range) to maximize growth.
If you think squats and deadlifts make a thicker and blocky waist, think again? That’s rubbish!!! There is absolutely zero scientific evidence that suggest such a thing. That’s just bro-science coming from people who have little to no knowledge of recent scientific research regarding bodybuilding. Byt the time our clients are stage lean, they have some of the tiny waist on the stage…and they all lift heavy. But, need visual proof? Go look at many of the top figure athletes (they need to maintain tiny waist too) these days…many are powerlifters in the offseason…just saying!
Need more proof? Go take a look at Team USA Physique Coach Molly Greer picured at the top. She does a lot of squats, deadlifts and barbell hipthrust…and she lifts heavy. Just missed her procard by one spot at her first Pro Qualifer. How about Team USA Physique Coach Valerie Ocano. Just look at those glutes and tiny waist; all built with heavy compound movements. It’s only her second year competing, and placed third at the NPC USA Championship Pro Qualifer.
Just one more? Sure! Just look those glutes, hamstrings and shoulders on McKay George. She missed her IFBB Procard by 1 spot at her first pro Qualifier, which just happened to be only the thrid time she every stepped on stage. I built her workout program with a lot of heavy Squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses and barbell hip raises. Got a problem with her waist or frame?
The point I’m trying to make here is that you need to pay attention to the trends from show to show. And in most instances now, you have to work hard, lift HEAVY and have the mindset of a bodybuilder to take it to the next level as today’s Bikini Competitor. If not, those who do will keep raising the bar out of your reach.
Lift hard. Lift Heavy. Lift Often.
For those who compete in Bodybuilding, cardio is a big issue and philosophies are all over the place. We consider ourselves “cardio minimalists”, with respect to offseason and contest prep.
Cardio is fantastic for general health purposes and it does well for fat loss, and keeping fat gain in check when used responsibly. However, cardio is not your friend when it comes to building an “optimal physique”. Yet on the same token, it will eventually become a necessary evil when it comes to getting stage lean.
I know that sounds confusing, so let me explain.
As a Physique Readiness Coach, our job is to help you reach your genetic potential so that you look your absolute best come stage time. To do this, you must optimize your metabolic rate which is actually quite simple.
It all starts in the offseason by putting emphasis on increasing your food intake as high as possible (while keeping your body fat gain reasonable) and lowering cardio to an absolute minimum. The reason is based on science, and quite frankly…common sense because the more cardio you do in the offseason, the less effective it is during contest prep. And this is why your offseason should be based on your workout program, nutrition and NEAT (Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and little to no cardio depending on how active you are outside of the gym.
Even though bodybuilders have loaded up the cardio in the offseason and more so in contest prep, current research tells us that may not be optimal. A recent meta-analysis was conducted and found that the more cardio a competitior does, the more it hinders progress from lifting. And a second study concluded that the interference had an even more negative effect on advanced athletes such as bodybuilders.
There are two sides of this coin. Once you start your prep, calories should be high enough that you have plenty of room to pull from when fat loss stalls, and it will stall often. On the flip side, cardio should be low enough that you have plenty of cardio to add in, over time, without having to rely on hours and hours of it to keep fat loss going. Extreme doses of cardio typically lead to a slower rate of fat loss (and an increased likelihood of an all out fat loss stall), increased rate of muscles loss, slower recovery time, extreme fatigue at the final stages of prep, a less than optimal physique and a horrible rebound after the show is over.
Have you ever seen a competitor in the final weeks (or months) of prep doing hours of cardio multiple times a week? More often than not, progress stalls (a common problem in the lower half for females), the physique starts to show less muscle mass retention, and they are just plain worn out. Too much cardio is often the problem.
But in full disclosure, there may come a time for some that we have to flirt with the “extreme” in the final stages due to unforeseen circumstances that may arise during prep like sickness, relationship or work issues, extra travel, etc. But, if you allow extra time in your prep to give yourself a cushion for the “unforeseen” situations, diets breaks and stalls, you should be fine.
The bottom line is this: Keep cardio at a minimum (and in many cases, none) during the offseason, so it becomes merely a last resort tool during contest prep, instead of the main focus for fat loss.
You’ve just completed the final show of your season, you’ve been living on poverty carbs and fats for weeks on end…but what now?
First, take what I am saying with a grain of salt, because a single post cannot cover it all. Though it is not overly complicated, there is no one size fits all…this is just the basics.
Hopefully you or your coach put a plan together to get you started on the right path AND you were in AT LEAST the 4th Stage of Contest Prep, the Metabolic Building Stage. If so, chances are high that you will continue to lean out a little as you add calories back in.
The goal is simple, start reintroducing more food without putting on a ton a weight. To do this successfully, you must have the right mindset. You must be willing to eventually accept a reasonable amount of weight gain, including an acceptable amount of body fat, while eating as much food as possible to stay within that scope.
So, how do you do that?
First, look at your daily calorie intake at the end of prep…BEFORE you started Peak Week. Let’s say you were consuming 1500 calories a day. Next, determine how much weight you were losing per week, at that calorie range. Let’s say you were losing .5lb weekly.
Now, we all know the general rule of thumb is that it takes a 500 calorie deficit a day to lose 1lb per week. So, if you were losing .5lb a week, you were in a 250 calorie deficit.
Now, we calculate your maintenance. Its very simple, add 250 calories (your deficit) to the amount you were eating while losing .5lbs, (1500), you come up with 1750 calories. By calculation, that means your maintenance level would be around 1750 calories.
That would be a good place to start the first week or two after your last competition. It will give you some time to see if you are on track with your calculated caloric maintenance.
Next, if your weight stays fairly stable, then it’s time to start your reverse. A good place to start would be to add 5% to 7% to your caloric maintenance. If you want to focus on a more “Lean Gain” stick to the lower range. If you are ok with a little more body fat because you want to eat a little more food at a quicker pace, start at the higher end.
Your range would then be 1827 – 1872 calories a day. Again, this depends on how much weight (muscle and bodyfat) you are willing to accept. The more body fat you are ok with, the more muscle you will add…to a degree. (There comes a point where body fat starts to accumulate at a faster pace…this is where an experienced prep coach comes into play).
From here, there are many paths you can take. There are many variables to take into consideration as you continue your reverse diet. For example, the amount of cardio you do, whether you will be reducing the amount of time you are working out or not, the macronutrient ratios should be using, and more.
Regardless, this should at least give you a vision of the right path…and it’s never too late to start either. But, the longer you hold off, the harder your next prep is likely to be.