Contest Prep, Fitness

The illusion of bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is all about creating the illusion of the perfect physique. In reality, there is no such thing as the perfect body, but bodybuilding as a sport allows its athletes to strive for it as closely as possible. Everything is geared towards this from nutrition, exercise, sleep, hydration, supplementation and so on. Bodybuilding is a 24/7 endeavour that, when done properly, will produce that coveted dream body that most of us wish we had year round.

With the Bikini category, the illusion that we are trying to create is one of broad shoulders, small waist, developed glutes, a nice s-curve in the body without a lot of mass or muscle striations. Judges want to see someone lean with lots or definition minus the bulk of traditional bodybuilders. What most athletes will notice as they go through a prep, is that their natural body shape and genetics may not allow for this to happen, so they have to tweak their training to give the illusion of this look. A prime example is for an athlete who doesn’t have a small waist, but  that can build muscle really well to instead focus on building up the glutes and shoulders to create more curve that way, and give the appearance of a small waist by keeping everything in good proportion. For someone like me who is a hard-gainer (gaining muscle is very difficult), I instead would focus on leaning out without losing muscle by doing steady-state cardio for only 20-30 minutes instead of interval training like most athletes will do.

It’s not just exercise either. Nutrition is an exact science when it comes to competing and photoshoots. We tweak our diets every couple of weeks to make constant progress by gradually reducing calories and for many, cutting down carbs and fats. Usually the last phase of contest prep is the toughest where it’s all protein and almost no starchy veg or grains, and very little if any added fat. This is what gets us super lean. It’s what has to be done in order to look the way that we do. The goal with leaning out is to see as much muscle definition as possible and the less body fat you have, the more visible the definition will be. When I say super lean, I mean 8-10% body fat for the ladies and 2-5% for the guys. Just as an FYI, ladies are considered healthy at around 20% body fat and men around 15%. Yes, it’s that low and no it’s not something that can be maintained long term without hitting some serious health risks.

This is what 8% bodyfat and 50% muscle mass looks like:

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In the weeks leading up to the contest we chug water like crazies (about 2 gallons per day), drop the salt intake and start in on the diuretics in order to get as efficient at shedding water as possible. Then about 2 days out water starts being trappered off. This prevents any potential for bloating to once again be able to show as much muscle definition as possible.

Pre-spraytan vs post-spraytan

One thing that most may not take into consideration is posing. Posing will ultimately make or break you. You can hide almost any disproportionate, unsymmetrical or underdeveloped area with the right posing. In back pose, for example, you position yourself to slightly flex (but not squeeze) the glutes in order to make cellulite magically disappear and if your waist isn’t super small, but your back is developed then you can flair out your lats to make it look like you do. The smallest adjustments can have a huge impact. Posing is super technical, we are twisting and tightening certain areas to look a very specific way and show off our best assets. Another example is in front pose where you’re feet are shoulder width apart, toes forward, but you turn your upper body completely to one side and then have to turn your shoulders forward to give your body a lean and curvy look.

 

Then there’s everything else like the spraytan, posing suit, hair and makeup. The spraytan is mandatory FYI, and although up close we look super weird, on stage it’s all good. Without the tan the bright lights will just wash us out and no matter how shredded you are the definition will not show without it. The suit and hair and makeup are all to give us a glamourous look. Up close we look over the top, but on stage it’s a nice and well put together.

Pre-makeup vs post-makeup

 

As I’m sure you can tell by now, everything really is an illusion here. So the next time you find yourself wishing you had rock-hard abs and a cellulite-free tush, just remember the amount of work that goes into it and that your bodyfat has to get super low, but your muscle mass needs to go up (otherwise you’ll just look skinnyfat and puny). I must admit that there really is nothing quite like looking in the mirror and loving how your physique looks, or the way it feels when you place your hands on your belly and feel abs. But I honestly only appreciate it because I know the work that I’ve put into it. It’s not the endgame that matters but the road to it that really allows you to reap what you sow.

 

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Nutrition

The multiple meal myth

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For years it’s been advocated that eating small meals every 2-3 hours is the best way to boost your metabolism and lose weight. These days more and more fitness and nutrition experts are coming forward and saying that this is a total myth and has zero truth behind it. Yet still, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts continue to live by this nutritional regiment believing that it really is the best option. So what’s really the truth here?

