Why are so many bikini competitors switching over to a vegetarian meal plan?

One simple reason. It’s the superior competition diet.

When they follow a plant-based diet, competitors stay leaner all year round and don’t have to cut as much for competition. Not only does this give athletes a competitive edge, but following the practices of vegan bodybuilding and plant-based fitness is a way to become a champion.

A well-planned vegetarian diet is great for competitions and it naturally boosts your energy levels. It also keeps your weight under control and ensures that wild mood swings stay in check.

What are Bikini Competitions?

Unlike regular fitness competitions that involve both athletic and posing routines, female bikini competitions typically consist of a swimsuit (model posing) routine. Unlike bodybuilding competitions, fitness and bikini competitions focus more on overall shape, symmetry, and conditioning instead of muscularity and extreme leanness. This “newer” divisions of bodybuilding gained popularity in the 1980s when interest in traditional female bodybuilding lost momentum.

The top objectives when preparing for a bikini competition include:

  • Improve muscle tone
  • Lose fat
  • Balance body symmetry


The foods you put into your body play a tremendous role in how you will look on stage and stand up against your competitors. Contrary to popular opinion of steak eating fitness competitors, vegetarians and vegans have an advantage when it comes to competition dieting.

This article will take the guesswork out of the bikini competition diet and break down the many aspects of competition prep to give you a competitive edge.

Want to Become Stage-Ready Faster? A Vegetarian diet can help you lose weight.

Vegetarian bikini competitors naturally stay leaner than their meat-eating friends.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people who don’t eat meat have a lower average BMI than those who do.

The study also pointed out that vegans have a much lower obesity rate (9.4 percent) compared to meat-eaters (33.3 percent). Another study found that people can lose more weight when they follow a vegetarian diet instead of one that includes meat.

“This is the first randomized study that directly compares how vegan, vegetarian, and omnivorous dietary patterns that do not emphasize caloric restriction can impact body weight,” said lead researcher Brie Turner-McGrievy, Ph.D. of the University of South Carolina. “We found that participants consuming vegan and vegetarian diets lost an average of 8.2 to 9.9 pounds over eight weeks, while those consuming some meat lost 5.1 lbs.”

Plant-based diets can also aid digestion, which is crucial for bikini competitors making dietary changes.

“Clean eating” is defined by the rejection of processed, chemically-enhanced foods in favor of whole, natural ones. Every adult who cares about her health should pay attention to what she eats, but bikini competitors need to pay even closer attention. Natural, unprocessed foods are the #1 staple of healthy plant-based diets, which means that sticking to clean eating is easier.

A diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables is naturally rich in nutrients, including fiber. Fiber helps you feel full longer and promotes regular bowel movements.

Interestingly, healthy fats, like those found in vegetarian foods, help keep hormones regulated. Hormones play a role in hunger and weight control, and hormone balance is essential for women fitness competitors. Good sources of plant-based healthy fats include organic coconut oil, hemp oil, and borage oil.

So many meatless foods like beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain protein, making it easy for you to meet your daily protein requirements on a plant-based diet.

Too many vegetables leaving you feeling funny? You can reduce bloating and gas on a vegetarian diet, cook cruciferous vegetables instead of eating them raw. You can also make broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts easier to digest by mixing them up in a blender or food processor.

Meat-free diets have been proven to boost mental health.

As any bikini competitor knows, getting mentally prepared is half the battle. Preparing for a competition takes its toll, and vegetarian diets can restore an overall sense of wellbeing. Research studies published in Nutrition Journal and Public Health Nutrition have revealed that vegetarians exhibit significantly better mood states and experience fewer negative emotions than omnivores.

Linda Dame MEd, MSW RSW shared that cutting animal products out of your diet can reduce pain and anxiety, paving the way for more peace and joy. Successful bikini competitors must remain confident, motivated, and passionate, and vegetarian foods can help give you a mental boost when you need it most.

Vegan Bikini Competition Diet Risks

Bikini competitors strive to look fit, not ripped. Competitors are scored on their proportions, symmetry, shape, balance, skin tone, and stage presence. But there is a clear distinction between appearing fit and being fit. In fact, most fitness models and competitors aren’t at peak health when they compete.

