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

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

Contest Prep

The Dark Side of Bodybuilding

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Competing is awesome, I love it so much that I didn’t know what to do with myself when my first prep was over. I initially thought that I would take a full week off of training after my first show, but the truth is that I only lasted 2 days away from the gym. Bodybuilding is fantastic, but it can be also become too intense, too strict and even a little obsessive. That’s when athletes tend to toe the line between competing for themselves and their own personal goals, and competing only for the win and to beat out the person standing next to them.

It’s easy to see that side of it and to become obsessed with winning; I think that’s the case for all athletes in every sport. That’s usually when a person takes the decision to take everything up a notch and they become willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Many people unfamiliar with competing consider bodybuilding to be synonymous with steroid use. They see a big buff person and think anabolic steroids, which they view as something that is unhealthy and that cheaters use. In reality though it’s not necessarily the case. The thing that really gives bodybuilding a bad name and that has created this stereotype comes from athletic hopefuls who bought steroids from whatever source they could, without doing any research or talking to a healthcare professional. They took whatever amount they felt like (probably the highest dose), then ran out of the steroids, stopped taking it altogether, maybe stopped working out too and wound up with some pretty narly side effects and health problems. It’s substance abuse, that’s what has created the negative perceptions of bodybuilders and steroids. If you ask the average person about steroids, chances are they don’t even know what they are or why they “bad”. Allow me to shed some light…

Steroids are testosterone or testosterone derivatives that can be either taking orally or injected. When it gets into the bloodstream it goes into the muscle cell attaches to the receptors in that cell and turns on genes that produce more protein in the muscle. This ultimately allows the muscle to grow and get larger. Steroids don’t do the work for you, in fact, they don’t even make it easier to do the work, all that steroids do is allow an individual to take their training up a notch and push a little harder and lift a little heavier. You still have to do the work; you still have to get your two-a-day workouts in, you still have to follow a specific nutritional regiment, and you still have to workout just as hard.

The potential side effects can be dangerous if one chooses to take a performance enhancer without proper knowledge or without consulting a healthcare professional. Abusing steroids can cause kidney and liver damage, and can increase the size of the heart (because it is a muscle) leading to cardiovascular problems. Another thing to consider is that steroids in pill form can be rather toxic especially with prolonged and excessive use, that’s why injections are preferred as they are less damaging  (but the injection site can become swollen or infected overtime). Please note though that these side effects are not absolute with steroid use; it’s only in cases where people take too much, too soon and are abusing them. The key with any performance enhancer is to speak with not only a trained coach but also a medical doctor BEFORE starting them. Give full disclosure to your physician about what you are considering taking that way they can monitor you, they know what to check during your blood tests and they can refer you to a cardiologist to ensure that your ticker is still top notch.

In the bodybuilding community, many are now throwing around the term “natural athlete”, this refers to a competitor who does not use steroids. However, that alone does not mean natural athlete. If you look at natural bodybuilding leagues and shows, the athletes are not only banned from using steroids, but also fat burners and diuretics as well. All athletes have to pee in a cup pre-show, but not all athletes are tested because it’s too expensive, so usually the league will choose a handful of competitors at random in each category to test. A very interesting fact that I learned recently is that not all competitors in the natural league are actually natural athletes. This was confirmed to me by a judge who said that a good and savvy coach will guide their athletes to cycle off of the substances in the months and weeks leading up to a show, so that when they do the urine test it comes out clear, even though they have used an enhancer during their training. The judge said that regardless of the league, performance enhancers will always exist and will always be prevalent in competitions and training.

That being said, technically I wouldn’t be considered a natural athlete because I do take fat burners and diuretics during my contest prep. Mind you it is the lowest dose for fat burners and I’m not taking chemical diuretic, it’s mostly dandelion root, but I digress. I still would be banned from the natural league. I’ve never used a steroid and don’t plan on it, but I can definitely see how easy it would be to consider it and where the appeal is. Overall men can handle added testosterone better than women can, as men naturally have more testosterone. For women the side effects can be dangerous and the impact on one’s hormones can be long lasting. This is mainly why I’m just not comfortable even considering it, but to each his/her own. Make an informed decision regardless and seek medical counselling so that you are getting the best care possible. In my case, my doctor knows all of the supplements that I take including the fat burners and diuretics, the dosage and time frame of use as well. Safety first.

