Contest Prep, Fitness, Nutrition

The Rebound

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Rebounding is just one of those things… after you reach a goal weight or successfully complete a contest prep, the rebound that follows seems to be the natural part of the process. Or is it? What I it were possible to lose weight and actually keep it off for good and maintain your body weight while maybe even improving your body’s composition? And, dare I say, what if you could be stage ready year round? OMG right? There are some things that can be done to make this happen and these mostly come down to one massive concept: mindset.

Mindset is a very tricky thing because it can be used for some really positive things, but it can also stop you right in your tracks without even being aware that you are part of the problem. Losing weight is the perfect example as you have a specific goal in mind, a magical number to reach on the scale or by dress size. that becomes your focus and seeps into all aspects of your life in that you are always mindful of the quality and quantity of food that you are choosing to consume each day and how it will affect your results. The problem usually kicks in after you’ve reached your goal when one of two things happens: either you went too low in calories and/or certain macros for too long, or there is no follow through or maintenance plan in place to help you, well, maintain your physique. Either way your mindset will take a hit once you surpassed your goal. Sometimes it can be by rewarding yourself or celebrating your achievement with food which can lead to a binge that lasts several days, and sometimes it can be the fact that you no longer have a super specific goal to keep you on track and you’re just lost.

One very popular concept floating around, but very rarely being practiced is moderation. So many of us want balance, we want to be able to enjoy foods, eat what we want when we want it. I’ve heard countless say “everything in moderation is key” or “the 80/20 rule is the way to go”, I’ve tried these things and they don’t work and not just for me but for pretty much everybody. Why? because moderation is REALLY hard, much harder than losing weight and cutting out certain foods altogether. The hard truth is that most of us can’t stop at just one or two bites, no matter how well intentioned we are we just don’t have the will power. I can absolutely attest to this. I know that when I taste something really decadent, I am all in and I will eat the entire box of cookies or pizza or mac n cheese (all vegan versions of course, animal based would make me sick!). As much as I wish I could be the type of person that has just a taste and moves on, I’m not and most people are exactly like me. As I mentioned, it can lead to a full on cheat day or binge that can massively impact not only how you look, but your health as well. When you diet down and lose body fat, your metabolism becomes very sensitive and so a sudden increase in calories especial from fat combined with simple carbohydrates will cause an increase in body fat and will ultimately impact your cardiac health too.

Another important factor in all of this is the fact that as humans we are physiologically hard wired to survive no matter what. When we lose weight or try to, our bodies signals to our brains that we may starve, so the next time you do indulge or everything in you is pushing you to eat, eat and eat. This is why it sometimes feels as if we lose control when eating or as if our bodies are trying to fight us. Our bodies aren’t actually fighting us, they are trying to protect us from starvation and ultimately death. That’s all it is, it’s not because we lack self-control or we are weak, it’s just cause we’re all made that way. Again, this is why moderation very seldom works.

This is why so many bodybuilders pack on weight in the week following a show. Everybody has a victory meal; it’s part of the contest process and part of the culture. Most athletes have been low carb and without a treat meal for so long that it’s all they can think about during peak week, so when the show is over they go nuts. I’ve seen people step off stage and run directly to their coach or family member who is waiting for them with a box of donuts. I can understand why and I certainly engage in the victory meal, but I also know that I’m not gonna feel great right after either. I get bloated and heartburn, it’s not good. In the days following the competition, my muscle definition drops and my six pack of abs starts to fade away along with my spraytan. Now most of this is because I rehydrate and so everything plumps up, but some of it is also body fat. If one  cheat meal leads to a day and then a week, well I would definitely gain back some fat.

As a woman, being at 10% body fat over the long term can impact the hormones, so the best way to be “stage ready” long term is to work directly with your doctor and your coach to find the right combination and possible hormone therapy. Yup, that’s right, anything less than 13% will usually cause amenorrea which can lead to osteoporosis and thyroid problems, so it’s very important to work with a doctor here. Now you may not be super shredded all the time because you can’t be depleted of water all the time, so another equally important part of this is to keep your electrolytes in balance by keeping your water intake high while lightly salting all meals and including potassium rich foods in the diet such as potatoes, winter squash, white beans and bananas. That way you won’t hold on to any excess water weight and you won’t be depleted of electrolyte either. The other two big components here are to hit the gym hard and use an extra calories as a means to mass gain and pack on muscle, and obviously to eat quality food that nourishes you, even if that includes sprouted grains waffles with some earth balance and maple syrup 😊

For the non-competitor who recently hit a milestone in their fitness journey and reached their goal weight or finally dropped those last 5 pounds, the a great option to making it last is the reverse diet. Essentially you will be slowly adding in calories back into your diet usually on a weekly basis. How much to add can be tricky to figure out so it may be best to consult with a nutrition coach for help with this one. Usually a couple extra hundred calories will do the trick so long as all meals are balanced and you are still working out hard. If you are going to have some treats, as a rule of thumb stay away from refined sugars and starches and opt for something that may be a bit easier for your tummy to digest. One thing that’s easy to incorporate is switching to whole grains whether it’s flours in baking, past or bread, that alone will help you get in extra fiber and micronutrients.

Having the right mindset is the difference between just reaching your goal and moving beyond that goal. Just remember that it doesn’t have to be this horrible fight with yourself; it doesn’t have to be this big struggle where you have to be super strict for the rest of your life. Change your mindset and start seeing the reality that food is here to nourish you and that’s all, the fact that it tastes great is just the added bonus.