According to professional bodybuilder Lee Apperson, getting lean is an art form, and starving yourself is the worst idea possible. Even so, vegan bikini competitors frequently engage in workouts that are too intense for the number of calories they consume.

The final days before show time tend to be the unhealthiest ones. After many competitors reach their “peak” (i.e. target weight and desired shape), they find it difficult to maintain it for more than a few days.

Some vegan bikini competitors are willing to take dangerous health risks to enhance their aesthetics.

Furthermore, the techniques and dietary manipulations typically required to “peak” are unnatural, unrealistic, and unsustainable in the long run.

Risks of Extreme Dieting and Training

  • Unwanted loss of muscle mass
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Mental burnout and frustration
  • Sprains, strains, and injury

Nutritional Deficiency

Although plant-based diets have many advantages, vegan bikini competitors should be especially careful of certain nutritional deficiencies.

Most Common Vegan Deficiencies:

  • Protein
  • Calories
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Zinc

Looking to Peak in a Healthy Way? Pace Yourself

Professional natural bodybuilder Layne Norton recommends losing 1 to 1.5 pounds of weight per week to retain your competition-level muscle mass.

If you have 20 or 25 pounds to lose, you probably won’t be able to lose it all in 12 weeks and still retain your lean muscle mass. Start dieting as early as possible before your competition so that you can move at a safe and efficient pace.

How Vegetarianism Can Improve Aesthetics for Competitions

Aesthetics are a key reason that many people turn to vegetarianism in the first place, and that extends beyond personal sensitivities and respect for all life. We also have a greater appreciation of beauty, nature, and art in the foods we eat and how our bodies look and perform.

What Do These Healthy Internal Benefits Mean for External Aesthetics?

Vegetarian diets revolve around raw fruits and vegetables, whole grain carbohydrates, and natural sources of protein. Coincidentally, these are also the types of foods used to get your body ready for competition. This means that competitors who already maintain a vegetarian diet typically have less weight (body fat) to lose than their meat-eating counterparts.

Vegetarian bodybuilders also naturally have lower body mass indexes, blood pressure, and levels of cholesterol, as well as less risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, dementia, and Type-2 diabetes.

IFBB Bikini Pro Marzia Prince is one of many vegan bodybuilders who has spoken publicly about how much better she looks and feels since going vegan. Vegetarian and vegan competitors tend to pay more consistent attention to the nutrients in their diets to make sure they are consuming what their bodies need throughout the year.

Boosting Your Metabolism

Almost all bikini competitors need to shed a few pounds in certain places, and your metabolism plays a key role in making this happen. Metabolism is affected by genetics and your lifestyle habits, but there are many natural ways to speed it up.

Spicy foods are known to boost metabolism, and a study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism revealed that natural chemicals called capsinoids increase the amount of heat and energy that you produce and promote physical activity.

These are a few vegetarian metabolism-boosting foods I recommend (get “organic” whenever you can):

  • Chili peppers (great source of capsinoids)
  • Kale, spinach, and other leafy greens
  • Hemp protein (we recommend this)
  • Chia seeds (we recommend this)
  • Lemon
  • Water (A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that metabolism rates jumped 30 percent after drinking two cups of water.)

Other general tips to keep your metabolism working at its peak all day long include getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night, sleeping in a cool room (66 degrees Fahrenheit), drinking tea, and reducing stress.

Vegetarian Bikini Competition Diet Components:

  • High-quality protein from plants
  • No bread, pasta, or junk foods
  • Low sodium
  • Raw, organic fruits and vegetables
  • High-protein carbs, such as sweet potatoes, oats, quinoa, nuts, and seeds
  • More amino acids, fiber, and Vitamin C

Meal Plan Structure

Most competitors swear by the concept of six to seven small meals per day, but how and when you eat those meals makes a big difference in how your body processes food.

Space out each meal about three hours apart, and eat the last one at least an hour or two before bed. Multi-sourced vegan protein shakes should also be an important part of your daily meal routine.

Make sure that your breakfast contains a small serving of protein, a serving of vegetables, and a serving of complex carbohydrates. Your lunch should consist of a medium serving of protein and two to three servings of vegetables. Dinner should have a generous serving of protein, two to three servings of vegetables and a serving of fat.

You can structure your meals around these “big three” and work smaller meals in around them. For example, if you have a caloric goal of 1,800 calories per day, try sticking to 300 calories per meal and assess your energy levels throughout the day.