First off, let’s look at how this meal-timing concept first got started. The idea behind eating 6-7 meals each day came about with bodybuilders and elite athletes needed to hit a certain amount of total calories and macros (protein, carbs and fat) in a 24 hour period, in order to build muscle and improve performance. Athletes in general have to eat a lot of food and bodybuilders in particular have to hit their numbers or they’ll never be able to gain mass and lose body fat. The body can only absorb so many nutrients at one time, whatever it can’t take in in terms of vitamins and minerals is usually excreted through your pee and for your macros, it’ll be absorbed as body fat. A prime example is with protein. Usually you can absorb 30-50 grams of protein in one meal. So for a bodybuilder needing to take in well over 1oo grams of protein per day, getting that and absorbing that in three meals only, just isn’t going to work. So instead, we take our daily calorie and macro goals, separate it into many smaller meals instead and eat at 2-3 hour intervals. The whole metabolism thing is really not substantiated just yet, so stay tuned…

Since I decided to start competing in 2016, I’ve been eating about 7 meals every day, usually around the 2 hour mark. I’ve always liked it and have found that my body responds very well to it, mostly because my meals end up being very balanced and my nutrient timing is on point. It definitely makes it a lot easier to handle a diet when you know at the end of a meal, there’s gonna be another one right around the corner in only 2 hours. Those last few weeks of contest prep can be really intense, so this definitely alleviates some of the strain.

It can be a challenge to eat this much and this often at first. I know so many people who just can’t wrap their minds around the shear volume of food that they need to be having daily. The majority of people that I work with at some point or another just don’t buy it when I show them their meal plan; they always think it’s too much food and there is no way they will reach their goals by eating this much. But it works, time and again, not only for them but for myself as well. Plus, it’s really nice to be able to eat a lot. Obviously I’m not talking junky-type food here, I’m talking nutrient dense food and plenty of it.

For some, eating every couple of hours just isn’t possible either because of the timing, obligations with family or their jobs, etc. But there’s nothing stopping you from trying out 3 larger meals and maybe one really substantial snack. If that’s what works best for your schedule then go for it. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to eat for your goals and get lots of nutrition in on a daily basis.

There you have it, the real reason behind this multiple mini-meal concept. Although you will no doubt be hearing lots of people coming forward to dispel this concept, it can still be very valuable to you and help you make great progress. However you may choose to eat your meals, focus always on nutrient value first and take it from there.

Nutrition

Eat with a purpose

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Here’s the truth : most of us want to change something about our bodies. We’re either looking to lose weight, get in shape, build muscle or squeeze into that little black dress, we all want some kind of improvement. The road towards that end goal is not without its struggles and since the way we eat is what really dictates the way we look, it’s no wonder most people are usually on a diet or planning on going on one come Monday morning.
We’ve all heard it before: food is fuel, focus on health, nourish yourself…and I’ve advocated all of this time and again, but it’s not enough to actually make those changes happen. If that was all it took to change your mindset around food, then you’d already be rocking the bod of your dreams.

