Scientifically Designed Nutrition & Conditioning Plan for a Natural Men's Physique Competitor: Effective, but at a Fat-to-LBM Loss Ratio of 1.34 Probably Far from Being 'Optimal'

Men's Physique looks very different from Bodybuilding, but the contest prep is in many ways comparable.
A study on a "scientifically designed nutrition and conditioning plan" for natural body builders? Sounds too good to be true, and in fact it is. If you've read the headline which says "a natural bodybuilder" careful, you'd already suspect that what we are dealing with is just another case study...

albeit one with interesting insights into a successful 14-week conditioning plan of which the scientists say that it encouraged the consumption of a variety of foods, did not cut out certain macronutrients completely, did not involve excessive amounts of exercise and left the subject enough time to rest and recover.
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Sounds intriguing, right? Well, let's take a look at the details, then. The Athlete was a 21-year-old male amateur bodybuilder who was aiming to compete in his first bodybuilding competition, UK Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (UKBFF), in the Men's Physique category.
"[The subject] had been undertaking bodybuilding training for two years and had not previously sought any conditioning or dietary advice other than that sourced from the Internet and popular fitness magazines. Furthermore, the Athlete was not on any prescribed medication, was a non-smoker and previously supplemented his diet with whey protein only" (Robinson. 2015)
In the 3 months prior to the intervention his diet was identical on a daily basis; comprising of four meals and two snacks that were high in carbohydrate and protein and very low in fat (Table 1). In addition to the meals he already consumed, he incorporated one "cheat meal" approximately every two weeks, which consisted of one large take-away pizza and one serving (~200 g) of ice cream. His conditioning regime consisted of six to seven days per week of resistance training, focusing on individual muscle groups in each session (total nine hours per week).

Table 1: That's what the subject ate before the scientists helped him (Robinson. 2012).
This changed, when Robinson et al. began to advise the subject. He was given a set-meal plan comprising of two menus. Menus 1 and 2 were followed on Conditioning and Rest days, respectively and were designed by the authors who are all certified sports nutritionists (CISSN | see Figure 1).

The scientists who aimed to achieve the caloric deficit that's necessary for the desired fat loss during the pre-competition weeks by a combination of energy restriction and increases in energy expenditure from exercise. In this scenario, the set meal plan was provided for two reasons: Firstly, to allow the authors to carefully control energy and macronutrient intake; and secondly, to to make it easier for the athlete than with macronutrient and calorie targets, as they have been used in other similar case studies
Don't confuse the pre- and treatment-diet? Just to make sure you don't get confused with the data in Table 1Table 2 and Figure 1. Table 1 goes to show you that the subject was on the typically dumb BB-diet before the scientists took care of his diet and put him on the menus and macros described in Table 2 and Figure 1.
Absolute (relative) carbohydrate, fat, and protein intake over the 14 weeks was 100 ± 56 g/d (20 ± 3% energy), 79 ± 17 g/d (37 ± 4% energy) and 212 ± 13 g/d (45 ± 8% energy), respectively.
Table 2: Menus provided on rest and training days during weeks 1–5 (in contrast to the plan in Table 1 this one was designed by Robinson et al.)
"Carbohydrate recommendations focused on low or medium glycemic index (GI) sources to improve satiety and enhance lipolysis. To enhance muscle glycogen restoration and for purposes of improving meal enjoyment, high GI carbohydrates were also recommended. To improve satiety and help retain FFM and augment fat loss whilst in an energy deficit the Athlete was advised to consume high biological value protein such as chicken and eggs and distribute protein intake throughout the day. 
This „pulsing‟ strategy has been found to stimulate daily muscle protein synthesis more effectively than skewing protein intake toward the evening meal" (Robinson. 2015). 
If you compare the subjects previous diet to the one he was set on by the researchers the carbohydrate intake is the parameter that underwent the greatest manipulation over the 14-week period to accommodate the target energy intake.
Figure 1: Macronutrient (bars) and total energy (dotted line) intake across the 14-week study (Robinson. 2015). 
Reducing carbohydrate intake has been suggested as a viable strategy to allow protein intake to remain high in the face of an energy deficit. Fluid suggestions were water, sugar-free cordial and flavored tea that were to be consumed ad libitum throughout the day.