One you figure out your target number of calories per day, keep a food journal to document your meals and make changes to your plan based on what’s working and what isn’t.

The bikini competitor meal plan and prep saves your sanity … and money.

Marzia Prince (2007 Ms. Bikini Universe, IFBB Bikini Pro) feels more in control by eating plant-based:

“I used to be on a strict competition diet but now being vegan, I eat organic plant-based foods and don’t feel like I am on a diet. I listen to my body. I am more in tune with my body now, than I have ever been.

“Gone are the days of fad diets, ‘competition diets’, and being lost on how to eat. I feel like I have taken back control of my body. Aha! So this is what they say mean when they say lifestyle!”

Darlene Adamusik (fitness competitor) talks about how vegan meal prep saves her time and money:

“Before I became a vegan competitor, buying meat, eggs, and fish was getting too pricey. Not only was it expensive, but my digestion was also getting worse. Since going vegan, my digestion has improved, I’ve saved money, and cooking has become optional.

“I enjoy the fact that you can throw food together without having to cook it, and it’s been truly helpful with my digestive issues. It can also help with weight loss, but this is true only if done correctly. You must be careful with balancing how to meal prep vegan the same way you would balance a diet that included meat.”

When to Start Your Bikini Competition Diet

Planning and preparing meals can feel like a big hassle, especially if you’re new to the world of competition prep. It’s easy to make excuses about not knowing what to buy, not having enough time to shop, or that healthy food is just too expensive. However, the best way to get the results you crave is to plan ahead.

Most fitness professionals recommend starting your show prep diet and supplement schedule at least 12 to 14 weeks before the competition. In most circumstances, muscle needs to be gained, fat needs to be lost, and your metabolism needs to be adjusted. To increase your chances of success, plan to start your new diet at least three to five months in advance of your competition date.

To start, take the time to schedule grocery shopping into your day. Stick to your list, and buy nothing more and nothing less. Choose a convenient day of the week to prepare several meals worth of vegetables and protein in advance, and organize your Tupperware containers in the refrigerator so they’re easy to grab in a hurry.

Sample Vegetarian Bikini Competition Meal Plan

Meal 1

  • Protein shake with chia seeds, almond milk, and cocoa
  • Quinoa porridge with strawberries
  • Fresh or cold pressed green veggie juice

Meal 2

  • Protein shake with almond milk
  • 1 tbsp. of almond butter, plain (no salt added)
  • 1 grapefruit

Meal 3

  • Kale or spinach salad with balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup of lentil soup
  • 4-6 oz. sweet potato

Meal 4

  • Protein shake with chia seeds, almond milk, and banana
  • 1 tbsp. of almond butter
  • 1 apple

Meal 5

  • Veggie burger with 1/4 of an avocado
  • Spinach salad with balsamic vinegar

Meal 6

  • Protein shake with chia seeds, almond milk, and banana
  • 1 tbsp. of almond butter

Vegan Diet Plan for Bodybuilding

Meal 1

Meal 2

  • Chia seed pudding (or oatmeal)
  • Collard green wraps with hummus
  • 1 grapefruit

Meal 3

  • Veggie burger with 1/2 avocado
  • Kale and spinach salad

Meal 4

  • Bowl of lentil, bean, or vegetable soup
  • 1 apple

Meal 5

Meal 6

Easy Plant-Based Alternatives

It’s important to switch up your eating routine to avoid boredom and resist the temptation to binge on old favorites that don’t fit your current lifestyle. Here are some other great vegetarian foods to swap into this meal plan to add some variety:

  • Protein
    • Tempeh
    • Seitan
    • Hemp seeds
  • Carbohydrates
    • Oatmeal
    • Brown rice
    • Sweet potatoes
  • Fruits
    • Blueberries
    • Apples
    • Grapefruit
  • Vegetables
    • Broccoli
    • Spinach
    • Green beans
    • Asparagus
  • Fats
    • Cashew butter
    • Flaxseed oil, flaxseed meal, or flaxseeds
    • Olive oil

Food Cravings

Research has shown that dieting can increase food cravingsKristin Shaffer from Figure and Bikini offers a few helpful tips on preventing the type of sugar cravings that set competitors off course:

  • Stick to small meals throughout the day
  • Chew slowly
  • Avoid foods that spike your insulin, like bread, crackers, and cookies
  • Swap out sugars with high-fiber vegetables like cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini
  • Incorporate a weekly cheat meal into the early stages of your training

Cheat Meals

Giving up the foods you love can be hard, which is why many competitors allow themselves an occasional chance to cheat. As a general rule, bikini competitors can choose one meal per week to be a cheat meal in the early days of training for a competition. Some trainers promote the occasional cheat meal as a healthy balance to stabilize blood sugar levels.

