What's contest prep like? What does it involve? I'm a little less than 12 weeks out from my show, and I've been getting some questions here and there, so I thought I'd share my journey with you as I go...feel welcome to ask any questions...I love sharing.
Disclaimer: I'm a "long winded" writer (or typer) and I may be prone to rambling and jumping around from thought to thought, but I hope it will be an insightful blog post.
First things first...a coach is crucial. Yes, I'm in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, but that does not qualify me to be a bodybuilding prep coach. I certainly wouldn't want to do my own prep. This is a highly specialized niche and hiring someone who has made this their niche is a priceless investment. It's basically a science...every aspect of nutrition is managed to the ounce and gram...every bit of training is determined by my personal physique and my weak points and strong points. It takes a great deal of time to look at every variable and understand every variable that can alter a person's physique and it's often a full time job prepping people for contests. So, yes, I have a coach, an awesome coach! That being said, every competitor is different, every coach is different, every prep is different...you must find (often through trial and error) what works best for you...it's a science, an experiment of trial and error: manipulating small variables, seeing what works and what doesn't...there are no cookie-cutter prep programs that work for every single competitor. Your genetics, hormones, activity level, and a number of other personal variables will influence what happens to your body as you prep. What works best for me may differ for someone else. However, there are some general truths that definitely apply across the board. For example: your off season is hugely important to the success of your contest prep. If your off season is a "food fest free for all" and your "gains" are sloppy...dieting down for prep will NOT be fun. If you reverse diet properly into your off season and keep your off season clean and healthy with primarily lean gains, then you will reap the rewards of your off season discipline with a much better contest prep. It's truly a lifestyle, and there really is no "off season"...we call it "improvement season." I had a great "off season" and stayed lean keeping my body fat percentage at an "athletic" level while putting on a good amount of lean mass, thus I expect to be happy with my prep results. That required a very disciplined "off season". Sure, there is a lot of sacrifice in terms of missed social outings, no wining and dining, and it takes a LOT of discipline, but for me, it's worth it and I chose this road because I love this sport. Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty of social fun to be had, you simply learn to have fun in ways that don't sabotage your goals...goodbye Cabernet, but hello sushi. Jason and I certainly still enjoyed our favorite foods in healthy ways: weekly sushi dates, bison burgers and other healthified fun foods. People still sometimes inquire...why? Why do you do it? To me, bodybuilding is almost akin to martial arts in that it refines me from the inside out building strength, character and discipline. For me, it also builds patience which is something I have always needed to improve upon. This is a marathon of a sport...not a sprint. I've been working since I stepped off the stage in 2014 on bringing a better package to 2016. It takes TIME to build muscle, especially for women. It takes time to build muscle maturity. It takes time to refine muscle balance and symmetry. It takes time to change your weak points into strong points. It's an art. The body is like a sculpture which we can etch and chisel into our own unique masterpiece. To me, that defines bodybuilding: it's an art. I think it's absolutely fascinating and incredible to see what one is capable of transforming the body into using just the tools of nutrition and training.
Bodybuilding is more than just the outside though: it's the whole body, both inside and out. It's also about building up the metabolism in the off season for a healthier, stronger prep. In addition to building muscle and keeping fat levels in check during "off season", my coach and I spent the last year building up my metabolism so that I can diet down from a much higher caloric base. My off season consisted of gradually increasing carbs so that I was able to efficiently handle more. Carbs are muscle sparing, so you want to keep them as high as you can handle during prep. That's why it's important during off season to "train" your body how to get accustomed to using them efficiently for energy. All of this translates into holding onto more muscle mass through my prep and it also translates to better energy levels, less stress and an overall better mindset through prep. Prep brain is a real phenomenon, so if I can keep more calories (especially carbs) in my diet through prep, I'll be less prone to dumb blonde moments and I'll be happier (and so will everyone around me).
My coach works off of macro based plans as opposed to meal plans. (Macros: protein, carbs, fat) Based upon my personal needs, he sets my macros for each meal. It's my responsibility to meet my macros with wise food choices. It's a matter of discipline, planning and preparing ahead. I won't share my specific macros because it's irrelevant information...macros are very individual and not to be prescribed in a general manner. We have found though, that I do better if I bolus my carbs around my training. My energy source is primarily from dietary fat until meal 3 (I have 6 meals) and I eat every 2.5-3 hours.
Each week, depending on my progress, my coach may manipulate my macronutrients, cardio, weight training plan or a host of other variables. He generally changes one or two small variables at a time. He may manipulate my fat or carb amounts or alter cardio. If you change too much at once though, it's difficult to pinpoint what worked and what didn't. To ensure you have a lot of weapons in your fat-loss arsenal throughout the entire prep period, always consider the "minimum effective dose" and change one little thing at a time. For example, cardio is a stressor that your body will naturally adapt to over time, so you generally start off with minimal cardio and work your way up. We started prep 20 weeks out, and I haven't been doing much cardio until recently. Currently, (and this is based upon my body, so don't take it as a prescription for what you should do), I'm doing all fasted (before breakfast) morning cardio: alternating LISS (low intensity steady state) days with HIIT (high intensity interval training) days. 4 days of LISS and 3 days of HIIT. I would go into the benefits of both LISS and HIIT and how they differ, but that's a topic for another blog.
Speaking of topics for another blog, send me your comments on what you'd be interested in. If you made it this far, thanks for reading.
That's enough rambling for now...any questions, feel free to ask.