Pre Contest Prep with IFBB Pro George Farah
I got really exited when I joined the MD family, especially when I found out that I'm going to be writing a column for the best bodybuilding magazine on the planet! You will get advice based on the best expertise that my knowledge can offer. Many of you already know my background of being not just a pro bodybuilder competing in the Olympia, but also a nutritionist/trainer with a track record of helping other bodybuilders achieve their goals— whether to place higher or turn pro. This column is about making you more familiar with the basics of how my formula works for bodybuilders or the average person who wants to add muscle while losing fat, or prepare for a show.
Creating A Pro
I’m going to take an example of a 200-pound guy who is planning to compete in a bodybuilding contest, or just wants to look good for the beach. How will we work on his diet and training?
• First, his daily caloric need will be based on his metabolism: fast, medium or slow. If he has a fast metabolism, then I multiply his weight by 20; medium metabolism, multiply it by 15 and slow metabolism, multiply it by 12. Suppose this guy has a fast metabolism. His daily caloric needs will be 200 x 20 = 4,000 calories/day.
• Diet will be followed six days per week, with one cheat day. The composition of his diet will be roughly high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat: about 50/30/20 percent, respectively. The breakdown will be 500 grams of carbs, 300 grams of protein and about 89 grams of fat.
• I will start him on a training schedule of five days per week, with legs on Monday, chest/abs on Tuesday, back on Wednesday, shoulders on Thursday and arms/calves on Friday, and ‘off’ on the weekend. He will begin by doing some moderate cardio first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, for about 20 minutes, three days per week. Cardio could be riding a stationary bike, walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine, keeping target heart rate around 65-70 percent.
Pre-Contest Game Plan
With the contest date approaching, things will start to change— counting weeks backward from the show, as follows:
16 to12 Weeks Out:
• Diet and training as outlined above.
12 to 10 Weeks Out:
• Start dropping carbs by 50-75 grams (200-300 calories), and add protein by 12-18 grams (25 percent of the total amount of carbs dropped). For our guy, we will drop 50 grams of carbs (total carbs = 450 grams) and add 12 grams of protein (total protein = 412 grams).
• Keep cardio at three days/week for 20 minutes.
10 to 8 Weeks Out:
• Continue dropping 50 grams of carbs (total down to 400 grams) and add 12 grams of protein (total up to 450 grams).
• Add an extra day of cardio and extra five minutes: 25 minutes 4 days/week.
• Eliminate cheat day, dieting seven days/week (you may want to consider eliminating cheat day earlier, by 12-10 weeks if your fat percentage is high).
8 to 6 Weeks Out:
• Continue dropping 50 grams of carbs (total down to 350 grams) and add 12 grams of protein (total up to 462 grams).
• Keep adding an extra day of cardio and an extra five minutes: 30 minutes, five days/week.
6 to 4 Weeks Out:
• Continue dropping 50 grams of carbs (total down to 300 grams) and add 12 grams of protein (total up to 475 grams).
• Keep adding an extra day of cardio and an extra five minutes: 35 minutes, six days/week.
4 to 2 Weeks Out:
• Continue dropping 50 grams of carbs (total down to 250 grams) and add 12 grams of protein (total up to 487 grams).
• Keep adding an extra day of cardio and extra five minutes: 35 minutes, seven days/week.
2 Weeks Out:
• Continue same diet
• Stop all cardio
8 Days Out:
The contest is on Saturday, so carb-depleting starts the Sunday prior to the show. Drop the carbohydrate in half until about four days before the contest. So my guy will be eating 125 grams of carbs.
4 Days Out:
• Start ‘adding the carbs back’ on the Wednesday prior to the contest. Add back all the carbs you took off: 500 grams of carbs for my guy.
• On Thursday, add 50 percent more, on top of the carbs you had on Wednesday: 500 + 200 = 700 grams of carbs.
• On Friday, you need to start watching your condition and be careful with any spillage. If you start to spill, back off the carbs and if you think you’re still flat, you need to go up on the carbs.
These are just the general principles of my formula; there are so many other adjustments that go with it depending on the progress/condition of the bodybuilder.
Good luck with your show!!
Congratulations on your contest prep with Dennis James. Many people had ‘written Dennis off’ in the past year. What was your strategy working with Dennis? What changes did you make?
I got a call from Dennis about five weeks before the New York Pro, asking if I could help him because he had reached a plateau, his body did not seem to be responding, etc. I told DJ that it would be my pleasure— I would work on something and send it to him, but first please go ahead and send me exactly what you are doing as far as cardio, training split, diet and supplements, etc. After I opened his e-mail, I realized that DJ was undereating and overtraining— and he was really doing everything that I had preached against for years. Double workout sessions, double cardio and very low-carb diet! I said to myself “Wow, this is going to be a piece of cake!”
I put a program together for him that included dropping his workout and cardio to one session, and cutting his cardio to 30 minutes (from two hours). On top of all that, I added about 400 grams of complex carbs to his diet and made a few changes here and there to make sure that his metabolism would get a ‘jumpstart.’