Diets are a whole other component of the dark side of bodybuilding. I met with many ladies during my first show who mentioned that their diets consisted of protein shakes and celery for weeks on end or who were overtraining each day for hours and hours and practically passed out after each gym session. It’s easy to go extreme when you have a big and clear goal ahead of you.

Competing is amazing and it is about bringing your best, for some that means doing whatever it takes to do so. Going to an extreme isn’t necessary, but it does happen. For myself I always want to focus on my health first above all else. Not matter what any competitor in any sport may be thinking about doing, take the right precautions, talk to your doctor and work with a coach who always has your best interests in mind.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

 

 

 

 

Contest Prep

Things No One Tells You About Competing

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There are many things that might surprise you when it comes to competing; mostly behind the scenes stuff that even I didn’t know until I started my prep. If you’ve been thinking about hitting the stage or even just watched a show or two yourself then this might shed some light of what it really means to be a competitive bodybuilder.

Before we go any further allow me to clarify that this may be TMI for some people…so, you know just FYI.

Most of these little known tidbits have to do with the spraytan, it really takes a lot to get it just right and even then it’s never 100% full proof and perfect. The spraytan is dark, REALLY dark and you are super brown, it’s more of a mahogany shade to be honest and it has this unique chemical smell that you can’t do anything to alleviate. Before we get to the actual application, there is a whole process of skin prep that goes on weeks in advance. Two weeks before the tan goes on you have to start exfoliating your entire body every day with a gentle but thorough scrub and moisturize twice daily with an unscented body lotion. Any fragrances will impact the color and evenness of the tan. Another equally important factor is that all competitors have to be completely hairless, as in no body hair whatsoever. If there is even a little bit of peach fuzz or stubble, it will show once your tan goes on and you will actually look really hairy. If you decide to shave you have to do it 8 hours before the tan goes on, but if you happen to regularly shave your legs, for example, you’ll be able to see when the hair starts growing back in the next day. So shaving usually isn’t the best option for areas that you shave regularly. Hair removal creams are a good option, but they can only be done the day before the spraytan and thus you run the risk of having a skin reaction to the cream, which will in turn mess up the tan altogether and hitting the stage might not even be possible. If you do go this way, try the cream on your entire body several months in advance just to be on the safe side. Then there’s waxing, the dreaded pain of having hot wax poured on your body in order to rip the hair right off. This was the option that I chose. It worked very well, but it was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my life, and this is coming from someone who had salmonella, and fractured their skull last year and also had a lumbar puncture done a few years back after an epileptic seizure (to check for meningitis). Those were nothing compared waxing. Yup, I did it all: Brazilian, legs, arms and underarms. It hurt so bad, there are no words. With each strip that was ripped came a whole slew of expletives running through my mind as I held on to the table for dear life. At one point I broke out into a sweat and saw stars. The worst part was when the hairs were too fine or short, the aesthetician would use a pair of sharp tweezers to get the hair out, one by one. This could seriously be used as a torture tactic that would guarantee everybody singing like a bunch of canaries. That being said, if you choose this torturous option, it needs to be done one week in advance of the tan to allow your skin to heal.

The tan will typically be sprayed on the day before you hit the stage and so that morning you need to exfoliate one last time, but with a concoction of dish washing soap and baking soda, but forgo the post shower moisturizer. Another fun fact to keep in mind is that 3 days before the tan goes on, you have to stop wearing deodorant. Yup, that’s right. Why? because the ingredients in deodorant will turn your armpits green with the spraytan, so unless you want moldy looking armpits, you’ll just have to deal with the fact that you’re gonna have a wee bit of BO for a few days. The only thing you can do is wash thoroughly and wipe down your pits throughout the day.

