I love competitive bodybuilding. Everything from the training and meal prep to the custom made posing suit and yes, I even enjoy to pre-show skin prep. Taking the decision to compete is a big deal and a big commitment. Even though I had done plenty of research, there were still many surprises things that came my way. So here is my top ten list of things I wish I had known about bodybuilding before my first show.
- You have far less muscle than you actually think. Most of us who work out regularly are under the impression that we’re in great shape and have a decent amount of muscle. The reality is that it’s not as much as you think. When you diet down are get your bodyfat real low, then you’ll really know how much (or how little) muscle you actually have, and it’s always a bit of a surprise. I’m not gonna lie, I looked pretty puny the first time around.
- Posing is super hard. I’ve written about this many times before, but I can’t stress this point enough. Posing is super technical and it doesn’t come naturally to most unless you have a background in performance arts. It takes countless hours of practice to get it right and for it to look natural. It’s a lot of slow and controlled movements that require some serious physical stamina and strength. I practice for countless hours, took multiple group posing classes and even worked with a posing 1 on 1 just to get it right. Even after 3 shows, posing is still my biggest struggle and it’s what needs the most work.
- Show Day is really long. The day seems to go on forever. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait. You rush to get to the venue in the morning for hair and makeup, and then rush to get back stage and then wait. Then you rush to get your spraytan retouched and glazes put on and then rush again to pump and get on stage. You’re on stage for all of 5 minutes, and then you’re done. Hours go by and then it’s the same exact thing for finals. The day is full of buildup and then quiet time and then you’re on stage, and then it’s all over. As exciting as it is to be immersed in a show, sometimes I just can’t wait for the day to be done.
- If you can, get a room at the hosting hotel. Like I said, show day is really long so having a room where you can get some downtime in between prejudging and finals is great. If there are any last minute changes or anything urgent that comes up on show day, you’re already there. You don’t have to worry about the logistics or traffic; you’re already on sight so it takes some stress off of you.
- Start your water manipulation early. You have to dehydrate yourself before a show, otherwise your hard earned muscle definition won’t show on stage. In order for this to happen safely and effectively, you need to start tweaking your hydration early on. That means training with a neoprene wrap in the months leading up to a show (this wrap makes you sweat more during a workout). Consider sitting in a sauna once a week and drinking dandelion root tea each night. Water-wise what you’ll want to do is gradually increase your intake every few weeks and in the last month you want to be taking in about 6 litres per day. During peak week, if you can drink even more. Then about 2 days out you’ll start dehydrating by cutting your intake in half on the first day, and then dropping it even further the next. On show day you won’t be drinking anything. Yes, it sounds intense and it is, but the dry-mouth isn’t nearly as horrible as others made it out to be. Diuretics are almost always a must, but be careful and opt for something natural like dandelion root which you can take in the weeks leading up to a show without it having any negative side effects on your health. I’ve seen a lot of people backstage practically keeling over from the dehydration because they waited too long and had to take the harsh chemical diuretics that made them sick, so make sure you do this right way.
- Low-carb doesn’t work for me. Carbs were super low by the end of my first prep and I came out looking pretty flat on stage. By my third show though, my coach and I had learned what worked best and so we kept the carbs fairly high throughout but dropped the fat intake instead. Not only was my prep a total breeze and free of cravings, but I had never looked better on show day. This may not be the case for everybody though. Other ladies have told me that they go higher on the fat intake instead and still eat lots of nuts and coconut oil right up until the end. So the moral of this story is that what works for one person, may not work for you.
- Vivid stress dreams are totally normal. I always have the most vivid stressful dreams about everything going wrong on show day. This has happened to me at the start of every prep. I remember these dreams so clearly even now; I’m running late, I forgot to carb-load and dehydrate, I missed my spraytan appointment, etc. These dreams seem so real that when I wake up, it seriously feels like it actually happened. Apparently this is completely normal and most athletes experience this. So just FYI in case you’re planning on competing.
- Be prepared on show day. Have all of your meals prepped and packed, bring some resistance bands or light dumbbells to pump up backstage and have a few backup snacks just in case. But most importantly: as soon as you get to the venue and get to the backstage/athletes area go straight to the spraytan area to find out when they’ll be doing the retouch for your category and putting on your glaze. Also keep an eye on how quickly the show is going and the order of the categories so you don’t miss your call time. I almost missed mine for my first show and having to rush right before stepping onstage was awful. I was so stressed and completely freaked out. I learned my lesson and now as soon as I arrive on sight I go straight to the spraytan area and stay close by just to be safe.
- I always lose my appetite immediately after a show. I’m sure you’ve seen people talk about their victory meals or post-show binge fests and although I always plan for some kind of decadent meal, my appetite always tanks. I just don’t want to eat. I can’t explain it, maybe it’s the post-contest blues, but I just don’t feel like eating a victory meal afterward. I still do it anyway, but it’s not as awesome as I thought it would be. I never binge eat because that would just make me horribly sick, but I do have a big meal just cause it’s what you do. I am thinking that for nationals though, I might just forgo it altogether if I’m not feeling it. Why eat something that I don’t even want in the first place?
- You get the strangest feeling when it’s all over. The post-contest blues are no joke. For me it starts as soon as I step off step and slip into my sweatpants and start chugging water to rehydrate myself. It gets eerily quiet backstage towards the end. What was once a backstage full of people, commotion and energy becomes this empty space with a few stragglers. The when you get home it’s even more apparent. The silence is almost excessive. When you go from months of build up for one day and then you spend that day surrounded by people with all of this attention on you, coming home to an empty condo is a little overwhelming. The rest and break that you get to take is nice, but it’s also a big period of adjustment in that you’ll suddenly find yourself with plenty of free time.
So there you have it, my list of things I wish I had known before my first competition. I still find myself getting new surprises and takeaways with every show since. Overall though, competitive bodybuilding is the best and it brings me so much joy. If you are looking to step onstage, then I hope you find this helpful and if ever you are looking for a coach, I’m always here.
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