It's more than just a beauty pageant. Fitness competitors spend as much time fine-tuning their physique for those 30 seconds they spend on stage as an elite athlete spends training for his sport. As with any athlete, to perform your best, you need to place as much emphasis on your diet as you do your training. A fitness competitor's diet plan is about building muscle and losing fat.
Calories for Muscle Retention
The key to losing fat while maintaining muscle is eating the right number of calories. Eating too many calories prevents adequate fat loss, while eating too few promotes muscle loss. A gradual weight loss of 1 pound a week is ideal for maintaining that balance, according to a 2014 review study published in the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition." Reducing your current calorie intake by 500 calories a day should promote a 1-pound weekly weight loss. Lose the weight gradually before your competition rather than waiting until the final weeks will help ensure you get the results you desire.
Balance Carbs, Protein and Fat
A fitness competitor also needs to strike the right balance of carbs, protein and fat to get lean. A high-carb diet is typically the recommended diet for athletes, but a fitness competitor may get better results eating higher amounts of protein than is typically recommended, according to the 2014 "JISSN" review study. In general, a fitness competitor should consume 2.3 grams to 3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 125 grams to 169 grams for a 120-pound fitness competitor. Fifteen percent to 30 percent of calories should come from fat, with the rest coming from carbohydrates.
When and What to Eat
Your meal plan for competition preparation should include three to six meals a day, with each meal containing a minimum of 20 grams of protein. Eat a meal or snack one to two hours before a workout for energy, and eat a carb and protein snack immediately after to promote muscle growth and recovery. Include lean sources of protein, such as chicken, seafood or soy products, and eat a fruit or vegetable with each meal and snack. Grain choices should be whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread or brown rice, to up your fiber intake and the nutritional quality of your diet.
Ideas for Balanced Meals
A 1,500-calorie weight loss diet for a 120-pound fitness competitor contains 150 grams of protein, 20 grams of fat -- 15 percent of calories -- and 130 grams of carbohydrates -- 35 percent of calories. A sample breakfast meal might include seven egg whites scrambled in 1 teaspoon of oil, one slice of whole-wheat toast and one-half of a small banana. A midmorning snack might include 3 ounces of canned tuna packed in water with three whole-grain crackers and an apple. For lunch, you might enjoy 3 ounces of grilled chicken on top of 3 cups of mixed greens with 2 tablespoons of raisins, balsamic vinegar and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. A midafternoon snack might include 3/4 cups of nonfat cottage cheese with 1 cup of fresh pineapple. A healthy dinner might include 3 ounces of broiled salmon with 2 cups of steamed broccoli and 1/3 cup of brown rice. End the day with half of a turkey sandwich made with one slice of whole-wheat bread, 3 ounces of lean turkey with 1 cup of carrot sticks.