Fitness, lifestyle

The Pros & Cons of Competing in Bodybuilding

Competing in bodybuilding, whichever category it is, has it’s positives and negatives.

Of course the further up the ranks you go, the harder it gets but the rewards get bigger too!

For those of you not familiar with the world of bodybuilding, here’s an example of the categories you usually find in competitions (yes it’s not all about the big boys!):

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As you can see there are varying degrees of muscle mass in each category. Yet each one has to work extremely hard both in the gym and in the kitchen! Growing muscle, no matter how big or small requires a strict diet and consistent training.

So let’s take a look at what you stand to gain, should you choose to enter a bodybuilding competition:

  • You will learn a lot about your body, how it reacts to certain foods and styles of training. This knowledge can easily be transferred to a lifelong healthy lifestyle, minus the extremities of competing. You will know which foods affect you negatively and how to manipulate your training to maintain your shape and still enjoy a few treats.
  • You will push yourself mentally and physically. Following a strenuous training routine for 3-6 months before a competition will challenge you a lot. You will discover your limits and try to push past them. You will learn what your strengths and weaknesses are and you will work on them.
  • Your confidence will get a major boost. Who knows, you may even start liking what you see in the mirror!
  • You will meet new people, go to new places and have new experiences. All of these will help you grow as a person and develop a different perspective in life.
  • And finally a bit of a controversial one: you may discover who your true friends are. Committing to a competition means committing a significant chunk of your life towards achieving a fitness goal. Your new lifestyle may no longer fit with that of your current social circle. Will your friends understand and accommodate your needs (and may be even try new things together with you!) or will they avoid you and mock you?

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But all these good things don’t come without a price… literally:

  • It is an expensive sport. Every competition comes with a hefty bill and your new-found fitness lifestyle can significantly bump up your monthly expenses. Also, you can easily get sucked into the false need for new things: you’ll think you need more / new supplements, clothes, protein shakers, etc… The only way to manage this is to reallocate money from other parts of your life (e.g. eat more homemade meals instead of eating out, travel less, and by reconsidering other unnecessary expenses).
  • It can be damaging to your physical health. Ironically, the sport that should showcase the ultimate health & fitness can have detrimental effects to your health if not done properly or if done for a very long period of time. Staying at a very low body fat is unnatural and can unlock a chain of health problems, especially when it comes to hormones. Ignoring cravings and following a cheat meal protocol encourages binge eating a lot of junk food (which you would normally not do if you allow yourself treats on a regular basis). The “muscle building diet” is an acidic diet high in animal products and artificial sweeteners (protein powders & bars) which can cause damage to the digestive system if not balanced out with healthy greens.
  • Your mental health can suffer too. Constantly restricting what foods go into your mouth can trigger many mental health problems such as depression, lethargy, eating disorders, self-hate  and guilt, food phobia (or rather should I say fear of gaining weight and fat from eating), and so on. On the other hand, not everyone is good at being disciplined and committed. If that is not your cup of tea, then the journey to a competition will stir up some negative emotions in you. Self-blame and not feeling good enough are just a few examples. It can get boring at times or you may develop a fear of missing out on your social life… yep the issues are many!
  • The bodybuilding lifestyle is not a sustainable lifestyle. You can’t train and lift heavy weights forever. You can’t deprive your body of carbs forever. You can’t deny your mind delicious treats. An injury or a health problem can easily put you out of the gym and may be even leave you unable to eat the necessary proteins to sustain your muscles. Therefore, it is important to follow a lifestyle and diet that you can sustain as you progress through life. A wide variety of healthy foods and moderate, enjoyable exercise will keep you going for a long time.

So is it good or bad? It depends on every individual. The way I see it is that competing once or twice is a good way to kickstart your journey into health and fitness. After that, it’s upto you to find your true fitness passion!

Fitness, Motivation

What to Pack When Travelling to a Competition

It’s time! I’m flying tomorrow, but had already started packing my bags last weekend 🙂

Further to my last post on 3 things to think about when travelling to a competition, here is a list of important bits you’ll need to take with you for your next comp 😉

1. Important documents

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Of course, you need your passport, but also your competition entry documents and information – having it printed is always easier to access when you need it!

