The modelling and acting worlds are full of stories of people fasting for long periods before a shoot or particular scene. The idea is that avoiding food will help to keep you looking as lean as possible. But what about bodybuilders? Do bodybuilders fast before a competition?
Bodybuilders do not fast before a competition. This is because fasting can leave their muscles looking “flat”. There are many things that bodybuilders will do that are similar to fasting—restricting water and sodium, and manipulating their carbohydrate intake. But there is no fasting.
So what do bodybuilders do before a competition? In this article, we will take a closer look at the world of pre-competition nutrition.
If you read my article on what foods bodybuilders eat, you will have a good idea of what a bodybuilder’s pre-competition diet may look like. However, this article will be a little more in-depth than that one and should give you a clearer picture of what to do if you ever want to compete.
I should clear up the first thing: No, bodybuilders do not fast before a competition. This would be counterproductive as it would leave their muscles looking flat. Reports of bodybuilders fainting on the day of competition are accurate, but this is not due to fasting. Instead, it can be due to dehydration, low blood pressure, electrolyte imbalances, or even holding your breath.
According to several successful bodybuilders, you will eat multiple small meals on the contest day, and many bodybuilders eat high-calorie foods the night before. There are reasons for this that I will discuss later in this article.
Not all bodybuilders will dehydrate before a competition, as it is a high-risk/high-reward move. But many Pro bodybuilders and a lot of the most successful natural bodybuilders will dehydrate themselves before a competition.
This does not mean that they will avoid drinking altogether, but the amount of water they drink on the day will be minimal.
Water manipulation is tied very closely with carbohydrate manipulation the week before a competition. For example, a 2018 study by Chappell & Simper found that natural bodybuilders increased their water and carbohydrate intake significantly three days before the contest, then lowered both each day. Then, on the competition day itself, water intake is cut further while carbohydrate intake remains the same.
Pro bodybuilders may take this further, using diuretics to rid their bodies of all water. This can come from pharmaceuticals, or it can be something natural like dandelion tea. This will provide a better “look” but is much more dangerous than regular water manipulation.
At least one bodybuilder died on stage from dehydration. Mohammad Benaziza died from dehydration in 1992. Diuretics are believed to have contributed to the death of Andreas Münzer in 1996, and Ronnie Coleman has talked about the time he nearly died from dehydration while competing.
Bottom Line: Bodybuilders will manipulate their water intake three days before a competition and will drink minimally on the contest day. Pro bodybuilders may use diuretics to rid their bodies of water, but this can be incredibly dangerous.
Different bodybuilders have different strategies, but one of the most common is to start cycling around 7-10 days before a competition. I quite like the example used above, which is seven days and looks like this:
Fat loading is becoming increasingly popular in bodybuilding, but it has been around for a while. The idea is to increase your fat intake seven days out from the competition. Then drop it significantly three days out (just as your carb intake rises). The day before the competition you increase your fat intake again.
Unlike fat and carbohydrate intake, protein doesn’t need to be cycled. But, you can lower your protein intake slightly during the very high carb phase of peak weak, and then increase your protein intake on the day before the contest.
Before a competition, you are looking to minimise water, consume a medium amount of carbohydrates, and increase protein and fat intake. A 2021 study by Escalante et al. analysed several bodybuilding studies and came up with the perfect peak week graphic:
The study is incredibly detailed and well worth checking out. There is a lot of scientific jargon, but it is summed up beautifully in graphics such as the one above.
Fasting is not a good strategy for bodybuilding. Even if you are desperate to cut as much body fat as possible, it is possible to utilise intermittent fasting during a cut, but not during peak week. However, fasting will affect your performance, leave you looking flat, and prevent you from using known strategies such as carb-loading or fat loading.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.