Then comes the actual spraying on of the tan. Here’s what goes down. The provider for the show will usually have a space closed off for the actual spraying and  for good reason. The men and ladies will have completely separate areas where they will be sprayed. The entire room will be covered in plastic and there are small makeshift “huts” for each athlete to stand in; this provides zero privacy and it is completely open in the front where the aesthetician will stand to spray you. And yes, you will be sprayed completely in the buff along with ten other competitors standing adjacent to you. So yeah, pretty any modesty or attempt to cover yourself up will not work, it’s really just a bunch of very fit naked people standing around being sprayed. The actual device used kind of looks like that paint gun thing used when you want to paint your house and the spray is SUPER cold. You will be told to stand in slightly awkward positions so that the tan goes on even and you will be sprayed EVERYWHERE, except the face. Once the first coat goes on you stand in front of a fan to dry you off and then you get sprayed a second time, followed by the fan again. After that, you have to wear light and breathable clothing (usually sweatpants and a zip up hoodie are good) and you can’t where any underwear or bras, that’s right, everybody goes commando. On top of that, you have to be very careful not to touch much of anything because the tan will come off and smudge, leaving you looking splotchy. What does that entail? You can’t sit down on the toilet (this is what I was talking about earlier when I said TMI). You absolutely have to pee through a cup and do it very slowly so it doesn’t spray everywhere and leave weird dots on your body, thus messing up your tan.

On show day, backstage the spraytan company has a set up for retouches. It’s the same idea except you get additional coats done while wearing your posing suit, then a glaze goes on (up close you look shiny, but from the judges and audience, you’re good), then you’re suite has to be glued onto your body. It’s not as bad as it sounds; it’s really just a roll on light glue that prevents the suite from moving as you go from one pose to the next. And you can peel the suite right off and no it does not hurt.

In terms of hair and makeup, well let’s just say that the makeup is super thick, heavy and dark (to match the tan) and the hair is big. Again, up close you kind of resemble a drag queen, but from the audience you look amazing.

Backstage is mayhem as there are athletes everywhere along with their coaches and bags of stuff including meals, weights or bands to get a pump before going onstage. It’s crowded, people are anxious and nervous and usually trying to do some last minute posing practice before go-time. But I must say that it’s awesome and exhilarating at the same time.

By the end of the competition I was sticky from the FIVE coats of tan plus TWO coats of glaze, feeling pretty thirsty from the water manipulation and really tired. Show day for me was 12 hours of intensity not to mention the day before which was also long from the registration, spraytan and athletes meeting, but all in all it was so fun and great. I can honestly say that it’s a really fun and interesting environment and culture to be a part of and I’m so glad to have fully immersed myself in it and look forward to do that again in just 10 weeks.

There’s a lot that goes into competitive bodybuilding, in fact it may seem to a lot of people that it’s not worth it or there’s really no point. I feel that above all else, it teaches you how to work hard, stay focused and love yourself. You really have to put yourself first; your health, your rest and your mindset. A coach told me not to look at the other athletes when I’m onstage and that the judges take care of the comparison so that we don’t have. “Make it about you”, she said. Wise words. So that’s what I did; I focused on presenting my best and giving my all while onstage and it was awesome. The entire experience was so positive because of that and since then I’ve gained a far more healthy outlook on fitness and nutrition than I have ever had before.

Start It, Finish It

Contest Prep, Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness

The Post-Contest Blues

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There is a term that competitive bodybuilders are all too familiar with and as the title of this article so clearly states, it’s called the post contest blues. Although I swore that I would never allow myself to feel down in the dumps after competing, it still has managed to creep up.

I must say that I thrilled with the results of competing and of the entire prep in general. Even though as you may have read in my previous post that there were quite a few hiccups on show day, I still felt great. I did everything right in that I focused only on myself and presenting my best, instead of thinking solely about winning and beating the other ladies onstage. It was my first competition after all, so I decided to take the pressure off, just enjoy the day and hopefully not let the nerves get the best of me. It was so much fun getting glamed up and finally going through each pose during pre-judging and finals. I’m so proud to have gotten not only first callouts, but also placing 5th in my first show! Every competitor looked amazing and there over 80 competitors in the Bikini Division alone, so needless to say I relished in my accomplishment.