2. The travel outfit

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Choose comfy, loose clothes for your trip and the day before the competition. Even if the weather may seem ok, you are likely to feel colder than usual due to fatigue and low body fat so make sure to take something to keep you warm if needed.

3. The tanning outfit

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A loose, long dress is ideal for tanning, just make sure it is either old or cheap as it will get stained. Flip flops and hair bands are also a must during the tanning process.

4. The backstage kit

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Once you are tanned and in your bikini, it is easier to put on a robe backstage. Also don’t forget to take something with you to help you pump your muscles and warm up before stepping on stage.

5. The stage outfit

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This is probably the first thing you will need to pack and the most important! Your bikini, jewellery and stage shoes should not be forgotten. If possible, bring spares for each as anything can happen at the last minute!

6. And a few beauty items

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Just a few extras that can save you money – body scrub (instead of doing a scrub treatment) and eyelashes if you fancy those (instead of buying fromt he make up artist).
Motivation

3 Things to Think About When Going Abroad to Compete

Travelling to a competition can be a daunting task, especially if it’s your first time or you’re going alone. The days before the comp you will be tired, hungry and nervous, so it’s important to make sure you have as much comfort as you can afford!

Here are three very important things to think about in the weeks before you travel:

1. What you’ll eat

Travelling is usually a time of exploring new or different cuisines and having fun. But if you’re travelling to compete, you can’t really enjoy local food until after the competition. That’s why it is important to plan ahead your meals for the last few days before your comp. Research the area and your hotel – are there any big supermarkets around? Does your hotel have a microwave, kitchen facilities (forks anyone?) or a restaurant where you can measure, warm up or cook your food (or order for it to be cooked as per your requirements)?

These are key questions you need answered before you leave – you don’t want to be stranded in a new place hungry and having to make poor food choices right before your comp. During my last comp we encountered a few blunders along the road, like not being able to find forks or a place to cook my rice or even a place that sells simple grilled chicken! So think twice before you book your hotel.


2. Where you’ll stay

Once you have a budget set for accommodation, make a list of all the hotels / apartments which fit the bill. Out of that list you need to pick a place which is relatively close to your competition venue and ideally one with facilities for your meals (e.g. fridge & microwave).

Why is location important? If like most people you are using the official beauty partners you will have to walk to and fro your accommodation on the day of the event. Of course you can always find a spot on the floor within the venue itself, but why suffer if you are paying for accommodation? Tanning usually requires 2 trips, and for the ladies there are also hair and makeup appointments to go to. And if the weather is cold you wouldn’t want to have to walk too far out, right?


3. What you’ll wear

I kind of missed this point last time. You need to be comfortable in the day or two prior to the competition, however you also need a separate outfit for show day.

Tanning stains, so it’s important to come prepared with old loose clothes (e.g. strapless beach dresses, large tee shirts, shorts or pants) which will keep you comfy  until it’s time to put on your stage outfit. Flip flops are ideal pre-stage. And remember to keep warm! Even if you are not traveling in the winter months or to a cold country you are likely to feel cold as you will be tired, depleted, hungry, thirsty and nervous!

So remember: plan ahead, research well, check you have everything and pack early!

Motivation

My Weekly Update – 1 week out!

Almost there! This time next week I will already be in Barcelona watching the other categories compete on stage. We are entering the last 7 days before the week, peak week as it is called, there is no turning back? What will the next few days hold in store for me? That even I don’t know… yet! I guess I shall enjoy the benefit of the doubt.

Training

I have now fully embraced the stairmaster 😀 Good for post-workout cardio (15 mins), good for fasted cardio (40 mins), good for everything! I’m finally seeing progress in my hamstrings, which were the toughest part to  work on. Nothing much has changed in my programme from last week – still focusing on supersets, drop sets & other long sets. Only 5 more workouts left!

Nutrition

Since my weight is slightly lower this time,  I didn’t have to sacrifice carbs so much. Really, nothing exciting here – just the usual chicken, beef mince, fish & salmon with veggies meals. I do get to enjoy an omelette on Saturdays though, usually that’s in a nice cafe with a strong coffee. Yep, I can’t wait to have some treats in exactly 8 days!