If you liked this article, be sure to check out my Summer Special for the month July!

Start Strong, Finish Strong

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Contest Prep

Great Expectations, Greater Disappointments

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Everything started good and smooth. My physique never looked better, my posing had become more fluid, I didn’t have any crazy cravings during my entire prep. Overall I felt great going into the Provincial Championship. On show day I felt excited more than anything else, not anxious or nervous, just genuinely pleased and grateful to have made it this far. Once I hit the stage though, things didn’t feel so awesome…

The stage itself was made up of different wood panels so it was pretty uneven making balancing while walking in heels very difficult. Moving from one pose to the next without falling over, let alone while holding and keeping my muscles tight was nearly impossible. What’s more was that the floor was a bit greasy. I hadn’t even considered the fact that Bikini always goes last and that apart from one other category, all other athletes are barefoot on stage so their glaze and spray tan gets all over the floor. I never felt or noticed this in my previous 2 shows. When moving from one pose to another, you are meant to glide your foot along the floor instead of taking a big step; this makes it look more fluid and allows you to keep everything pulled in and flexed at the same time. Unfortunately the floor was so greasy that it just wasn’t possible to be so smooth with the movement. On stage I didn’t feel sharp with my posing.

There were 6 ladies in my height class so there were no callouts we just went right into the comparison and quarter turns. At one point the head judge asked me to switch spots and I wound up right in the center of the lineup which is huge. The closer you are to the center, the better you place and being right in the middle usually means you win the height class. I thought “YES! Just keep it together and I’ll get this”. But…one round of quarter turns and the judge had me switch again, this time to the far left at the end of the line and I stayed there for the rest of prejudging. So that was it.

I was convinced that I had placed dead last in my height class. I was so disappointed in myself and the fact that I didn’t feel great on stage, being so unbalanced and not being able to really get into each pose. I was in the worst mood following prejudging and although my husband said that I looked solid on stage, I still felt crumby. I didn’t want to see any of the photos that my in-laws took of me while on stage and I didn’t want to take any other photos by the different backdrops and kiosks like I always had before. I was just not in a good place.

We had a huge gap of about 5 hours between prejudging and finals, so we headed back to the hotel room for a little downtime. Although it was an added expense to stay at the host hotel for 2 days, it was worth every penny. I got to take a little power nap, do some light reading, eat and just take it easy. After a couple of hours I started to feel better. The reality of this competition is that even if I did place last at 6th place I would still automatically requalify for the provincial championship the following year, anything placing above that would qualify me for nationals. So regardless of the outcome it would still be a great achievement, and being ranked as 6th in my province as a bodybuilder is pretty awesome, especially for someone who has been competing for less than 1 year.

I feel sad and disappointment in myself, not because of my placings during prejudging but because I didn’t bring my best to the stage which has always been my main focus in all of this. My performance was poor, I didn’t feel good and if anything, I felt unprepared. The flooring really threw me off and I just couldn’t get into my poses as well as I usually did during practice. But for a short time during prejudging, the judges thought that I was the best in my class, I got a small taste of what it would feel like to be in that space and to actually win. I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to move from center all the way to far end; you know in that moment that you lost and it sucks.

Finals was no different, again the flooring threw me off. It felt almost impossible to be fluid with each movement and I could barely get into back pose, my balance was so off. I can’t even remember if I was smiling or not and I almost don’t want to see what my professional pics from the show look like. Although my husband said that I looked solid on stage and my posing was good (trust me, he would tell me if something didn’t look right), I still didn’t feel all that great.

It was a long day. Prejudging started at 9am and Bikini only went on around 12:30, so there was a lot of “hurry up and wait”. Hair and makeup was at 8:30 and then I had to be backstage to make sure I was close by for any spray tan retouches, glazing/suit gluing, preshow pump/warm up, last minute posing practice and just in case there’s a last minute schedule change. Then there was a huge gap until finals which was only at 6pm, by the time Bikini was call up on stage it was about four and half hours later. What I noticed while standing on stage at finals was that the judges looked very uninterested and kind of bored and what’s more is that as soon as men’s bodybuilding was done, half of the audience got up and left, so the auditorium was half empty at that point. The top 3 were announced and I along with the other 2 ladies who did not place were ushered backstage while the top 3 received their awards. Although I had already known after prejudging that I didn’t place, it’s still disappointing and it still sucks. I know that I could have done better and that it wasn’t because my physique wasn’t on point, but it was because it hadn’t even crossed my mind that the floor would be a greasy and hard to maneuver on, so my posing suffered.

So I went into a full on post-contest blues for the last few days, but it seems to be slowly subsiding. It’s an odd feeling that I get after competing, especially following this show. It’s almost like an emptiness. After weeks and months of being so focused on one big goal and finding ways to allow that goal to seep into all aspects of your life, when it’s over, it’s REALLY over. Back to “regular” life, back to work and the office job and the household chores, obligations and daily grind. Something that was so meaningful has passed and this time I feel empty. I went from being completely immersed in the bodybuilding culture during the contest weekend and being surrounded by like minded people, to suddenly be so far removed from it altogether.  For the past 15 months I’ve pretty much been in contest prep. My first prep lasted 8 months for my first show in November of last year, then I went right into my second prep of 16 weeks right after and then right into another 7 week prep for this last show.  So something that has been a big part of my life is on hold for now. I know that this is definitely a part of the process, but it still feels weird.