The real way to change gears is to eat with a purpose. A prime example is in contest prep where everything you do it geared toward getting stage ready and diet-wise that means meal and nutrient timing and making the smallest tweaks (like adding salt or increasing carbs) to see dramatic changes in one’s physique. This can be applied to the everyday regardless of your goal and it will allow you to view food from a more object standpoint. This sort of shift is huge and with time you’ll be able to move past any cravings or temptations without a second thought.
The first step towards eating with a purpose is to gain a better understanding of nutrition in terms of macros (carbs, protein and fat). None of these is the devil, in fact all three offer value towards your physique goals. Carbs provide you with fiber and glycogen so you can build muscle and repair damage to the muscles fibers that you get from working out allowing you to build lean and firm curves. Protein provides amino acids that help you build muscle and feel nice and full. Fat helps your body absorb fat-soluble micronutrients and provide omega-3 fatty acids needed for basic bodily functions, plus it helps to give you that nice feeling of satiety. Getting a good idea of how these three elements affect your body will help you to look at a meal and understand how it will benefit you. The more knowledge you have, the easier it will be to make wiser choices.
Step two is to start planning your meals based on your goals. For fat loss, obviously you`ll want to be in a calorie deficit, but you don`t necessarily need to take out an entire macro altogether to see changes; like going low-carb for example. Focus on a good source of carbs mostly before and after workouts, and eat lots of veg and protein for the rest of the day with a little bit of added fat here and there. For getting that nice in shape look you’ll need to focus on eating to build muscle without adding body fat, that means being in a calorie surplus with a big focus on carbs and protein and not too much added fat.
Step three involves treat meals and refeeds. A lot of people do a once weekly treat meal, but that can lead to a binge so proceed with caution. If you do decide to partake, then consider saving that meal for either the end of the week or a special occasion like a family gathering or girls night out. Refeeds are also a good option here too, as you go super high carb, moderate protein and super low fat (no added fats) for one meal although some athletes do a full day. This can vary from person to person in terms of its effectiveness, but I find for myself that refeeds work way better that treat meals. The day after a treat meal I usually get indigestion and some bloating, but with refeeds everything looks nice and full with lots of muscle definition and leanness. Again, the choice is yours, but start taking into consideration how these two options will help you move forward.
The final step is to start implementing these strategies one by one and slowly ease yourself in to a more objective way of eating. If this seems a little intense at first then just start with one meal and move on from there until it becomes second nature. Those who treat their diet and lifestyle this way are far more likely to not only achieve their body goals, but also maintain them over the long haul and isn’t that the real goal here?

 
All of this doesn’t mean that you’ll be spending your time overthinking every piece of food that goes into your body, instead you’ll just be gaining more awareness. I first started eating with a purpose during my first prep and in the beginning it was a lot of measuring and weighing food along with lots of research on the nutritional value in the food I was eating too. This was really just because I was super interested in learning as much as I could about this, and look where it got me. You may want to take a different approach, so to each his own. Seriously though, give these steps a try, they can not only help you gain healthy habits, but they can lead you to long term diet freedom for good!

Nutrition, Wellness

Losing Steam & Overeating

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I am seriously running out of steam. Since competing in the Provincial Championships in June, I have had a rough time staying on track with nutrition. Although I know that consistency is key, part of me wants to take an extra week off from working out and sneak in some extra treats. My first off-season is proving to be much rougher than I thought.

Today while sitting at my desk at work I got hit with a hankering for something sweet and fatty with a chocolate/nut flavour; no cake, no cookies, just chocolate and nuts. I knew very well that my mind was trying to comfort myself with food (it’s been a stressful work week), but no matter how much willpower and knowledge I have, the need to self-soothe outweighed my logic. I stood in the health-food section at the grocery store by my office with 4 different treats (cashew-coconut bites, almond butter granola bars, chocolate covered peanuts and a chocolate protein bar) in my hand, seriously contemplating getting all of them. These seemingly “healthy” and “natural” items might appear to be a good alternative to conventional snacks, but they are loaded sugar (even naturally occurring like in dates or raisins, or natural sweeteners like brown rice syrup and agave) and fat from nuts. In small portions these are super beneficial, but as with everything else, it can easily morph into too much of a good thing that can lead to gaining body fat, indigestion and bloating. So as I stood there imaging eating these delicious snacks with a hot cup of coffee at my desk, I made the conscious decision to choose just one and to enjoy every bite of it. No guilt, no binge eating, just enjoyment. I chose the protein bar because I knew that it was the most balanced item that would satisfy my craving without leaving me with this heavy feeling in my belly. 15g protein, 8g fat, 26g carbs (9g from sugar – brown rice syrup). Now you might be thinking “What’s the big deal?” and “What’s so bad about that?”. Well the reality is that as a bodybuilder whose diet comprises of whole foods, with lots of fiber and no sweeteners, and who is very regimented with meals and nutrition, that bar is not in line with my diet. Will I gain body fat from that bar? No, but the psychological impact of that additional off-plan snack is enough to send anyone into a tailspin. That’s the reality of bodybuilding and the reality of being lean and muscular with lots of definition all the time; you can get a nutritional burnout. In my case, this burnout has impacted my psychological well-being and I think this is where a lot of bodybuilders can get into the space of disordered eating patterns. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from athletes, many of whom are recently retired, confessing that they developed some pretty nasty habits whether in contest prep or not and felt super guilty about eating foods that weren’t “perfect” or whole.

