Most bodybuilders begin the calorie-cutting phase of their contest prep three months before stepping on stage. In addition to depleting calories to maintain a manageable caloric deficit, cardio typically increases to shed body fat and improve muscle definition, conditioning, and muscle separation to appear more aesthetic on stage.
On the Aug. 25, 2023, episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show, the show’s namesake, alongside fitness model Clark Bartram, interviewed bodybuilding icon and three-time Mr. Olympia champ Frank Zane on how he prepped for a bodybuilding show. Check out the interview below, courtesy of Generation Iron’s YouTube channel:
Frank Zane’s Contest Prep Guidelines
Below are the main takeaways from Zane’s contest prep during his competitive career:
- Progressively decrease calories three months out from a contest.
- Consume one gram of protein per pound of body weight.
- Refrain from eating carbohydrates late in the day.
O’Hearn asserted that his career-best performance was the 1997 Mr. Universe, which he won. His diet was so intense that he remembers every detail of the meal plan he used during his prep. He asked Zane if he could recall a diet that similarly stood out to him.
Zane began his diet three months before a bodybuilding contest. He would get progressively stricter with his macros as the show neared. He ate one gram of protein per pound of body weight to bias muscle gain and boost his metabolism. A British Journal of Nutrition study concluded that “appetite suppression and fat oxidation were higher on a high-protein diet” than a high-carb diet. (1)
Zane consumed 200 grams of protein and under 100 grams of carbohydrates daily in the final weeks of his contest prep. He added that he limited carbohydrate consumption to the first half of the day to ensure his body doesn’t have a surplus to store as fat in the form of glycogen while he sleeps.
Six months before his contest prep, Zane increased his carbohydrate and total calories to more than double what he was supposed to consume during the 12-week cutting period to build muscle tissue and strength.
In his book Zane Body Training Manual (2012), Zane documented his diet and outlined 190 workouts with the exact programming and weights he used during his Olympia days. “Did the cardio change as you got ready for a show?” asked O’Hearn. “It changed because I never did cardio,” replied Zane. Zane revealed that he only did cardio while prepping for a contest.
Probably the best cardio I did was run a mile and a half on a track.
It took Zane 10 to 15 minutes to cover the distance. Zane replaced running with posing sessions while at a low body fat percentage and didn’t risk entering a catabolic state (i.e., burning muscle for fuel).
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- Veldhorst MA, Westerterp KR, van Vught AJ, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Presence or absence of carbohydrates and the proportion of fat in a high-protein diet affect appetite suppression but not energy expenditure in normal-weight human subjects fed in energy balance. Br J Nutr. 2010 Nov;104(9):1395-405.
Featured image: @therealfrankzane on Instagram