Overall this competition was a real eye-opener for me. I realized that you have to be prepared for anything and going forward I will for sure practice posing on all kinds of different surfaces (carpet, hard wood, tiles, etc.) that are flat and uneven with all kinds of different textures so that next time I won’t be thrown off. With each competition I’ve learned something. At my first it was to always find out where the retouches for hair/makeup/spraytan are happening and when as soon as I get backstage and to pay attention to the order of the show to know exactly when to pump up. At my second show I learned the importance of quiet time before hitting the stage and the value of staying at the host hotel to rest up on show day between those long gaps during the day. So it’s all a learning experience at the end of the day and we get better and more at ease with time and persistence.

So where did I end up placing you might ask? Well, to my shock I actually placed 4th. I honestly thought that I would be 5th at best but most likely 6th, which as I mentioned is really great regardless. I’m still pretty stunned that I’m ranked 4th in my province and am now a nationally qualified bodybuilder. Last year when I decided to embark on the competitive bodybuilding journey, this was my goal and I almost can’t believe that I did it. I’m still a bit in disbelief.

Now that my prep is over, I’m heading into a recovery week where I not measuring or weighing any food or working out at all. Yikes! I must say that I was feeling some anxiety around this; it’s been such a big part of my routine and lifestyle that it’s almost like a ritual for me. Instead of trying to supress this feeling and trying to change my mindset around this, I’m just gonna let myself sit with this feeling and accept that I am going to be doing the opposite of my instinct for one week…I like to think of it as The George Costanza Approach To Life (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, well damn! That is all). The truth is that I haven’t taken more than 3 days off in a row from working out in 15 months! For any athlete, that’s a lot and if I were to just keep going, I would  easily shift into over-training which is a very difficult thing to recover from. So for now it’s necessary.

The thought of not competing for 1 year and not hitting the stage for that long is also weighing heavily on me too. I’ve had a contest goal in mind for almost two years and had a clear vision and plan of what I would be doing to get there, but with such a big gap until Nationals, it’s a bit intense in the brain for me. Especially since I’ve done 3 competitions in the last 7 months; it’s become a big part of my life. I must say that when I found out that I was qualified for nationals part of me was really tempted to compete at this year’s show which is only 2 weeks away. Realistically I know that I could have done it, but my coach would probably be a bit weary of my doing this and my husband already mentioned that his main concern was my doing 4 water manipulations and dehydrations in 8 months would be a too hard on my body, and they’d be right. Plus, when I do go to nationals I want to rock it, I want to bring my absolute best physique with a bit more mass and curve, and I want to be as confident and sharp and on point with my posing as possible. Nationals is a huge deal and it opens up the door to a whole other level of competitions at the international amateur level and even the professional level too, so I want to walk on stage next year and know that I crushed it and I did my absolute best no matter how I end up placing. That being said, there is another opportunity for nationally qualified athletes to compete in about a month where the top 3 receive bursaries to put towards their competing at nationals next year and this is a great chance to get a feel for what this level of athletes are like and even get great exposure in the industry. If I were to compete I would a have to start a prep right now and get back into contest mindset. Yesterday I was seriously considering it, and as much as I still want to take up this opportunity deep down I know that I will be better off holding out on this and focusing on next year instead.

So now I am officially entering my “off-season” which means less volume workout-wise, more recovery time and extra calories. After my first show, my coach put together a great recovery plan that I’ll be using for the next month or so and then maybe we’ll look at a mass gain. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while and I think it’ll be a great benefit to me so that I can really build up, pack on lots of muscle and gain tons of strength in the process. The good thing about this is that you get life a lot heavier, do less cardio and eat more into to support growth. The down though is that if the diet isn’t on point, you can easily pack on lots of bodyfat  in the process if you eat too much junk food. Thankfully my coach will take all of the guesswork out for me so I’ll be good to go. In the meantime I get to enjoy TWO weekly treat meals and will only be doing cardio 3 times per week (not fasted and only steady state jogs outside in nature – an added bonus!) and weight training 4 times per week for now more than 1 hour each session.

My recovery week is always something that I look forward to, but then it always feels a bit weird since I’m so out of my usual routine. It is nice being able to sleep a bit later instead of getting up at sunrise for fasted cardio and it’s really nice to not have to lug around my gym bag to and from work everyday, but it does feel odd going straight home after work and having a few extra hours to myself instead of hitting the gym. An added bonus is that I’ll be taking this opportunity to try out some new recipes that I’ve had my eye on for a while like roasted tempeh with a maple syrup glaze, black bean enchiladas and oat flour waffles with coconut oil and blueberry compote. I’ve eliminated all supplements for this week too apart from a digestive enzyme and probiotic that I take first thing in the morning just to ensure that I don’t get any indigestion or heartburn during the day. Caffeine is also out for this week. I noticed that in the last month I wasn’t enjoying the hot cups of coffee that I would prepare for myself. Although I usually savour each sip and really enjoy it, it just wasn’t happening anymore so coffee is out for this week at least. I don’t really need it to be honest, especially since I’m sleeping in an extra hour each morning and not working out, so my body doesn’t require the extra jolt. Surprisingly I don’t feel tired or sluggish at all, no withdrawal whatsoever. All in all, it’s a good thing to take this break and my body and mind will benefit from it greatly. The hard part is what comes next, the rebound; the inevitable post-contest weight gain and the attempt to not binge eat on the treats during this time, but I’ll get into that more in next week’s post.

