Competing is something I truly love. For me, it is a journey and constant growing process both physically and mentally. However brilliant an action may be, it should not be accounted great when it is not the result of a great purpose. Find your purpose in the sport! What do you want out of it? There are two things to aim at in life; first to get what you want, and after that to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind has achieved the second!! You are on stage for a few seconds and then it is OVER. Compete for the purpose of it and journey it will give you!
Prep is about 12 weeks long. Some girls may take longer or shorter periods but my coach thought 12 is a great prep stretch. It requires a hard training régime and incorporated a very strict diet. Reaching my ideal “Stage” physique is not realistic for everyday life. Actually, the stage look of my 9-10% body fat is not healthy for my body or for anyone to maintain. Especially with my body constantly fighting melanoma. Most competitors aim for about 10-14 percent. If I am not competing I aim for about 15-17% in case I need to do a shoot I still have ample time to take a few weeks to lean out a bit more depending on my goals.
I wanted to hash some of this information out for you so you can get an idea of what exactly this is all about and understand the good and bad side of the glitz and glamour of bikini competitors. It is fun to dress up in crystal bikinis and get in the best shape of your life, don’t get me wrong! It is an experience that you will be proud of and learn from in many ways however; there is a negative side.
There are many dangers of pushing your body to the limit day in and day out and the negative effects it can hurt your health long term. Metabolic damage is one of them. Metabolic damage plagues many competitors, models and extreme dieters. Metabolic damage is basically a drastic slowing of the metabolism that is caused by excessive caloric restriction, cardio, and stress on the body. With competing, athletes will begin to cut fat to show off the hard earned muscle they have busted butt to earn during their gaining phases. Cutting is where the 12 week dieting and added cardio came in for me around 12 weeks out. I began my first show around 22% percent body fat. I would recommend starting in that area if possible. I would say 22-26 is a good starting base. It really depends on the individual and what their coach recommends.
It’s important to understand that once the body senses a loss of body fat, it will begin to lower thyroid levels and diminish nervous system output in an effort to stop the weight loss. Once further calorie cuts are made and cardio is increased, fat loss will resume again, and the body further lowers thyroid levels and nervous system output. It also lowers testosterone levels and raises cortisol levels, both of which eventually lead to muscle loss. Since muscle is a metabolically active tissue it consumes calories simply to exist the metabolism will drop even further.
I am not bashing any of these people who may fall in this category. My sister and I are both fitness models and compete; I just want to explain my opinion on the good and bad light shed on this topic. Is it worth putting your health at risk to achieve a “perfect physique”?
I have made many friends competing and learned some valuable information along the way, but I have also met some women who have cut carbs extremely low and added hours and hours of cardio per day to cut. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to write this. Competing is fun but it’s also important to remember that we only have one body and it’s important to take care of it. Once you ruin your metabolism you can never replace it. My nutritionist constantly kept my carbs pretty high and the highest cardio I would do per day was 60 minutes ( which is still A LOT!) In off season, I really feel that 60 is harmful for the body. I tend to stick to 30-45 minutes normally and stick to heavy weight training. The 60 minutes was a bit brutal, but then again I was talking to some girls who were doing 14 sessions of 60 minutes a week! One bad aspect of the fitness industry is it is not heavily monitored or regulated. I’ve heard coaches restricting carbs after breakfast and upping the cardio like I mentioned before. Some of their girls have even won but what is the price of a trophy compared to the price of your health? It makes me want to cringe! It is NOT worth sacrificing your health. It is very possible to compete with not restricting your carbs like crazy! I placed 4th in my first NPC competition with 4 meals of complex carbs a day! DO NOT be afraid of carbs! Your brain fully functions on carbs, they are not the enemy. Food is not the enemy, bad unhealthy foods filled with sugar, preservatives and fat is the enemy! Don’t mix that up. With my carbs pretty high, my metabolism stayed high the whole prep. With taking out my usual dairy, breads, fruits and cheat meal, upping my cardio and really hitting the weights hard I still was able to meet my goal. I also took shorter rest breaks between sets and really lifted heavy during my training days. I trained 4 – 5 days weights and did 6 days cardio for 45 minutes a day. I increased my cardio in 5 minute increments each week leading up to my show. Once cardio hit 60 minutes I kept it there for the remaining prep period. I really encourage any women who want to compete to research the coach ahead of time and research their philosophies. Kim Porterfield at IEM is a great nutritionist and does phone consultations if you are looking for a reputable professional.
Nutrition and maintaining a balance is KEY.
Nutrition is key in competing and allows absolutely no room for my weekly “cheat” meal, no fruit, dairy, protein powders, breads, pasta, alcohol, only a lean protein source, complex carb and veggie in 5-7 small clean meals a day. Every day I consumed a gallon of water and I aimed for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. With competing it is very hard to maintain balance. Sleep, nutrition, water intake and training ALL need to maintain a balance. With jobs, family, friends and everyday life this is a huge task. For me, I was dealing with melanoma, my husband’s deployment, traveling, building my home and working a few jobs. I used competing as a tool to keep me focused in the midst of all the craziness. I wanted to maintain a positive focus to keep my mind occupied and not worried about my husband so far or my health. People compete for many reasons. (I’m going to write another blog on this topic as well.)
