Contest Prep, Wellness

Peak Week Pain Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Strong, Finish Strong

 

Contest Prep, Nutrition

Dirty Cheat vs Refeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Strong, Finish Strong

 

Contest Prep, Nutrition

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, Nutrition, Recipes

The Final Cut

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Fat loss and dieting down can be a huge challenge for anybody. With only 9 days left until show day, I am down to the wire and getting to the last phase of losing whatever last bit of body fat I can before I hit the stage. Here I’ll share what a full day of meals looks like for me and a few last minute tricks that help my body get lean while staying strong.

Meal 1

My first meal of the day also serves as my post-fasted cardio meal and it’s high protein, low carb with a little bit of added fat.

What you see above is 3 oz of tempeh, 1 cup baby spinach with 1 TB of coconut oil, plus 1 scoop of brown rice protein powder. Tempeh (fermented soy beans) serves as a great source of protein as it contains probiotics and fiber. The brown rice powder is also ideal as it’s easy to digest and has the same amino acid profile as a whole egg. I choose spinach as my veggie for this meal as it contains lots of fiber and iron (*I always drizzle some lemon juice with this to increase my body’s ability to absorb the iron). Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides which are (again) easy to digest, go directly to the liver and are ultimately used by the body as fuel instead of being stored as body fat.

Meal 2

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This meal is composed of 4 oz of extra firm tofu and 1 cup of veg. In this case I opt for mixed greens drizzled with lemon juice and top the sautéed tofu with yellow mustard for added flavour.

Meal 3

This serves as my pre-weight training meal and is 1 of 2 meals that I am able to lightly salt and have a small serving of starch. For this one I take in another scoop of brown rice protein, 2 oz of steamed sweet potato and 1 cup of the dreaded steamed asparagus. The tiny amount of added carbs for this meal is an absolute must for me to be able to crush my workout every day and the asparagus is a great natural diuretic that serves as a staple for every bodybuilder. I usually will combine the powder with mashed sweet potato and cinnamon to create a sweet tasting protein pudding mix that goes nicely with my pre-workout strong-ass cup of coffee; for an added boost.

Meal 4

My post-workout meal contains yet another cup of the dreaded asparagus, lightly salted, along with another 2 oz of sweet potato and 4 oz of tofu. I’ve become very creative with this meal in particular as I started to notice that I was always wanting something sweet post-workout. So I blend the tofu and sweet potato together and add a bit of stevia, cinnamon and water to create a my contest prep friendly cheesecake. It may sound odd but it’s amazing. It satisfies my sweet tooth, keeps cravings to a minimum, while allowing me to maximize my recovery with solid nutrition.

Meal 5

I don’t really enjoy this meal to be honest. No matter how I try to tinker with the flavor profile or method of cooking, it’s just boring and pretty bland to be honest. I eat 4 oz of tempeh with 2 cups of veg; usually either spinach or mixed greens. I season with lemon juice (also a diuretic) and hot sauce (great for fat burning and jacking up the metabolism as it contains capsaicin). Like I said though, it’s not that great but at least it’s filling.

Meal 6

This one I love! I take one scoop of a plant based blend of protein powder with another scoop of brown rice powder and combine with water to create a pudding. Then I add 1 tsp of melted coconut oil and stir to combine. It’s soooooo good. I love it so much. There’s something really wonderful about sitting in my jammies in front of the tv before bed, watching a sitcom while eating a creamy and sweet late night snack. The protein combined with the coconut oil makes for a slow digesting meal that is ideal for my body to digest overnight while getting a good night’s sleep.

So that’s that. Six meals each day, spaced every 2-3 hours apart to deliver constant fuel and nourishment. In terms of my water consumption, thankfully I’m only having 4 litres a day, as opposed to the 6 litres I was having in my last prep. My supplements haven’t changed except that I’ve added a fat burner in the last few weeks to help ease my body into continuous fat loss, but as I’ve mentioned before, it’s short term use only. You may have also noticed that I’ve cut out the cruciferous veg at this point and it’s for a good reason. Things like brocoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts tend to cause bloating, so instead I stick with the non-bloaty stuff like mixed greens, spinach and stupid asparagus.