So there you have it. Another competition completed, another contest prep done and a new qualification level achieved. Not too shabby for a vegan who’s been competing for only 7 months 😊 I may have discovered that I am without question my own worst critic, but I also realised that the journey IS the destination. At the end of the day, the process of competing is a long one filled with some unpleasantries, but if you love it (as I do) it’s great, it’s fun and even if you don’t feel all that awesome on show day, you still get to immerse yourself in something really special.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Contest Prep, Wellness

Peak Week Pain Points

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Once again I have made it to Peak Week. It is the culmination of the entire contest prep process; from mass gaining all the way through to fat loss/cutting, this is the week where one’s physique is in it’s prime condition. This is the most exciting week of the entire experience, but it also tends to be the toughest too. After weeks and months of training, some may run out of steam right at the end because they went too hard for too long, while others breeze through with a big smile on their face. Either way, this final week of prep involves lots of adjustments and commitments, both big and small.

For me, this marks my third peak week leading to the biggest competition to date: Provincial Championships, where the top 5 in each height class move on to Nationals with a chance to earn their coveted IFBB Pro Card. Many of my fellow competitors will involve ladies who have been training and competing for many years, who qualified well over a year ago and/or have had a long time dedicated to their prep. In my case, I qualified only 6 weeks earlier at the Provincial Open placing 4th in my height class. On the plus side, seeing that I was already in peak condition at 6 weeks out meant that I wouldn’t have too much work ahead of me in terms of dieting down or trying to pack on extra mass. Ultimately this short prep was different from my first two in that I was able to maintain my physique while having shorter workouts and enjoying a higher amount of carbohydrates and still seeing great results each week.

Then there came the “problems” or “challenges”. At 3 weeks out I started a new full time job (yay!). Unfortunately my office is far from home and the gym, giving me a pretty sizeable commute each day (2 hours total). This also meant that fasted cardio would be a big challenge. Instead of getting up at my leisure each morning and taking my time before heading out for a run, I now have to get up SUPER early (usually as the sun is rising) and head out the door about 20 minutes after crawling out of bed. Even with my pre-workout supps, I still feel tired and I am definitely running at a much slower pace than usual. Then I rush back home for a couple minutes of stretching, get ready for work and run out to catch the bus. After a full work day, it’s back on public transport to the gym for some serious weightlifting. By the I get home I’ve had about a 14 hour day including my workouts and transport. Needless to say, I’m wiped! The first week was intense because that was the biggest adjustment, especially with sleep. Truth be told, my solution was to just drink more coffee, which helped in the short term, but by the end of the week I started feeling the negative side effects. Too much caffeine can cause insomnia and irritability, all of which I experienced a few days into the week. Not only was I having a bit of information overload, but I was also getting way too much stimulation without any quiet downtime that I so craved. So that first weekend, I completely cut out caffeine and switched to some soothing chamomile tea instead and took some time out to listen to a few podcasts on wellness and do some quiet meditation. At 2 weeks out, I kept the caffeine intake reasonable and only having coffee pre-workout even if I started yawning midday; I definitely felt better. I started to get into a groove with my new routine, started running at my usual pace and got my energy levels back up. I also started to appreciate the early morning jogs; there’s hardly anyone out, the sun is shining and my route goes through this beautiful bike path with lots of greenery and trees. A definite positive shift in energy by week two.

Here comes the really hard part. For peak week, I’m traveling. I’ll be spending the week at a hot and sunny spot, which sounds all nice and good, but the timing is a huge problem. First of all, my flights are super early in the morning so I’ll be getting up well before the sunrise. Secondly, a plant-based contest prep diet is hard to manage while flying, options are limited so I have to be super prepared and since I’m flying international there’s no way for me to prep meals in advance. The best I can do is bring along individual packs of protein powder with some brown rice cakes, and pick up some kind of veg at the airport. Now I can’t just have any kind of salad because these always have added fats, marinades and sugars, so I’ll have to settle for the non-starchy dressing on the side type of foods. The key here is to write down everything that I eat to keep track of macros throughout the day so that I’m not missing any nutrients. Another factor is water intake. Air travel causes dehydration and bloating, which isn’t a big deal for the departure, but coming back home is a major concern (I’ll get to that shortly). Thankfully I’ll be staying in a spot with a full kitchen ad access to groceries, so sticking with my nutrition is no problem. There’s also a gym nearby, so workouts can easily be done.

You may be thinking “well, at least you’ll get to soak up some sun on the beach”…NOPE! In the 3 weeks leading up to any competition you have to avoid the sun. That’s right, I’m going to the beach but have to completely avoid all contact with the sunshine at all times. Why? Because in the sun we tan, and tan-lines cannot be covered by the spraytan on showday. No matter how hard the spraytan company may try, any difference in skin tone or color cannot be covered and evened out by the spray and I’m sure you’ll remember that my posing suit is not like a regular bikini; it’s a lot smaller and sits on the body far differently than what you see on the beach. God help you if you get sunburnt because you won’t be able to compete at all; any kind of skin irritation or redness will only be accentuated by the spraytan. So I’ll be walking around in massive heat, completely covered from head to toe with a big giant hat at all times, even if I go into the ocean. Oh, and did I mention that three days into the trip I have to stop wearing deodorant? The chemicals in deodorant turn the spraytan green and nobody wants to see moldy looking armpits.