Now, getting back to nutrition.. Protein for my prep tended to be chicken breast, egg whites, tilapia, mahi mahi, tuna, cod, flounder and lean turkey. My carbs this prep were rice cakes, brown rice, rice cakes, oats, sweet potatoes, potatoes and steel cut oats. With veggies I tend to not restrict any besides the starchy options such as corn and carrots. I kept carbs at meal 1-4 and meals 5-7 would just be a protein and veggie.
A sample day can be..
Meal 1- egg whites with oats
Meal 2- Rice cakes with Clean Tuna Salad
Meal 3- Grilled Chicken Breast with Asparagus and Brown Rice Rice
Meal 4- Protein Pancakes (made with egg whites, oats, stevia and cinnamon) SO GOOD!
Meal 5- Lean Ground Turkey with stir fry veggies
Meal 6-Veggie Omelet
Supplements- fish oil, CLA, BCAA and multi.
I tend to not take fat burners. I rely on nutrition and training for best results.
Who coached the process?
There are many different ways to diet for prep and many coaches will give their athletes different plans but this is what has worked for me and many other lean bodies representing IEM. My nutritionist is Kim Porterfield at IEM. Kim is wonderful! She has worked with other fitness models you may have heard of such as Jamie Eason or Kelsey Byers. I was referred to Kim by Kelsey almost three years ago and have seen her ever since. Normally, I would do phone consultations with Kim monthly or as my goals changed. During competition prep I would talk to Kim every two – three weeks. Investing in a nutritionist was the best investment I ever could give myself. The knowledge I have learned from Kim is invaluable. She has changed my life completely. I went to Kim seeking a strong body and over the years not only did I transform my body but also my mind, my goals and I am now living my dreams after signing my contract with Oh Yeah! Nutrition and the modeling agency my sister work for. If you are interested in competing I highly recommend hiring a coach or nutritionist to guide you.
Also, check out this blog by Amanda Latona on her challenges with hormonal damage due to this very topic.
Money Money Money….???
Money is a huge factor when competing. I am lucky to have a sponsor with Ape Strength Fitness, Pink Label Bikini and Oh Yeah! Nutrition. My first competition was high! Here are some expenses to consider.
Hair and makeup 150.00
Nutritionist or coach 400.00
NPC Card 120.00
Competition Fees 100.00 per category
Posing classes 200.00
Gym memberships or team fees
It adds up quick.
You are judged on your physique, posing on stage, tan and even your appearance with hair and makeup! All of the factors contribute to your ranking. Your body can be HOT but if your posing or tan is off you will not place. This last show the judges didn’t like my tan and therefore I wasn’t even considered even though they liked my physique. This sport is very picky and it’s hard sometimes to know exactly what they want for each show. Proportion is also a key factor judges look for. Many women in this sport choose to have implants. You do not have to have them, but I know someone on our page had asked!
If you truly want to compete, I encourage you to take the journey and really do it for the right reasons. Find a coach who is reputable and is thinking of your health not just looking at you as an athlete they want to win a show to get another trophy under their name. Competing can teach you discipline and really help you get in tuned with your body. The 12 week prep period is a journey that is not to be taken lightly. Remember that with this, most everything is the journey! The girls are on stage for only a few seconds and then it is OVER. Embracing the process and finding the strength and determination within your spirit is a fantastic goal to strive for. Do not do it for anyone else but yourself. Find motivation from within and ignite that inner fire. Challenge your body and mind. I learned to push my limits and saw what I could do after I simply refused to not give up and not give in.
Here is some great information we found to share with you on how to maintain a healthy metabolism for those of you who are curious on different tips and techniques.
- Eat more! You need a caloric deficit for weight loss, but there are different ways to achieve a deficit. You can eat less. You can exercise more. You can do a little bit of both. In addition, how specifically you eat less and exercise more makes all the difference. The smart way is to avoid crash diets and pursue slower but steady fat loss with an eye on body composition. Start with a conservative deficit of only 20% below your maintenance level. Use a larger deficit only if you’re seriously overweight. Increase the deficit incrementally when you need to, ideally not going above 30% under maintenance. When you add in resistance training, cardio training and an active lifestyle, your calorie expenditure (metabolism) goes way up, and that’s how you can legitimately eat more and keep getting leaner.
- Eat natural. The long term daily consumption of refined, artificial foods in large amounts will eventually take its toll on your health. When hormonal health declines, body composition outcomes are worse during weight loss and risk of metabolic damage may increase. Furthermore, most natural, unprocessed foods, especially vegetables and lean proteins, are lower in caloric density and can lead to spontaneous decreases in caloric intake compared to the standard American diet (S.A.D.) For optimal body composition results and metabolic and hormonal health, it’s not just about calorie quantity, but also calorie quality. Don’t focus on one to the neglect of the other.