A lot of fitness and diet gurus would tell you that everything in moderation is key. They might say to eat slower and put your fork down in between bites. They might say do something healthy like drink a glass of water or go for a walk to try to distract yourself. I have tried all of those concepts and they are a big load of crap that just don’t work for me or for most people either. It’s like telling a heavy drinker to put their glass of scotch down in between sips or to only have half of a beer; it’s not going to work. Most people can’t handle just one cookie or a few fries. If you’ve ever had a problem overeating or binging or overdoing it on your weekly treat meal and turning it into an entire day instead (as I have and still do), then those concepts of moderation just won’t do.

Not all hope is lost though. The way that I see it is that these slip ups are not as intense as they used to be and since I am far more advanced in my training, my body handles it a lot better than it would have even just a year ago. After a few days of working out and eating nourishing foods, the bloat goes away and the definition finds its way back. It’s not about looking a certain way, and a definitely don’t have any distorted view of how my body looks, in fact it’s actually the opposite. The way that I feel physically sometimes doesn’t line up with how I actually look. I’m always amazed with my leanness and definition, but I don’t always feel it. Many times after a treat meal or an extra little something, I get that heavy bloaty feeling, but when I look in the mirror I’m still pretty close to stage ready, which is the goal of every bodybuilder even in off-season.

What I’ve come to realize is that unless I am in a contest prep my willpower is not enough on its own. Contest prep creates such clarity for my goal that nothing tempts me and slip ups just don’t happen. I’ve always been able to get super focused and completely block out even the thought of going off-plan. I’m not bragging here at all; it actually amazes me that this is the case. I know that it’s because the goal is so clear and the structure and path is laid out in front of me by my coach so there’s no guesswork, I have all of the answers already so I don’t even think about it. Since this is my first time in about a year and a half of not being in a prep, this is foreign territory for me, and old/unhealthy habits are popping up again.

My post-contest recovery phase from my coach included 2 weekly off-plan treat meals and at first I was excited, but then I realized that it was hard to control myself with that second meal; it always snowballed into an entire day. I never felt physically good after, who does after overeating? But in the last couple of weeks I’ve come to see that it is helpful and gives me a bit of leeway if my husband and I decide to order in Chinese food or if I decide to partake in my office’s weekly Friday brunch or for when I have my monthly book club meet-up. Letting go of guilt is helping to alleviate the potential of the “ah screw it” moments that we all go through when we decide to plow through a bag of chips or bucket of pasta.

The best thing that works for me time and again is to mix up my meals throughout the week. As much as I love meal prepping and appreciate that it simplifies my life, I also know that eating the same thing every single day gets boring. Even if you love these meals and flavours, it gets old really fast. So my goal going forward is to change up at least one thing I eat each day. That doesn’t mean entirely new meals each day because that would be super time consuming, but more so along the lines of swapping sources of macros to keep it interesting. Instead of white rice, I’ll opt for baked potato or rice pasta with tomato sauce. Instead of oats, I’ll try sweet potato fries or sprouted grain toast. Instead of grilled tofu, I’ll go for tempeh meatloaf or a veggie burger patty. And every few days I’ll swap my rice and beans for sweet potato – black bean brownies or chickpea-oat flour muffins. These simple swaps are super easy to prep in advance and massively impact how I feel; it’s a healthy alternative treat to keep me feeling good without feeling deprived or restricted. I think that’s the key when trying to be healthy, you have to find what you can do for the rest of your life without feeling restricted.

I’m certainly not perfect and I’m still dealing with trying to find the right healthy mix for me, as I think most of us are, but I’m definitely getting closer and making progress each day. Each of us is completely different, so this might not work for you. You might be better off including a small treat each day (like a couple squares of dark chocolate or a small bowl of Pop Chips) or maybe you just can’t handle any treat meals at all without overdoing it each time, that’s ok too. Just pay attention to what you need and what comes naturally with ease to you. It might take some time and tweaking to figure it out (as it has with me), but once you get there and gain that self-awareness, you’ll never fear overeating again.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

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