The flight home is a whole other animal altogether. Once again, I leave early in the morning, but it also happens to fall on the day that I start my carb load and water manipulation. I’m going to be running the risk of bloating due to air travel (a big no-no). Plus in a carb load we cut all vegetables and fats, so I’ll be pretty limited to what I can eat. Again, writing everything that I eat and drink down will be the key to staying on track. Worse case scenario it’ll all protein powder and rice cakes until I get home and then I’ll eat the standard tempeh, sweet potatoes and white rice. When I do finally make it home I have to do a full workout and pre-contest beauty prep (hair stuff, mani-pedi, etc.) and pack for the contest weekend. Busy, busy.

Now this show is different in that registration for my class which usually takes place 1 day out at around 1pm is now going to be at 10:30 am, and it’s not close to home. So once again, I’ll have to get up super early for a light workout, skin prep and probably get stuck in traffic on my way there. Thankfully I will be staying at the host hotel so I’ll be able to drop my stuff and have a few hours to kill before the athlete’s meeting and my spraytan. I will be taking the opportunity to go to the hair salon and enjoy a little bit of pampering and then hopefully have enough time for an afternoon nap in my room.

The game plan for showday is nothing different (hair, makeup in the morning followed by pre-judging), but…finals is way later in the night. Usually finals would start around 1pm, this time though it starts at 6pm, so there will be at least a 5 hour gap in between. So I caved and reserved my hotel room for an extra night (since check out is at 3pm)  that way I can take a nap in between, which I’m sure I’ll need and I can stay over night if the show finishes late, which for sure it will. Finals usually lasts about 4 hours, so we won’t be out of there before 10pm. It’s an added expense, but a necessary one.

It’s gonna be an exhausting week and if you haven’t already figured out by now, I’m felling fairly stressed out over this. Stressed over the travels, stressed over the timing and planning, and stressed over how tired I know I will feel throughout the entire week. I am, however, trying to focus on the bright side. If while away I feel tired, I will sleep and if I feel overwhelmed or overstimulated, I’ll take some quiet time away from everyone to get centered again. This may not the ideal time to travel, but I know I’ll still enjoy myself even if I’m not the norm and am pretty unconventional. This trip will still give me the chance to spend some quality time with my family, maybe take an evening stroll on the beach with my husband and hopefully move at a slower pace than usual. It’ll give me the chance to slow down and get some relaxation time in while connecting with loved ones Like everything else, the key to success is to work around what you already have in place and tailor your approach to that. In my case, maintaining a positive mindset throughout, by focusing on gratitude and the progress of this particular journey to the stage, is what will ultimately allow this to remain a positive learning and growing experience.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

 

Contest Prep, Nutrition

Dirty Cheat vs Refeed

There are two common ways that one can “cheat” on their diet without throwing all their progress out the window. You can either do what’s called a Dirty Cheat or a Refeed meal. Both have their benefits and both equally have the potential for drawbacks too. Ultimately the choice is yours, but it’s I important to have a solid understanding of the reasoning behind these options.

The Dirty Cheat or cheat meal are what most people (including non-fitness enthusiasts) are fairly familiar with. The idea here is to eat a meal that’s more decadent than usual, but in the hopes of it staying balanced in terms of macros (protein, carbs and fat). In reality though, many who go for this type of cheat meal go all out and opt for fast food, deserts, junk food snacks or any combination of these into one massive meal. The good thing about a scheduled and well-timed cheat meal is that it can help you hormone-wise, especially if you’re trying to lose weight or diet-down. When calories are restricted and your bodyfat drops the hormone Leptin (which signals satiety or the feeling of fullness) can decrease while the hormone Ghrelin (which signals that you’re hungry) increases. What this means is that your brain isn’t going to let you feel full and your hunger is going to feel way more intense that it actually is. That’s why it’s so difficult for people to lose weight and keep it off; at a certain point the your body and it’s hormones are going to fight you as hard as possible to keep you hungry and reaching for food all the time. This is where the Dirty Cheat can come in handy. It has been proven time and again that a weekly cheat meal will help to raise Leptin levels and drop Ghrelin levels in the days following that big decadent meal. On the flip side, this style of eating can lead to some pretty nasty side effects. Many cheat items are unbalanced and tend to be super high fat and high carb (for example deserts or pasta with cream sauce or french fries) or super high fat and high-ish protein (for example chicken fried steak or baby-back ribs). It’s also very easy to go overboard on the portion size and overeat to the point where you are overly stuffed and may even feel sick. All of this can lead to some serious indigestion, discomfort and bloating not to mention weight gain. When you are losing weight, your metabolism becomes very sensitive and a massive meal or entire day of overeating can cause a big rebound in a short amount of time leading you to pack on body fat once again. What’s more is that if you have ever struggled with self-control around food, this may not be the best option for you as it could lead to a binge. When it comes to the Dirty Cheat, know yourself and your triggers before you indulge.

The Refeed or carb-load is an entirely different concept. Essentially you eat one meal that is super high carb, minimal fat and moderate protein. This option is great for those with a low body fat percentage, which is why this is the preferred method for bodybuilders. Those with a lower body fat  can refeed more than the average sedentary person would, i.e. they can go for a much higher carb and sizeable portion than the latter. The body can respond very well to this method of cheating, especially if you’ve been going low carb or working towards fat loss for a while.  When you carb-load your body takes in extra glycogen which promotes muscle protein synthesis (or muscle growth) and ultimately helps to bring your hormones back to an optimum level. This is why so many athletes who practice refeeds always have their best workouts the day after this meal. Their bodies and muscles are holding extra fuel so they end up pushing harder at the gym and getting a great post-workout pump. Ideally, you want to aim for the refeed to provide an extra 20-50% of extra calories than you typically take in. Bare in mind though that it depends on your body fat and how advanced you are in your training. The down side to this is that you have to be careful to what you choose to eat and ensure that fat is kept to a minimum, in fact don’t add any fat to this meal if you can help it and try to avoid eating this close to bedtime.

