Yes, yes I do and I get asked all the time why I compete in fitness competitions and the answer is easy: why not? As an athlete growing up, I constantly trained for all types of sporting events – swimming, dancing, volleyball -you name it and I found myself missing the competitiveness associated with being an athlete. No longer a part of a team or training with a group of my friends, I found that I needed a personal goal to make my gym time purposeful. I needed to work towards something and that something soon turned into my desire to compete again. But as an adult I no longer had the option of participating in a team sport so I had to find an alternative. It didn’t take long for me to stumble upon a new passion: bodybuilding competitions.
How exactly does one get involved in the world of fitness competitions? Seeing as though I am often asked the same questions regarding my new found passion, I thought a Q&A based blog would help shed insight into this relatively unknown world.
Q: What is a fitness competition?
A: Loosely defined, a fitness competition is the showcasing of an athlete’s body and his/her muscle definition, size, overall body composition, poise and confidence. It is open to both men and women, and is divided by age (there is a teen division, an open division which is up to the age of 35, and then a masters division for anyone over 35). There are many different types of divisions within a competition. They range from bodybuilding (yes, like Arnold Schwarzenegger), to physique, to bikini. Each division gets larger in muscle size and definition: bodybuilding being the largest, bikini being the smallest. It is an all-day event where competitors hit the stage at different points in the day based on the division they are competing in. I compete in the bikini division.
Q: So, you wear a bikini and heels on stage. Doesn’t that make you self-conscious?
A: For my first show, this was definitely the hardest part! The bikinis we wear are custom made so they fit our bodies to a tee. But, the bottoms are itsy-bitsy so that was hard to get used to. However, with the art of bodybuilding, it is all about showcasing your hard work and commitment to the craft, so it is comforting in knowing that I am not being oogled as a girl in a bikini, but more so as a woman who has developed and sculpted her physique through dedication and perseverance. Whenever I want a cookie or something that doesn’t fit into my meal plan for the show, I take a look at my swimsuit and realize how worthless that bite of sugar will be for me when I am on stage so it serves as motivation. Also, I’ve realized that competing has given me a newfound self-confidence and appreciation for what my body and mind can do when I put them to the test. It’s actually helped me become more confident and self-aware.
Q: What is your exercise regimen like when preparing for a fitness competition?
A: Everyone has their own method to the madness, but for me, I do what my trainer tells me! Our prep is usually a 12 week cycle. Within those 12 weeks we will work on overall body growth based on different exercises, cardio, and sauna sessions. Depending on which muscle group is not responding the best, we will increase focus on that area. For example, my hamstrings are quite stubborn and don’t always want to grow so we will work on legs 2-3 times a week to help them achieve greatness. As we get closer to the competition, we will fine tune those areas that need a little more conditioning. Cardio is hot and heavy in the beginning of the cycle – meaning sprints and HIIT intervals. As we get weeks out from the competition it will change to a slower based set up – meaning low intensity training on the stairmaster (slow paced setting for 45 minutes) or treadmill (slow paced jog for 45 minutes).
Q: What is your eating regimen like when preparing for a fitness competition?
A: Once again, this is different for everyone. For me, this is the hardest part, but is definitely the most important part. Most people think less is more, yet that is actually detrimental to the process of growing muscle mass, especially since I will be working out close to 2 times a day, every day, as we get closer to the competition. That means every little bit counts. In the beginning of the 12 week cycle, I will eat high carb, high protein meals – consuming around 200 grams of protein and 150 grams of carbs per day. That’s a lot of food! I usually get most of my numbers through protein smoothies (I LOVE Quest Chocolate Milkshake protein powder, available pretty much anywhere or online.) I also eat a lot of protein bars and snacks (I tend to snack on Pure Protein chocolate peanut butter bars and Pure Protein Crunch bites in chocolate). As for my main meals, they consist of a lot of chicken, lean red meat, fish, and tuna plus vegetables. The most important thing is to try and hit the carb count earlier in the day so the body can process the nutrients. And no, all carbs are NOT created equal. So, I will have things like quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes versus things like bread, cereal, and cookies! As we get closer to the competition, say 3-4 weeks, I will drop my carb count to about 30-50 grams a day and my protein will go to about 150 grams per day (like I mentioned earlier, this is set per individual based on their needs. Consult a trainer or physician to ensure you are meeting all dietary needs!). Yes, it is a small carb count and it is hard, but when focused, it is possible! You just have to meal plan so you know how much of what you are consuming in the day.
Q: What exactly is meal planning? And how do you do it?
A: Meal planning is taking the time and initiative to put together your food choices for the day or for the entire week. In the early stages of preparing for a show, my planning is a little loose. Meaning I write down what I eat but I don’t prep it ahead of time. I’m the worst at this but am getting better with each show. So, for the first few weeks I know I need to eat more smoothies in the day to hit my numbers and to not be hungry. And snacks are vital. But I’ve learned to write things down so I can actually see what my numbers were for the day. I know, I know, it sounds tedious and time consuming, but it truly isn’t that hard. And as you get used to it, you become better at eye balling how much of a meat you need to hit your numbers. As the show gets closer, I turn to places like Snap Kitchen that has prepackaged, fresh made meals that tell me exactly how much protein, carbs, etc are in the meal and then my prepping is taken care of for me! As I don’t like to cook, this option is always a life saver!
Q: Can anyone be in a fitness competition
A: Definitely! If you enjoy working out and want to add a new goal such as competing to your fitness plan, then go for it. Or, if you’re just getting back into the mode of exercising, you can add it to the mix as a type of motivational push. Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, can compete. It simply takes dedication and consistency. But I promise you’ll enjoy the process and in the end, it will only make you stronger and prouder that you completed something out of your comfort zone.
Q: What piece of advice would you give someone interested in competing?
A: First of all, I would say congratulations! Then I would tell them to find an accountability partner – either a trainer to see them through, or a friend to help along the way. From there, it’s all about dedication and commitment. Your final package for the competition will be determined by your hard work throughout the prepping process. So, whatever you put IN, you’ll get OUT. Meaning, that brownie you really want may not be worth it in the end. Anyone can do anything for 12 weeks so why not try it? Plus, you’ll meet some great friends along the way as I have never met anyone at a show who wasn’t kind or friendly and they are now friends of mine to say the least. Lastly, it’ll make you proud of yourself for getting out of your comfort zone, for trying something new. Most importantly, you can look back on the experience and smile, knowing that you gave your all and improved your health and fitness along the way.