Supplement-wise, the subject consumed a whey protein shake (Optimum Nutrition, Glanbia Plc, Ireland) and one serving of a high protein (with a high whey and casein content), a low carbohydrate snack in the late evening (Muscle Mousse, Genetic Supplements, Co. Durham, UK) and, obviously, creatine monohydrate (Optimum Nutrition, Glanbia Plc, Ireland), which was preloaded at 20 g per day for the first five days of the intervention, followed by 5 g per day for 93 days.
Speaking of contestants' diets, another study investigated the diets of competitive bodybuilders, recently (Spendlove. 2015). The results were surprising for people who don't know the scene, but to be expected for people like you and me: The diets were characterized by protein excess with the lowest (and still sane) intakes being 1.9g/kg body weight and the craziest intakes being 4.3 g/kg for men (0.8 to 2.8 g/kg for women). Thus the carbohydrate intake was often below the protein intake (esp. in me) and the micronutrient intakes from supplements were excessive (~1000 % of US Recommended Dietary Allowance) and above the tolerable upper limit.
The 14-week conditioning programme is presented in Table 3. As Robinson et al. point out, the athlete completed four resistance-training sessions (RT) during each week of the intervention; targeting each major muscle group on two occasions per week.
  • 6-8 exercises a 8-10 reps and 4-5 sets per workout
  • IIT and LIIS exercise after an overnight fast
In that, the morning cardio was not done, because the scientists would believe that it was more effective, but because the athlete didn't like train with a full tummy and wanted "to consume his morning calories after training, as this gave him something to look forward to" - so mainly for psychological reasons.
Table 3: Overview of the training program the subject followed over the 14-week study period (Robinson. 2015).
The number of HIIT and LISS training sessions performed each week was adjusted according to the target energy deficit. In the six weeks prior to competition, “posing practice” was implemented (2–4 times per week), which involved holding isometric contraction of the major muscle groups for 30–60 seconds.

Looks pretty solid, right? Yeah, so were the results: Solid, but not mind-boggling.

I guess you will agree that the training routine and diet look indeed pretty solid. Against that background it's not all too surprising that the scientists found that
  • Figure 2: Energy in vs. out (top), body composition (middle) and resting metabolic rate (bottom) development from week 0-14 (Robinson. 2015)
    their subject 11.7 kg total body mass of which ~6.7 kg were fat mass and ~5.0 kg reduction in fat-free mass (that's a mediocre fat/lean body mass loss ratio of 1.34,
  • the subject's resting metabolic rate decreased from 1993 kcal/d to 1814 kcal/d, whereas resting fat oxidation increased from 0.04 g/min to 0.06 g/min,
  • the subject's capacity to oxidize fat during exercise increased more than two-fold from 0.24 g/min to 0.59 g/min, while there was a near 3-fold increase in the corresponding exercise intensity that elicited the maximal rate of fat oxidation; 21% V̇ O2max to 60% V̇ O2max and
  • his hamstring concentric peak torque decreased (1.7 to 1.5 Nm/kg), whereas hamstring eccentric (2.0 Nm/kg to 2.9 Nm/kg), quadriceps concentric (3.4 Nm/kg to 3.7 Nm/kg) and quadriceps eccentric (4.9 Nm/kg to 5.7 Nm/kg) peak torque all increased
Interestingly, the psychological mood-state (BRUMS scale) was not negatively influenced by the intervention; in view of the fact that "all values relating to the Athlete' mood-state remained below average over the course of study" (Roberts. 2015), it is yet questionable whether that's just a sign that the "scientifically proven" diet and exercise regimen was not significantly worse than what the subject had been doing before.

With respect to the relatively high loss of lean body mass one may also have to take into account that too much muscle can turn against Men's Physique competitors. So, the relatively high loss of lean body mass may actually be intended,... well, ok, I am not sure about that one, but at least it could have been intended to avoid comments like "looks like a bodybuilder" from the judges ;-)
Speaking of questions, as with every case study it is difficult to answer the obvious "what if"-questions. What if, for example, the subject had continued on the same diet and exercise routine he had been following before the researchers got hold of him? Would he really have lost more than 5kg of fat-free mass, which appears to be much to me?

Some of the common bodybuilding dieting techniques can in fact be very useful. Only recently researchers were able to show that "calorie shifting" or using refeeds as the bros would say can make  sign. overweight women lose 8kg of pure fat in 42 days - even though that was 2.6x more than the caloric deficit they ladies were in would have predicted | read more
What if there had been another subject on the same diet? Would he have seen the same results? What if the diet had been higher in carbs or higher in fats? Would the results have been better? Don't get me wrong: I don not question the author's conclusion that "shows that a structured and scientifically supported nutrition strategy can be implemented to improve parameters relevant to bodybuilding competition and importantly the health of competitors" and I do not want to support the "conventional practices of bodybuilding preparation" (Robinson. 2015) the authors question, but I would like to remind you that the 5kg lean mass loss is hilariously much compared to what another natural BB in another case study from 2013 achieved (read the corresponding SuppVersity article). A fact that makes me doubt the fact that the "scientifically supported nutrition strategy" presented in the case study at hand is already the "best" you can do | Comment on Facebook!
  • Robinson, SL et al. "A nutrition and conditioning intervention for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: case study." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition Sample (2015) 12:20
  • Spendlove, et al. "Dietary Intake of Competitive Bodybuilders." Sports Medicine (2015): Accepted article.
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