For many bodybuilders pre-contest carb-load is essential in the days leading up to a show. I personally take 2 days to load up on carbs before hitting the stage, but it’s always very easy to digest sources like white rice, cream of rice and sweet potatoes. The reason why we go for these types of carbohydrates is that during this time we’re also cutting and manipulating water in order to dehydrate and if you go high carb without enough water it can make you very sick. It’s best to avoid flour based refined starches as they are harder to digest and just sit heavily in your belly when you eat them without sufficient water. So forgo the pasta and breads.

I have seen bodybuilders go for the Dirty Cheat pre-contest instead of the carb-load, but it can backfire if you’re not careful. Again, you’re dehydrated so if you eat a big fatty, sugary meal without enough water it’ll cause serious bloating pre-contest which is a no-no. So a lot of athletes end having to take a harsh laxative to make sure it gets out of their system before they hit the stage. Ultimately you run the risk of going to an extreme here…proceed with caution. At each show I’ve seen people backstage eating chips, chocolate bars or pastries right before prejudging and going out for a Dirty Cheat meal before finals. I personally am sitting there with my white rice and tempeh or sweet potatoes and brown rice protein powder and I only take in sugar right before I hit the stage in the form of white rice and maple syrup (and it’s a tablespoon at that). I don’t want to risk anything at that point and bloat or feel uncomfortable while trying to pose.

This may all seem a bit intense to figure out what works best for you as there really is a science behind all of this. I was always doing a traditional weekly treat meal, but now especially with my training being more advanced and getting closer to show day I switch to weekly refeeds. My body responds very well to this and  get to enjoy some really nice food while refueling my body at the same time. Some weeks I’ll go for salty and have whole grain pasta with a homemade tomato sauce (no oil!) or I’ll go for sweet instead and have homemade donuts made from oatbran, banana and maple syrup. Last week I really treated myself to something awesome where I had cereal treats from a brown rice cocoa breakfast cereal with vegan marshmallows (made from cassava instead of gelatin). It was sooooo good. The carbs hit me fast and I felt like jogging for about an hour after I had eaten, but my workout the next day was awesome. Thanks to my replenished glycogen I hit some new PRs and crushed it at the gym!

Give both cheat options a try and see how your body feels after and how well it impacts your progress. Keep in mind that these meals are meant to help you physically, recharge your batteries and reset your metabolism. This can be invaluable to anyone regardless of their goals, so try to fit one meal like this into your week. Enjoy it, savour it and use those extra calories to your benefit.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

 

Contest Prep, Nutrition, Wellness

Eating Enough

There is one concept that seems to evade so many people. In fact, it is most likely one of the main reasons why so many struggle to get in shape, lose weight and keep it off for good. What is this mystery concept you ask? Eating enough. That’s right, for most eating enough and losing weight just don’t mix, which is why we still believe that diet equates calorie restriction and deficit.

The old theory of calories in, calories out isn’t as clear cut as you may think. Actually calculating how many calories you burn in a day is almost impossible, even if you have wearable tech (for example a Fitbit) because it doesn’t take into account your resting metabolic rate, stress levels, hormone fluctuations, etc. So trying to figure out the right amount of calories to take in is equally as challenging. Some say 1500 calories for others it’s 1200 and so on. It’s pretty confusing. Truth be told, there is no one size fits all for calories, but if you are looking to lose weight or if you have ever tries to in the past, chances are you’re not eating enough. You still have to support your body’s basic requirements to function and if you drop calories too low your body is going to tell your brain that it is starving and it will hold on to whatever bodyfat it can no matter how hard you workout or how low you drop your carb intake.

The reactions that I get when it comes to my regiment and my nutrition is usually surprise followed by slight disbelief and “Yeah, right” look in the other persons eyes. Others are always surprised to hear that I eat 6 to 7 meals each day and with that surprise assume that it’s a tiny miny portioned sized “meal”, which could not be further from the truth. I even get asked “Yeah, but how many of those so called meals are just protein shakes mixed with water?”. The answer is zero FYI. Yes, I do consume protein powder, but it’s always paired with additional food otherwise it wouldn’t be filling enough. I eat for volume and I like to feel full no matter where I’m at in my training.

To help shed a little light on this, here is what a typical day of eating looks like at 4 weeks away from the Provincial Championship.

Meal 1

 

A combo of carbs and protein is perfect for my post-fasted cardio meal. I opt for 1/4c dry measure of a whole grain with a 30g scoop of brown rice protein powder and 1/4c of blueberries. Anytime I go for something sweet I always spice it up with cinnamon and a pinch of turmeric (it’s an anti-inflammatory). My 2 fave ways to prep this meal is to combine the ingredients to make either a Brown Rice Bowl (as shown on left) or a Mug Cake (on the right). Delish!

Meal 2

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For this meal I always go for 4 oz of either tofu or tempeh with 1 cup of veg…and everything is smothered in mustard and hot sauce.