After 4 months of prep and training, I’m down to the last 9 days. I’m so excited to get back on stage again! Next up is peak week which means lots of posing practice, water manipulation and carb-loading. Some find peak week to be the toughest part, but I see it as the final chapter before the fun part.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Contest Prep

The Home Stretch

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There are only 16 days left in my contest prep, that’s right, just over two weeks until I hit the stage again. Which means that I’m in that final phase of dieting down and trying to take off any remaining body fat while maintaining as much muscle as possible. Both carbs and fat are drastically reduced, while protein intake is massively jacked up. What does this all add up to? A very drained and exhausted individual.

I started my final fat loss phase a few weeks ago and I can honestly say that it hasn’t been easy. Not only am I doing 5 days of weightlifting (thankfully not too heavy and not lasting longer than 1 hour), but I am also still doing fasted cardio 6 days each week. On top of that comes posing practice, which is so tiring. With posing I have been aiming for 15 minutes of practice each day for the past three weeks which might not sound like much, but imagine trying to hold certain position, while contracting and pulling in your muscles without letting go or squeezing and wearing 5 inch heels at the time…it’s not easy at all. As of next week though that will increase to one full hour of posing each day.

Nutrition-wise, all I can say is that it’s working very well and I don’t feel hungry or have any cravings, but I’m am definitely feeling the effects of this diet. Like I mentioned I am tired all the time. My pre-workout stack definitely helps to give me a boost so that when it’s time for cardio or weights, I’m good to go, but within minutes of finishing up my energy tanks massively. Outside of the gym I basically want to lie down and sleep all the time. I’m even feeling it with my mood; the amount of angry journaling that I have been doing these past few weeks has been like nothing I’ve ever written before. The tiniest thing annoy me or things that I wouldn’t really care about bother the hell out of me. It’s very frustrating.

Thankfully though I have the support of a great coach and last week when I sent her my weekly progress pics, I made sure to tell her exactly what was going on and how I was feeling. Her immediate response was that she could she the misery in my face in the pics (see below), but that my energy and mood are an indication that my current plans are leading me to the fast track of overtraining. This is a big no-no with contest prep as it leads to hormone fluctuations which ultimately halt progress and impact how I look and feel on show day. This is why so many potential competitors with the best intentions don’t end up completing their prep or binge eat or don’t respond well to their final diet. They come up onstage looking flat or bloated without any good definition, they feel terrible onstage and some don’t even make it there altogether.

In my case, all that rage and exhaustion can also indicate elevated testosterone which is perfectly normal for this phase especially once a woman’s body fat percentage drops below 15%. However, it can also mean that I may peak too early and not be able to maintain the physique or respond to the pre-show carb-load. Again, this is why some athletes come out looking deflated onstage. So my coach and I have made some tweaks to make sure that I’m okay to get through the next 16 days in one peace without punching people in the face on a daily basis. My diet initially had no added fat, so that’s changed now and we’ve added coconut oil to my first and last meals of the day. It’s glorious, every bite tastes so much better now! My coach also sent me some great motivational videos to psych myself up before each workout and told me that when my mood starts to get intense, to direct it all towards her with angry emails. Yes, she told me that it’s totally fine for me to do this because she gets it, she’s been there and she knows exactly what it feels like.

On my part, if I feel tired I will just take a nap; sleep is my best friend. I’m also going to be starting off each morning with a few minutes of quiet meditation to get centered and indulge in hot bubble baths every few days to take the edge off. That’s the absolute best that I can do for myself to make sure that I feel good about what I’m doing and why I have chosen to compete. I love bodybuilding, I love this lifestyle. The last leg of the journey is always the hardest, but I’m so close that I can see it and feel it everyday. Two weeks out, that’s all that’s left and I know that it’ll fly by so fast. I can’t wait to be onstage again and get to experience the culture and community of competing again. Being in that environment and focusing on presenting my best, as opposed to just beating the person next to me, is what really matters and soon enough I’ll be up there again rocking it onstage!

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

Uncategorized

Under the weather

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Being sick SUCKS! Not only do you feel terrible, but you’re pale with an irritated looking nose that would give Rudolph a run for his money. What’s more is that you’re not sleeping well because you’re a super congested mouth-breather with all kinds of weird sounds emanating from your body. It’s awful and it’s what I’ve been dealing with only 13 weeks out from competing again.

