Short Vs Long Preps

Short Vs Long Preps

Both have their merits, the choice really boils down to your own mental make-up.

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · Aug 21st, 2017

Nutrition Advanced
9 Mins


    As a caveat, this article is aimed at those who have been through The Process Phase at least once, are deep into their transformation journey (i.e. have been in an Investment Phase for a long time), and are looking at the different potential options of how to approach a new checkpoint target. This may be another photoshoot, or even, as you’ll see, the context of competing in a bodybuilding show. The bodybuilding references should be seen as exactly that – a reference. It’s a useful analogy and comparison to use here.

    For your first ever checkpoint, the timeframes can range from 10 to 100+ weeks to get into the shape of your life. Thereafter, once you’ve invested a long time, your timeframe to get into the shape of your life (depending on where you lie on the continuum) isn’t as long. This article will give you an idea of whether you should ‘diet down’ fast or slow in this context, and isn’t aimed at beginners or those early in the journey.

    Firstly, let’s start off by saying it’s almost always advisable to do a ‘long’ 16-24 week ‘prep’. But, just to play devil’s advocate and give food for thought (or lack of in the case of a short prep) we thought would present the pros and cons, having gone through both experiences.

     ‘Long’ 16-24 Week Preps

    Of course, there really is no length of time that is set in stone. It will vary from member to membert. The numbers we throw around are just ‘guidelines’ but really need to be fine-tuned.

    The ‘standard’ prep time for most bodybuilders used to be 12 weeks, but as the years have gone by and conditioning has (on average) gotten sharper year on year, prep times now seem to average around the 16 week mark, with lots of natural competitors actually going up into the 20+ weeks.

    So why is this the case? What’s the advantage to these longer prep diets?

    The first benefit is pretty obvious: the longer you diet, the leaner you’ll be at the end of it. For instance, if you were to lose 1.5lbs/week over a 12-week diet compared to a 20-week diet, you’re looking at a difference of 18lbs vs 30lbs.

    In reality, you’d aim for a lower rate of fat loss per week during the longer diets– but you get the gist of it.

    The second benefit is that you’re more likely to retain lean tissue (muscle). For those of you that have competed before, or needed to hit a fast deadline, you may have noticed that if you had to do a crash diet in the final week or two into game day, you looked terrible. This is mainly due to muscle loss (and probably lacking fullness, too) as when we diet in extreme deficits, we’re more prone to sacrificing muscle tissue.

    Doing a slow, gradual diet seems to limit the amount of tissue lost, so in the long run you look better aesthetically.

    As a rough guide, aiming to lose around 1% of your bodyweight per week seems to be a safe rate of fat loss in terms of muscle retention.

    Using myself as an example, I dieted for 21 weeks and started at around 198lbs. So, at the beginning of the diet, I could lose at a rate of ~2lb/week without worrying about tissue loss. As I approached the final stages of prepI weighed around 160lbs, shooting for around 1.5lb/week losses on the scale. You can read about my prep here.

    These are the two main reasons to opt for 16+ week preps. A longer time period allows for more fat to be burnt, coupled with the fact that you have a better chance of protecting the muscle mass you’ve worked hard for in your Investment Phase.

    The downside? It can feel like a long time of dieting!

    These diets often end up feeling very dragged out and monotonous.

    Furthermore, visually you also go through the dreaded ‘middle ground’ that catches a lot of people out, and probably one of the greatest reasons why most give up.

    At the beginning of a diet, you have that honeymoon stage. It’s a novelty. You’ve completely changed up your approach to your diet, you’re motivated with a goal in mind, and you lose that initial bloat you’ve been holding. Those first 2-4 weeks are a breeze.

    The same can be said for the final few weeks of The Grind – if you’ve made it that far. At the end of the diet, everything is coming together nicely. You’re seeing visual changes almost daily, you can count on one hand how many weeks are left, and you’re getting compliments from strangers in the gym as it’s now very obvious that you’re close to this checkpoint. You look awesome, you feel awesome, and you’re just working on those final tweaks to come in at 100% on game day.

    The ‘middle ground’ is the complete opposite to these two situations, however. Not only are you not lean enough to look even close to top condition, but you’ve lost that fullness you were carrying previously. This can leave you feeling deflated (quite literally), and the urge to throw in the towel is great at this point.

    There are no new muscles appearing daily, no little veins creeping up your abdominals – essentially, nothing exciting is happening.

    Halfway through your journey and you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels daily. Potentially eight weeks into your diet and with another eight weeks to go, you start to wonder, is it worth it?

    This is arguably the most challenging part of prep, from forgoing ‘normal’ dinners with your friends and family (i.e., not having to be super strategic!), to giving up the little spare time you have to get your daily steps/cardio/weight training/meal prep in.

    Despite this, if you can push through the mind games during this stage of prep, then you’re on the home stretch! You’ve survived the toughest part, and the final two/three weeks are fun!

    ‘Short’ <8 Week Preps

    On the flip side, there are the short, sharp, aggressive diets. These can be anywhere between three to eight weeks.
    While long diets are psychologically tough, short diets are physically tough.

    On the one hand, with short diets there’s no chance for that dreaded middle ground! If you’ve set it up correctly, you’re seeing immediate results very quickly week-on-week right through. That transition phase from ‘fluffy’ to ‘lean’  is shortened considerably.

    Also, because you are only ‘aggressively’ dieting for a short period of time, there is little impact on your social life, which is another large advantage for many.

    Short-term dieting is not without its downfalls however.

    The first issue is that due to the extreme deficit you’ll need to undertake – the risk of losing muscle tissue increases considerably. This could be one of the main reasons that natural competitors are often now dieting 20+ weeks, whereas with ‘enhanced’ competitors (for the most part), these longer diets still haven’t quite caught on yet.

    The next issue is the hunger and fatigue that comes with extreme dieting, and due to the short time frame with these type of diets, the caloric deficit has to be that much greater in comparison to a ‘normal’ length prep diet, which is yet another challenge.

    Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other

    So, which would we suggest in the future?

    While both methods have their benefits and their pitfalls, for natural athletes we’d suggest the longer prep every time – purely for tissue preservation. As for assisted athletes, that is purely down to preference.

    Do you prefer short term, intense bursts to get it over and done with? Or do you prefer the longer, drawn out, ‘moderate’ approach that requires greater mental endurance, but less physical trauma?

    Which would you prefer? Do you have experience with both? If so – let us know!
    Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

    Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-selling book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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