Meal 3

This serves as my pre-weight training meal which I’ll have about an hour before hitting the gym with a giant cup of coffee instead of a pre-workout supplement. This meal is sweet and combines 1 scoop of brown rice protein powder with 3 oz of mashed sweet potatoes with (again) cinnamon and turmeric. It’s kind of like a protein pudding with some extra carbs to fuel me up for some heavy lifting.

Meal 4

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My post-workout meal is eaten 45 minutes after my gym session is done. I always opt for white rice (which I love!) and 3 oz of this high protein bread (recipe courtesy of my coach) made from wheat gluten. It is so nice to eat bread every day when in contest prep. You may have noticed that most post-workout meals contain fast digesting carbs (like white rice). The reason for that is because whenever you exercise your body releases cortisol (the stress hormone), but this is a good thing as it is what allows you to push hard when you train. After you’re done, the sugars in carbohydrates are what help bring your cortisol levels back down to a stable amount.

Meal 5

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This one is probably my favorite. 1/2c black beans, 2 cups of sautéed spinach with hot sauce and 1 TB coconut oil is a great combo. The great thing is that on Mondays and Fridays (when I train legs) I get to up my carbs for this meal and add 3 oz of sweet potatoes, since I’m lifting heavier. The bigger the muscle, the heavier you can lift, the more recovery fuel (i.e. food) your body needs. So twice a week I like to mix things up a bit and use my ingredients to make brownies!

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Meal 6

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This is a quazi-oatmeal type of meal. Since I want to keep protein high at my last meal of the day, instead of using actual oats I use what’s called texturized vegetable protein (TVP). TVP is great because it’s a blank canvas and it takes on whatever flavours you add to it. Obviously I want this to be sweet so I go for 1/4c dry measure, with shredded zucchini (for volume), 2 TB of powdered peanut butter and 1/2 tsp of stevia. Surprisingly good.

Even though I’m less than 1 month away from show day, I still get to enjoy a once weekly refeed meal. Let me be clear though, a refeed meal is not a cheat meal. A refeed is like a carb load where you eat high carb, moderate protein and the least amount of fat possible (no fats are added to this meal). If I want something savory I’ll go for pasta, but I make the sauce myself so that there’s no oil added to it. usually though, I prefer sweet and I recently created and devoured this cereal treat. I found a brown rice cereal and vegan marshmallows (made from cassava instead of gelatin). It was SUPER amazing!

So there you have it. As you can see I don’t “eat like a bird” and neither should you. Food is fuel so nourish yourself and eat to live. Give yourself the energy you need by eating enough each day, regardless of your goals. Don’t worry about the calories, because chances are, you’re probably not eating enough as is. Focus on quality ingredients and balanced meals to support you, your workouts and your health.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Contest Prep

Show Day

This past weekend I finally hit the stage for my second bodybuilding competition after 16 weeks of prep. All the training, meal preparation and posing practice came down to one day and pretty much only a few minutes on stage. Here’s what went down during the intense competition weekend.

I went about this show a bit smarter this time around; I decided to stay at the host hotel instead of going back and forth from my home. Yes it would have saved me a bit of cash and I only live about 30 minutes from the venue, but it was worth every penny. The day before the actual show is busy and long so having my own room gave me space and quiet time to myself, away from the other athletes. Essentially I got to have a little downtime and some privacy to get in a little extra posing practice. Everything went smooth from registration to the spraytan to the athletes meeting. I had all of my meals prepped and labelled in my cooler bag so I was good to go.

On Sunday morning I woke early, 6am. Even though my hair and makeup appointments were only at 8am, I wanted to give myself plenty of time to get in my light morning workout. So I headed out for a walk outside (which also doubled as my morning coffee run) followed by some strength training work (with resistance bands) in my room and a little quiet meditation.  After my lovely (insert sarcasm) breakfast concoction of cream of rice mixed with rice protein powder, it was time to get glamed up.

On the left is me with my hair done and the right is with the full makeup. As you can see, it’s heavy and dark, but on stage it looks amazing.

We headed to the venue at 9:30am; bikini is always the last to step  onstage so although prejudging starts at 8am I didn’t have to be there until much later. I learned my lesson from the previous show with the spraytan retouch timing mishap, so this time I headed straight backstage to the spraytan area and got my retouch done right away. If you’re wondering how dark the tan is, well here’s a close look:

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Before stepping onstage for prejudging there are a few necessary things to do to get ready. A little last minute posing practice is a given for pretty much everybody; no matter how cramped we are backstage (and we really are) it’s so important to get comfortable with the movements. It’s kind of like doing a few warm up sets when you’re about to do some heavy weight lifting. Another important thing is to eat some fast digesting with a good amount of sugar. In my case, my coach always suggests a couple tablespoons of white rice with some maple syrup; although I’ve seen other competitors opt for chips and chocolate bars! The reason for eating this right before is to help get a good pump and give your muscles a little boost. Which leads to “pumping up” backstage. This is basically just doing some light strength training exercises to help get the blood flowing to the muscles, giving you a fuller look with lots of definition.