I didn’t get sick once during my first prep, in fact I didn’t get a single physical ailment during that entire 8 month process, even when those closest to me were sniffling, coughing and who knows what else. This time though, no such luck. Maybe it’s just me, but I always find that anytime I make a resolve or decide to take on something new I get hit with some sort of massive roadblock. Now the hippies out there might say that the universe is just testing me and how much I truly want to achieve this, but I think it’s all just crap! As my father used to say “Shit happens”, he also used to say that he wants a house in Florida anytime I would complain and say “I want (fill in the blank)”, but I digress. This is the reality and whether we like it or not, at some point every single one of us will be side tracked in our health, fitness or weight loss goals by a massive cold or flu.

It is incredibly challenging to stay on track when you’re not 100%. The really bad part about being sick is the lethargic, weak feeling you get from your body trying to fight it. All of your usual good energy is completely focused on getting you better, making hitting the gym seem like an impossible task.

So what do you do?

The average cold lasts around 3 to 5 days, but if you’re not getting enough rest and allowing your body to recover, it’ll take even longer. So your number one priority here needs to be getting lots of rest. Stay home, lie down and stretch out in your jammies for a while. Go to bed earlier than usual and get some sleep. I had one night where I went to bed at 10pm and woke up 9:30am only because my husband came in to check on me; I was  in a deep sleep the entire time, we’re talking almost 12 hours of shuteye! That’s what I needed so that’s what I allowed myself to do. As hard as it is for me to sit still and not be taking care of something around the house, I put off my usual chores and set aside my to do list in order to get better. If you struggle with this as much as I do and get anxious by just sitting in front of the tv for a few minutes without doing something “productive” then just remind yourself that it’s only temporary and in a few days you’ll be back to your busy self.

The biggest question many fitness and health enthusiasts have is: should you continue your workouts? Taking a unscheduled rest day can be the way to go as you’ll get the extra rest for your body, but some have said that they actually feel better after a workout. So it’s a tough call, but ultimately it comes down to your choice. If you’re really weak and can barely walk from the couch to the kitchen (been there!) then take an extra rest day. If you’re still able to function normally and walk around without getting winded, then try to stick with your workout routine, but don’t expect to be able to lift as heavy as when you’re 100%. Now in my case I decided to omit my usual cardio because I was too congested and knew that I just didn’t have the lung capacity to run the stairs as per usual. I did however manage to get my weight training in each day, but I lowered the weight for pretty much every exercise so that I was still getting in a challenging workout without risking injury or overdoing it. After each gym session I felt good, but that would only last for about an hour before I would start to feel tired and rundown. Ultimately though go with what you feel comfortable with, but make sure that you’re being honest with yourself and not using the sniffles as an excuse to forgo physical activity and become a total couch potato.

Nutrition is also a really tough call to make. Some people don’t eat when they’re sick (not me at all!) while others will go for comfort foods instead, which may not be nutritionally sound for you either. The food that you eat is the one thing that is always in your control; you are the one feeding yourself and nourishing yourself or lack there of so try your best to make the right choices during these few sick days. A few days off of your regiment can be enough to cause fat gain and muscle deterioration; it really doesn’t take much to throw you off. Focus eating nutrient dense foods such as produce and lean proteins. I took the usual structure of almost each meal and would turn it into something hearty and comforting like soup. What would usually be rice and beans with sautéed veg became a chunky bean soup in a vegetable broth. Protein shakes with a side of fruit were now blended into a fruit smoothie with added antioxidants like ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. And my typical pre-workout donuts became a steaming hot bowl of oatmeal. Although what I really wanted was Ezekiel bread with some Earth Balance, I still managed to keep my diet on track and so can you. Don’t fall prey to the prepackaged canned or frozen meals, but instead eat well so that your body will have all that it needs to get better.

Another important factor to take into consideration is supplementation. You might be thinking that extra vitamin C is the way to go, but it actually only helps at preventing colds and has no impact on how your body can fight a cold, so don’t bother taking any extra if you’re already fighting something. A couple of good options are adding a few extra scoops of BCAAs throughout the day as this helps with muscle protein synthesis and preventing muscle loss if you’re not getting enough nutrition to support your body. Glutamine is also a great option as this non-essential amino acid helps support the body’s natural recovery process.

As I write this I’m on my couch wrapped up in my bathrobe binge watching Seinfeld. It’s hard when you’re used to being on the go all the time, but it’s also an opportunity to slow down for a little while too. Take a hot bath, drink lots of water and herbal teas in order to soothe yourself back to recovery. Hang in there and 3 to 5 days you’ll be back on track and raring to go!

Start It, Finish It