- Eat regularly: I recommend eating like a physique athlete. Spread your total daily calories into 4-6 small feedings per day, if feasible, and be sure to include a source of lean protein with every major meal. But whatever meal schedule you choose, consistency is of great importance: studies have shown that haphazard eating patterns are at least partially responsible for metabolic disarray including decreased thermic effect of feeding and dysregulation of blood sugar and insulin.
- Use carb cycling. This puts you in the optimal healthy calorie deficit, but periodically, you increase your calories to keep your metabolism and appetite regulating hormones up at the normal level. Instead of the carb-phobic diets that millions of people still follow (which can actually suppress hormones like thyroid and leptin), carb cycling with a high carb refeed every 4th day or so, allows you to eat more carbs and you still keep losing fat. The benefits are physical and psychological and best part is, you’re never completely deprived.
- Take Diet breaks: Avoid prolonged periods in aggressive caloric deficits. If you have a lot of fat to lose and it’s going to take more than 3 months to hit your long term fat loss goal, don’t do it all in one stretch. Take a week at maintenance calories after 12 weeks of restricted dieting. This – raising your calories – is the most counter-intuitive of all the metabolism-rebuilding strategies but it’s one of the most important. Even better: the bodybuilder’s method of cycling fat loss phases with muscle building phases, ensures that not only are you not in constant deficit, you spend significant time in calorie surplus.
- Get serious about weight training: In the competing world, weight training is a foregone conclusion. But in the everyday world of non-athletes, weight loss = “diet,” not weight loss = “lift weights.” For Suzy soccer mom, or average Joe beer belly “lift weights to lose weight” probably doesn’t even compute. But weight training is so important for metabolic health and better body composition, that if you were forced to choose one or the other – cardio or weights – the weightlifting would be a NO BRAINER decision. If you have a concern about metabolic damage and you’re not weight training yet, there’s nothing else to discuss. Start pumping iron and building muscle first, then get back to us!
- Do Cardio. Don’t Over-Do It. If you’re overweight, you can sometimes get away with very low calorie diets without adverse effets if you’re not doing tons of cardio on top of it. Endurance athletes get away with high volume training because they provide ample amounts of food to fuel it (man, those guys can EAT!) Dieters and physique competitors on the other hand, often semi-starve themselves while doing huge amounts of cardio at the same time. Exercise research says that extreme amounts of cardio during a diet can actually cause the same type of adaptive metabolic downshift as eating too little food. Bikini and figure competitors have been known to do 2 or even 3 hours of cardio a day before competitions. This kind of overtraining can be counter-productive when you look at the metabolic damage and “cardio dependency” potential. And remember, if you’re not diligent, you can out-eat almost any amount of exercise. If you’re doing upwards of an hour of cardio a day and not seeing significant fat loss, you’d better take a close look at your diet first before you rush to add more cardio. We love watching Dr. Layne Norton’s YouTube videos on metabolic damage. He has a series of them. If you have time.. check them out!
- Balance stress with recovery: It’s ok to have stress in your life – the only people who don’t have stress are dead people. Training is a form of physical stress and it’s a good type of stress if you recover from it. That’s the key point: If you don’t balance each period of stress with a period of recovery, you will be in dire straits. If you add stress on top of a metabolic damage situation, it’s like an amplifier, multiplying the usual symptoms, the most well known of which is increased cortisol, the catabolic stress hormone. Stress without adequate recovery has been linked to suppressed thermogenesis, leptin resistance, insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, increased visceral fat deposition and defects in energy partitioning.
- Get adequate sleep: In the past several years, the amount of new information coming out of research centers about the association between sleep and fat loss is staggering. Short sleep and sleep deprivation messes with your hunger hormones and may affect hormones regulating metabolism. The study that really got my attention was when scientists at the University of Chicago compared 5.5 hours per night to 8 hours per night and the short sleepers lost more of their weight as lean body mass at the same caloric deficit. Do NOT overlook the importance of 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night for better body composition and metabolic health. (NOTE: These last 3 points – overtraining + continuous stress without recovery + sleep deprivation – all at the same time, while on a calorie restricted diet, are what I call the metabolic “trifecta of doom”).
- Commence a metabolic repair program with a transitional period of gradually increasing calories. A detailed, week by week, month by month metabolic recovery program could not only be a separate article, it could actually be an entire book.
- Stage Body is NOT realistic! It is also important to remember that once again, the stage body is not realistic. After my competitions I slowly add my food back in and my body fat will go back up. Those girls go through a peak week period a week out from the show were they manipulate their water and sodium to really flush out and lean out for that last couple days. This will be topic of my next blog. Overall, I hope this information helps and please let me know any questions you may have. I’m going to have a series of these blogs so feel free to post questions below!