However, as soon as finals was over and I headed backstage to throw on my sweatpants and gather my belongings, I couldn’t help but feel a slight pang of sadness. At that point, most of the competitors had left (as Bikini always goes last) and so what had been an area filled with excited athletes and their coaches was now quiet and empty. It was all over; the prep, the training, the makeup and spraytan retouches, the last minute posing practice, my very first show was done. That sadness only lasted for a moment though as all of a sudden I realized that all that intense work that I had put into my training would be (for a little while) over and that I could take a much needed break from working out and having a regimented meal plan everyday. This was going to be great! I had big plans for the following week: I was going to sleep in, lazy around my home in my pajamas all day, make myself a hot cup of coffee with almond milk (which I had to cut out for the final 6 weeks of my prep) and eat only when I felt hungry as opposed to nutrient timing. Suddenly, I felt excited again about the possibilities and much deserved break that were ahead of me.

Unfortunately it was very short lived. I woke up the following morning really early, so sleeping in was out of the question. The coffee and almond milk certainly helped as did my nice and hearty breakfast along with my comfy pajamas. It felt odd though being at home, not having to go to the gym or do my usual fasted cardio; instead of feeling rested I actually felt unproductive. What was worse was the fact that I no longer had a nutritional plan to follow, so my mind keep wandering all day to what my next meal should be, how big, how many of each macro and so on. Then the cravings started, not legit cravings or hunger, just stupid cravings that my mind was trying to convince my body that it absolutely had to have. It took a lot of willpower for me not to stuff myself with chocolate and peanut butter, but I was hanging in there and I knew better. Even though at that point I had already decided to compete again in just over 5 months time, I no longer had a clear vision of stepping onstage and of my next prep, so the crazy cravings were non-stop and my discipline was being tested.

My coach like many others had mentioned to me that it is perfectly normal to gain some weight back in the days and weeks that follow a competition, but that it was crucial to not binge or overdo it as I could end up rebounding too fast and ultimately pack on excess bodyfat (which is super unhealthy) that will be very hard to lose the second time around. One judge from the show had said that she had worked with athletes who gained 10, 20 and even 30 pounds within a week! That sort of thing not only messed with your physique, but also with your self-esteem and body image, as I’m sure you can imagine. So I powered through and stayed strong, but it was far more challenging than it had ever felt during my 8 months of training.

Thankfully my coach sent over my recovery plans including workouts and nutrition for the next month and all was right again in my world. Initially I had planned to take almost an entire week off from working out, but I only lasted 2 days. I followed my coach’s advice and started hitting gym for my usual two-a-day workouts (including fasted cardio), but my new workouts are much shorter and less intense than before (30-45 minutes of weightlifting instead of 60 to 90 minutes). The focus now is more on gaining muscle and lifting heavier without packing on too much bodyfat in the process. So far, so good.

I do feel a bit bloated on some days and I certainly notice that my six pack of abs are less prominent than on showday, but thanks to my calorie increase and restored glycogen levels I am happy to say that I look redonk! When I hit the weight room and lift in front of the mirror it surprises me every time to see how fit I am and how shredded I look. Each day I make it a point to take some time out to appreciate what I accomplished and how far I’ve come. All that hard work definitely paid off and the best part was that the entire process didn’t have me going to any extreme where I felt deprived  in any way (except for the water depletion, but even then I was so excited on showday that I didn’t even notice).

I’m sure that the recent weather changes, gray sky and (gulp!) snowfall really haven’t helped in my quest to stay positive (seasonal affective disorder anyone?), but it’s all part of the process. Staying on track and maintaining the good habits that I developed is what matters most during this break from prep. The next show will definitely be tougher as will my next prep; it won’t be novice athletes only, but instead will include some seasoned competitors with far more developed physiques. I’ve got my work cut out for me, but for now, before the intense training starts up again, I get to bask in meals filled with extra carbohydrates!

Start It, Finish It