It’s universally agreed that there are many ways to skin a cat in regards to preparing for a physique show. At most National Physique Committee (NPC) events in 2011, this includes bodybuilding, figure, fitness, physique, and bikini. While preparation plans run the gamut from carb cycling to ketogenic diets, what seem to be constants are multiple, precise meals throughout the day leading up to the show. Whether this precision is manifest in the form of macronutrients or calories, it still means consuming 4–8 meals a day.

I worked with Shelby Starnes last year and dropped 54 lbs in 16 weeks in exactly this fashion. Clearly, this works extremely well. But if you’ve prepared in this “traditional” way, you know that it can get very tedious—constant cooking, measuring, packaging, eating, and cleaning. You are married to the diet, and this is seen as more or less part of the game if you want to get on stage in your best possible shape.

Is there another way?

I began Ori Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet last October as a way to segue out of the tedium of the bodybuilding-style food intake while continuing to train as hard as ever. The Warrior Diet is a protocol based on intermittent fasting (IF). The idea is to eat very little (if at all) during the day and feast at night. The foods Hofmekler recommends are as close to their natural state as possible, but there aren't any artificial limits imposed on how much or little to consume during the feasting period. According to Ori’s website, this is supposed to lead to “effective removal of toxins, increased conversion of fat for energy, increased utilization of nutrients, and improved resilience to stress.”

At that time, I had hired John Meadows to plan my training. He wrote, “Make sure your diet is on point…lots of good nutrition and rest to support your training, OK?” I was getting good nutrition but just once per day. I pounded through lengthy, high volume, high intensity workouts with great success despite this change in meal frequency. The body adapts quickly. As a result, I was convinced that my clients could enjoy similar results without chasing the dragon of the next meal.

In fact, I was so confident in this particular way of eating and its effects on body composition that I recently prepared a couple of clients turned physique competitors (one figure/bikini, one bikini) for a show with just one meal a day.

When I asked Shelby what he thought about the idea, he was very honest: “I’m sure an IF approach will produce decent results, especially for someone who isn't at a high level of their sport (beginners, intermediates, local level athletes). But is it optimal? That’s what remains to be seen. Until I see more solid real world evidence from top level athletes (where every little thing counts), I’ll stick with the tried and true methods that have produced winners for many decades now. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

My primary purpose for writing this article is twofold—to share empirical results gained from practicing intermittent fasting in general and to propose an alternate approach to contest preparation protocols in particular.

For me and my clients, intermittent fasting or a modified Warrior Diet-like approach, has been beneficial for these reasons:

  1. Sustained energy levels without insulin spiked peaks and valleys
  2. Less gastrointestinal discomfort because of fewer feedings
  3. More wiggle room in terms of foods consumed (i.e. the odd cheat meal doesn’t mean a sabotaged diet or significant loss in conditioning)
  4. Very productive daytime hours without taking time during the day to stop and eat
  5. Extremely rapid transformations in terms of fat loss while continuing to set PRs
  6. The ability to live a more “normal” social life (this may be the most important aspect for the vast majority of non-professional trainees)

While both of my clients competed in the same class, they took slightly different approaches.


Catia had a long way to go. In January, she wasn’t very strong, and she carried quite a bit of body fat in her lower back, buttocks, and thighs. She trained following a basic Rippetoe-style, 'Starting Strength' template, working up to three sets of five repetitions in a main lift (squat, trap bar deadlift, close grip bench press, and push press) followed by 3–5 sets of 8–15 reps in appropriate supplementary lifts (reverse lunges, high step-ups with dumbbells, chinning and rowing variations, and abdominal work). She made great progress eating many meals a day and was confident enough to enter her first competition, the Texas Shredder Classic in May 2011. After a decent showing (but without placing), we decided to change things up. She took a week off and then buckled down for the next seven weeks.

Her typical diet became this including lots of water:

Morning—coffee, fat burners, fish oils, multivitamin

Post-workout—protein shake and an apple

Evening—large kale salad with olive oil and lemon juice, 6–8 ounces of fish or chicken (this wasn’t weighed, but she had the fishmonger/butcher package portions in roughly this size for convenience)

Her cardio involved brisk walking and was ramped up each week starting at 60 minutes per session all the way to 90 minutes split up over two sessions. At three weeks out, she attended bikram yoga a few times a week, and I had her include a 30-minute session of bike sprints three times a week. The results speak for themselves, as the improvements in her leg conditioning from the Texas Shredder to the Adela Garcia NPC Classic are quite pronounced. She went from not placing at the former to winning her class at the latter.




Dana had already done a few shows, winning her class in her first figure competition at the West Texas Classic in 2009. She is fairly strong and has followed Wendler’s 5/3/1 protocol with excellent results. She has also performed more bodybuilding oriented volume training.

Dana was less interested in eating super clean during her “contest prep” but has been following the Warrior Diet since January. She was prone to the occasional night at a Mexican restaurant and enjoying a cookie here and there, but for the most part, her diet looked like this in addition to lots of water:

Morning—coffee, fat burners, fish oils, multivitamin

Post-workout—protein shake

Evening—green vegetables (kale, broccoli, asparagus, green beans), lean protein (steak, pork, chicken), and fats (avocados, olive oil, and almond butter)

Dana’s cardio was also less involved and consisted mostly of brisk walking in the mornings. She started at 30 minutes four weeks out and added 10 minutes per week, finishing at 70 minutes per day. She lost a battle with poison ivy at about ten days out and after that her cardio was sporadic at best. She placed fourth in her class but showed great improvements from the Texas Shredder.

For the record, it bears mentioning that both of these lovely ladies have had eight children between them, and they look better than most girls half their age!

What does this mean for you?

Can you justify the amount of food you're eating? It took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that I’m not training for the Olympics and neither are my clients. As such, we don’t really need to eat 2–3 lbs of steak and six cups of rice daily to continue to make progress. In fact, I would argue that the average trainee can make similar progress to what they’re making now with significantly less body fat, far more energy, and much more free time.

Yet talk to any average personal trainer, nutritionist, or doctor and they’ll probably tell you to eat 4–6 smaller meals a day. My question to you is this—if you aren’t on a cycle training for a competition or don't have aspirations to participate in high level athletics, should you be eating like you are?

By all means, eat well! Put the best possible nutrients into your body—grass-fed beef and pork, wild game, pastured chickens, and wild-caught fish and seafood. Eat local, sustainable, and organic produce. Spend money on the best olive oil and sea salt you can find. But change your relationship to the food you eat, and you will be rewarded with the best meals you’ve ever had on a nightly basis.

If you’ve never been relatively lean, it’s worth trying at least once in your life, and you will surprise yourself with what you are able to accomplish without your pre-workout oatmeal and egg whites. Like everything else in life (with a few exceptions), you will be skeptical until you try it for yourself.

I suspect you will also save money, sleep better, move your bowels less, and live a whole lot more.