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As always I was in Bikini Class A (under 5ft2), we were a total of 7 ladies. Since we were such a small group, there were no first callouts, we instead went straight to the comparison round. It went by so quickly it was crazy. Thankfully I had my hubby in the audience shouting some instructions for me to adjust my posing as needed; you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget to keep your belly pulled in or to just maintain a smile on your face! When we were brought onstage I was right in the center, which is the sweet spot…but that didn’t last. Usually during the comparison round the judges will ask some of the competitors to switch places. The key thing though is that the closer you are to th middle, the better you place. So I may have started in the center, but they had me switch with the lady next to me; that’s when I realized that I hadn’t placed 1st. Then they had me switch with someone even further out and that’s when I realized that I wouldn’t be in the top 3. Yes, it does go that fast and the judges work very quickly as we were up there for maybe 10 minutes.

I was still feeling good, but I felt that I didn’t hit my posing as “sharp” as I could have. To be honest I felt a bit shaky onstage even though I wasn’t nervous at all; thankfully my shakiness didn’t show.

As per usual there was a huge gap between prejudging and finals so I got a little bit of downtime with my family.18034259_10155280322035152_8032433566793186173_n

That black tarp looking thing that I’m wearing is a light robe; once the posing suit goes on and is glued (yes, glued) to your body, that’s basically your only clothing option until finals is over.

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Finals was just as fast as prejudging. Everyone gets the chance to do a personal posing routine which lasts for about 10 seconds, although it does feel like an eternity! Again, I felt a bit shaky and like I didn’t hit my poses as well as I could have. They announced the top 3 and my number wasn’t called as I suspected. I gotta say that it sucks when that happens…you’re standing onstage with a big smile plastered on your face holding “relaxed pose” which is really just side pose in my case and you have to maintain that smile and poise even though you know you didn’t win.

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It was a disappointment and it’s hard not to focus on the final placing, but I did what I could. What I did realize was that I was a lot more focused on my placing more that just enjoying the experience. On the positive side was the fact that everyone was very nice. I’ve heard horror stories of how some athletes are mean or try to mess with your head or even try to sabotage their fellow competitors by stealing their shoes or contestant number so that they can’t go onstage! That wasn’t the case at all; everyone was friendly and open and I even spotted a couple of ladies from my first show 5 months earlier.

My goal with this competition was to come in with a better physique (tighter and more muscular), to place higher than I had at my previous show at 5th place) and to at least place in the top 5 so that I can qualify for the Provincial Championships. Done, done and done! I ended up placing 4th which means that I do qualify and will be heading to the Provincial Championships in just 8 weeks! This next one will for sure be tough as it is the best bodybuilders in the province fighting to earn a spot at nationals. I’ll be ready though. I have my work cut out for me, lots of posing to perfect, not to mention a body to sculpt, but I know I’ll be bringing my absolute best in 2 months. Provincial Championships: I’m coming for you!

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Contest Prep, Nutrition

Carb Loading & Dehydration

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After 16 weeks of training and consistent nutrition, I am now only 3 days away from competing. All that work and effort comes down to the final few days. The last stage of prep involves carb loading, water manipulation and final beauty prep (the fun-ish part).

Let’s start with carb loading. To non-competitors, eating a high amount of carbohydrates pre-contest may seem counterintuitive, but when done correctly, this method of eating can greatly impact one’s physique in the best way. When I say carbs, I don’t mean things like bread or deserts as these tend to be hard on the digestive track and will cause bloating especially at this point in prep. What I really mean is the fast and easy to digest stuff such as white rice and sweet potatoes combined with easy to digest protein sources such as rice protein powder and tempeh, without any added fats. The reason why we carb load pre-contest is to replenish glycogen stores which ultimately allow your muscles to have a full appearance while staying shredded and lean without any bloat. Here’s the science behind it… Carbs and water bind together and the muscles act like a sponge that soak up all the carbs and water together which end up giving that nice and full look with lots of definition.

The second part of this process involves water manipulation and is just as important as carb loading. In the weeks leading up to the show you gradually increase water intake until you reach at least 6 litres per day and then come peak week you drink as much water as humanly possible. This allows your body to flush out everything and become super efficient at shedding any potential excess water. then in the days leading up to the show, you slowly taper off the water. In my case, I cut my water intake in half 2 days prior, then 1 day out I go for 2 litres before 1pm and then drink smaller increments of water every couple of hours until we cut it completely save for 1 oz at each meal. Show day is 1 oz at each meal and that’s it. Why? Dehydration makes everything tighten up and shows off all the definition in the muscles. the dryer you are, the better you look.

As for the beauty part, well that’s something nice but also a bit time consuming. In the weeks leading up to the show you have to start the skin prep process to help the spray tan come out as nice as possible. This means daily exfoliation, moisturizing twice a day (unscented of course) and stop deodorant usage 3 days as it makes the spray tan come out green. Then there’s the mani-pedi; I do it myself to save a few bucks and stick with a neutral color with a little bit of sparkles so that it doesn’t clash with my suit. I also make sure to cleanse my face daily and do 2 full at-home facials during peak week so that my skin is ready to go and the makeup will better “take” and last on my face.

Going back to the spray tan, it’s super important to go dark because under the bright stage lights, without the tan you look completely washed out and you won’t see any definition. And yes, it is the industry standard and every athlete does it. Up close you look brown, but on stage you’re fabulous.

Some people say that the dehydration process is the worst of the entire contest prep, but I have to disagree; getting my legs waxed last week was pure torture. That being said, being really thirsty sucks, but on show you’re so busy that you don’t even notice.

So that’s all that is left of my prep. A few more days of solid posing practice and I’ll be ready to go. I feel as though my physique has changed in such a positive way and that I really will be presenting my best. Three days out and then go time!

Start Strong, Finish Strong