Not even one hour passed and I get a call from DJ telling me, “George, I said that I only have five weeks until the show, not five months!” I laughed and he asked me why am I laughing and I responded, “Because I know that this is exactly what I’m going to get from you. DJ, please follow this diet for one whole week and then let me know what you think.”
He responded, “Are you sure, man?” I said “Yes, I am very sure. Just go ahead and give it a try.” A week later, I get a call from him saying “Dude, I don’t believe this. I lost like 4 pounds already and I am looking fuller and harder!”
I responded, “Great, keep it going and make sure to re-send me everything every three or four days.” We went from there and I kept manipulating things until I started seeing what I wanted and one week out, he could not believe that he could look that good, eating that much and doing the least amount of cardio (at that time he was only doing 20 minutes total, and very light cardio).
Unfortunately, on his way to New York he caught some kind of bug and by the time I got to New York, he had already lost 5 to 6 unnecessary pounds. I did what I had to do to get him back in the game, because he really looked a bit flat. All in all, he showed up in very decent condition and ended up in second place. I said “Not bad, considering” and he agreed. I promised him that for the next show, no one would beat him because we are going to have more time. DJ went on to win two pro shows, back to back— the Tampa and the Europa in Dallas, TX.
What is your opinion of pre-contest cardio? Some trainers have their clients do an hour and a half of cardio. Are you a believer in long duration, pre-contest cardio?
It all depends on the individual. Some people need to do more than others but at the same time, if you need to do an hour and a half of cardio to get in shape, there is something really wrong. First, you are way out of shape to be a bodybuilder, and second, you are eating way more than you are using and third, you are overtraining— and you think the more, the better. I have never had any of my clients— and I mean never, ever— do more then 45 minutes of cardio a day. I have never brought anyone to the stage who looked horrible. My track record speaks for itself.
You started working with branch Warren at the Arnold, and he has been making tremendous gains since then. When you first examined Branch and his training and diet, what were you goals and how did you reach them?
Branch and I started working together right after the 2008 Olympia. I asked Branch to send me what he had been doing for his past contest, and I examined the way he is in the gym and came to a conclusion that he was definitely not consuming enough carbs to support his kind of workout regimen. I mean, the guy trains like a machine and I said to myself, “Anyone who trains with that kind of intensity should be consuming tons of carbs, along with their protein, in order to support the amount of muscle that is being broken down.”
From the look of Branch's diet, I considered him very lucky to have placed in past shows the way he did. He was consuming the amount of carbohydrates that I normally give to a bantamweight!
Don't get me wrong, Branch never had a problem, condition-wise. Well, maybe a few times he was not at his peak but all in all, this is not what bodybuilding is all about. No, my friends— it's about coming in as big and as full as possible and if course, as shredded as possible. Then the judges will have no problem rewarding you. Our game is called bodybuilding— it means that every time you hit the stage, you should come in better and better, and keep on building new blocks of muscles. Otherwise, we should call it stay where you’re at.
Anyway, I started by giving Branch an off-season diet that was full of all kinds of micronutrients from complex carbs, to tons of fruits and vegetables and many different kinds if protein— so he wouldn’t miss any types of vitamins or amino acids. I made him eat like never before, and the funny thing is the more he ate, even in the off-season, the better he started to look. That gave me an idea how to set his pre-contest diet.
Branch told me that this pre-contest diet reminded him of when he first started doing shows— except, off course, he is much bigger now. I responded, “Well, if it worked for you when you were lighter, then the smartest thing that you should have done— especially now that you have three times the amount of muscle— is of course to up your calories even more instead of lowering them, right?”
We both agreed that most bodybuilders seem to forget what worked for them in the past. Many competitors try to find that ‘magic’ potion and unfortunately, most guys are taught that the magic potion is to drop your carbs to nothing. With certain people that might work but believe me, for people who are hungrier in the gym than on the table, carbs are the answer.
Branch came into the Arnold at his all-time best and about 8 pounds bigger and tighter than ever before— and the rest is over. Just imagine that this kind of diet worked on a veteran like Branch. What could it do for any average guy seeking to get bigger and stronger?
Add your carbs back to your diet and start working out to build your muscles— not to stay where you’re at! After all, that's the reason we all started working out— to build our muscles.
I really like the way you have been bringing your athletes in. I read a few magazine articles where various pro bodybuilders and amateurs said you get very sentimental when they are onstage and winning. Can you explain to me what this is all about?
Thank you for the nice compliment. I get very sentimental every single time my athletes are on the stage. I just want every person who seeks my help to have full trust in me, and there is no better way to show these individuals who are seeking my help than for me to become very involved in their achievements.
I'm still an active IFBB pro and I know how important it is to succeed. Every one of us knows how many months and months of dieting and pushing yourself in the gym to the max are in involved in contest prep, not to mention the sacrifices we make in order to stand out. Having me being there 24/7 seems to help my athletes achieve the unachievable. Believe me, there is nothing more satisfying than to see the look in my athletes' eyes after I have helped make their dreams come true. It is all well worth it to me.
Got a question for George Farah? You can ask him directly on the MD website and have George personally answer your question! Go to www.musculardevelopment.com, MD Forums, MD Staff and Pros, Q and A for George Farah.