These are some other reasons to plan cheat meals into your meal plan structure:

  • Motivation to stick to your competition meals
  • Curb cravings
  • Metabolic boost
  • Provide extra energy to the body

These are a few tips about cheat meals from Tad Inoue, a professional competitive fitness diet coach:

  • Cheat at the end of your day
  • Don’t skip any other meals
  • Make your cheat carbohydrate-rich
  • Don’t let your cheat meal last more than 45 minutes

Craig Ballantyne shared a few of his vegetarian cheat meal favorites at Men’s Health:

  • Tofu
  • Brown rice
  • Fettuccine Alfredo
  • Chocolate brownies
  • Wine

Cheat meals are great for morale, but there are certain rules you should remember if you’re serious about competing. To aggressively lose fat, you’ll need to strategically schedule your cheat meals and cut them off entirely when you’re two to three weeks away from your competition.

Keep in mind that cheat meals need to be carefully controlled. Excessive and ill-timed cheat meals don’t just take a toll on your physique, they can affect you mentally, too.

Dieters often report feelings of shame, guilt, and self-hate after cheat meals – all emotions that have no place in competition prep. Cheat meals can also make it more difficult to resist cravings and transition back into a training diet. Carefully assess your cravings, habits, and motivation before deciding on a cheat meal structure that works for you.

Mental Preparation for a Competition Diet

Competing doesn’t just occupy your time; it impacts your daily habits and routine. Since our routines are shared with the friends and family we care about, and competitors often feel a strain on their personal relationships during training.

Taylor Chapman, ACE-certified personal trainer, and bikini competitor shared, “I hated that I had no life for three months. I lived in the gym and out of Tupperware containers. You miss out on a lot of outings and events while competing because it can be very tempting to go out with your friends and not partake in eating or drinking. But in the end, it’s worth it when you reach your goals.”

Bikini Competition Prep Tips

In the world of competition fitness, there’s always a competitive season (with sometimes up to 16 weeks of prep time) and an off-season to bulk up, add mass, and enjoy a wider variety of foods. Pre-competition diets are designed to cut body fat and focus on eating clean foods.

For the best results, you can follow these tips.

  • Eat every three hours to increase your metabolic rate.
  • Decrease carbs without cutting calories.
  • Do aerobic workouts twice daily to burn stubborn fat.
  • Do cardio before eating carbs but after eating protein.
  • Swap out potatoes and rice for more vegetables.
  • Continue to drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid processed food stripped of nutrients.

According to nutritionist Felicia Stoler, “By carefully choosing complementary protein sources and monitoring overall intake, vegan athletes can consume adequate amounts of protein to fuel their performance.”

Dr. David Neiman, director of the human performance lab at the North Carolina Research Campus of Appalachian State University, told Ace Fitness Magazine, “The vegan diet is high in carbohydrates and low in fats, so it will naturally support endurance performance. People feel that the plant-based nature of the diet will magically help performance, but it’s the carbs that do it.”

However, the key to success for a bodybuilding or bikini competitor is to minimize the transformation your body must go through from one season to the next.

A vegetarian diet can help bring stability to your diet so that it suffers less of a shock when you kick it into full performance mode. All of this translates into a more aesthetically pleasing body, a healthier year-round lifestyle, and a more competitive fitness career.

Interviews with Top Bikini Competitors:

(With vegetarian bikini competition meal prep tips!)

Thinking of competing and want meal prep advice as a vegetarian?

Check out our vegetarian bodybuilding program to learn exactly how to build lean muscle and tone up by eating plants. Many competitors have used the protein-rich recipes and meal plans for both vegetarian and vegan diets with great success. It’s a strong approach guaranteed to give you an edge for your next bikini competition.