Training Your Client Like a Pro Physique Athlete

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Written by Jade McKee (Clean Health Online Master Coach)

If you are working with a client who has a goal to turn Pro – whether it be in the bikini, physique, or bodybuilding division – you need to train them like a pro. It doesn’t matter if they compete in the IFBB PRO League, WBFF, or INBA – these athletes will require the right training, nutrition, and lifestyle protocols to take them to the TOP.

Before we dive in, if you’d like to learn more about how to prep athletes for physique shows in detail, click here enrol into the Training the Physique Athlete online course by Dr Layne Norton!

How does the mindset of a Pro Athlete differ from a Gen Pop client?
One thing that might stand out when you are working with this particular type of client – let’s call them your “Pro Athlete”, when compared to your Gen Pop clientele, is their mindset.

You are never going to have to remind them to fill in a tracking sheet, to upload photos, or to upload their weight for you. You are going to KNOW they are 100% compliant with their steps, training, and nutrition. They will hit their macro targets to the GRAM. They will be focused, they will do the work, and they won’t complain. They know that they are not going to be getting any immediate results from the work they put in, but that then need to be patient – consistently working to make progress over time.

How does a Pro Athlete’s training differ from a Gen Pop client?
As Dr Layne Norton notes in ‘Training the Physique Athlete’, when prepping for a show most athletes will have have goals that are quite similar:

  1. Lose the required amount of body fat
  2. Maximise muscle retention
  3. Keep as much energy as possible (1)

In order to retain muscle, your Pro Athlete will be able to continue training in the same way they built their muscle to begin with. Starting a prep doesn’t mean that drastic changes need to be made to a training program. And even though they won’t complain – doing the same thing day-in, day-out in a prep can become boring and monotonous.

The variety of a well periodized plan can help keep your Pro Athlete excited and engaged, through the psychological benefit it provides.With this particular group of clients, an undulating periodisation scheme – cycling between Accumulation phases to target fat loss and hypertrophy, and Intensification phases to target strength and hypertrophy, may be an ideal programming choice. This will allow your Pro Athlete a chance to progressively overload in their sessions, while allowing for adequate rest and recovery.

But Don’t Forget…
Your Pro Athlete will also need to incorporate specific time for recovery into their training program. This is an important, yet often neglected part of a competition prep. Ideally – it should be programmed in as PART of your athlete’s day-to-day schedule. That way you know it won’t be missed! Recovery can include stretching and mobility work, and can also include techniques such as deep tissue massage. In turn, these will ALSO help to improve your athlete’s posing and presentation on stage.

How does your Pro Athlete’s nutrition differ from your Gen Pop client?
In order to lose body fat, to get to what is known as ‘stage lean’, your Pro Athlete needs to be in a negative energy balance. As per working with your Gen Pop client, this deficit is calculated specifically for your client after determining their TDEE.

You need to determine approximately how much weight you need your client to lose over the course of the prep, taking into account that for every kilogram of bodyweight lost – approximately 70% will be from adipose tissue, and 30% from lean tissue.

As the metabolism is incredibly adaptive – refeeds and diet breaks will also need to be accounted for, to mitigate negative metabolic adaptations along the way. Remember to allow extra time for the cutting phase, as it can take longer than expected. And you would rather have your athlete ready early, then not ready in time!

As dieting for the stage can become quite HARD in the final few weeks  – you need to ensure the program is designed to promote adherence. The macronutrient split is one way to do this. After the protein target is set at an amount to protect and optimise your Pro Athlete’s lean body mass, the remaining carb to fat split can take your athlete’s personal preference into account. Studies have shown that this particular split will make no different on the weight your athlete will lose (2,3,4). 

The distribution of your Pro Athlete’s high quality protein across the day is one factor that DOES need to be considered. You should aim to distribute 25-50g serves of protein over 4-6 meals throughout the day, in order to promote Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). After taking this into account, how your athlete chooses to time their meals over the day will ultimately come down to what is easiest for them to adhere to.

Online Master Coach & IFBB Bikini Pro, Jade McKee

As you can see, there are a number of differences between a Pro Athlete and a Gen Pop client when it comes to the way their training and nutrition are structured to optimise results. While you will tend to have a lot more lee-way working with a Gen Pop client, attention needs to be paid to the finer details of a Pro Athlete’s plan – which could ultimately come down to them winning or losing their show.

(1) Dr Layne Norton. Training The Physique Athlete. Clean Health Fitness Institute. Accessed 2nd October 2020.
(2) Hall KD, Guo J. Obesity Energetics: Body Weight Regulation and the Effects of Diet Composition. Gastroenterology. (2017) Retrieved 25th September 2020 from
(3) Johnston BC, et al. Comparison of weight loss among named diet programs in overweight and obese adults: a meta-analysis. JAMA. (2014) Retrieved 25th September 2020 from
(4) Bueno NB, et al. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Nutr. (2013) Retrieved 25th September 2020 from

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