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No, that’s not soda – it’s iced coffee! Like they say, where there’s a will there’s a way 😉

Lifestyle

This week we had 3 days of public holiday which was a nice break from the hustle & bustle of the office. TV, cinema, online courses, naps – and of course plenty of gym time! Perfect timing (for 2 weeks out). Now I head into the last week, I cross fingers that things at work will not be too hectic, as I juggle packing & pre-stage beauty treatments with the last few workouts (and meals!) Yay!

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Doing my course on uncertainty, complexity & decision making… and waiting for my next meal!
Motivation

My Weekly Update – 2 Weeks Out!

Here we are – 2 weeks to go! After a busy week at work and a few late nights, I’m glad to say the end is near.


Training

This week was full of long sets. Although still following the same weekly split, we changed a few exercises and added some drop sets and giant sets. This has really left me sore! And finally, after switching most of my steady cardio to the stair master machine this week, my has dropped to 10%. I was about 8% for my last comp, so still a bit to go.

Nutrition

Surprise! I’m still having rice & sweet potatoes 🙂 This is definitely a huge bonus as anyone who’s done comp prep knows. I think starting this comp prep at a fairly low body fat has helped ease the pressure on my diet and training. So far no extreme measures have been taken.

With only 15 days left, my motivation is renewed and I am much better able to deal with cravings. Of course, the occasional fresh salad always helps 😉

September 24th – let the countdown begin!

Motivation

Q&A: How Can I Compete Without Breaking the Bank?

In the last part of our Q&A series we look at the cost of participating in bodybuilding and fitness model competitions through federations, such as the IFBB and WBFF.

Our question comes from my friend & instagram follower @leanlioness : how do you do it without breaking the bank!?

What I have to say:

Competing is indeed costly, and unfortunately unlike other recognised sports (e.g. national & Olympic sports) getting financial support is extremely difficult. Most of the sponsorships offered by fitness & supplement companies are limited to free products and barely scratch the mountain of competition expenses.

Personally, I would recommend looking at competing as an investment in something you like, in your personal goal or or even in improving yourself! Just like you would save money for a dream holiday or education course, so you would need to plan & save money for a competition.

Of course, there are several ways you can reduce these costs, but you can’t eliminate them completely. Another thing to consider is the compromise between saving money & getting the results you want.

Most of the costly things (e.g. training, food & event beauty services) you can do yourself with the help of internet resources, however the experience may be much more stressful. Also having a mentor / coach with relevant experience who can guide you through the whole process is invaluable.

Your question is a good starting point and will helpfully hope anyone who is doing their research on competing. Below you will see a detailed breakdown on all the costs involved in competing and where you can save some money.

Answer from our expert, Lisa Maas, M.S. Nutrition, B.S. Exercise Science and US Women’s Figure competitor:

When I competed for the first time a few months ago, it was not until it got closer to the show that I realized how several little things added up. I already had a gym membership and was used to buying high quality foods, so these expenses were not new to me.

However, once I got further into the prep, I realized that costs added up for things like manicure, travel costs, solarium sessions to get a base tan, jewelry, make up
 the list goes on and on.

In hindsight, I know I could have saved much more money had I planned everything more thoroughly right from the beginning.

Now let me help you to get the most out of your prep and look amazing on stage without spending a fortune. Below is a breakdown on what you will have to spend money on and how to spend your money wisely to make everything as affordable as possible.

Some things are optional while others are not.

1.Coach

Even if you have a good training background or are working in the fitness industry yourself, having a coach is worth the investment.

Although you may be able to do this yourself, having someone that holds you accountable, pushes you, and guides you through the program makes the whole process much more effective and enjoyable. Most prep coaches offer 12-week programs and will design your training and nutrition plan.

You may find a coach that can help you with everything (nutrition, training, and posing) or you may need to find two or three individuals to help you.

Approx. cost: $100-$600 /month depending on which services are included

2.Posing

If you are new to competing you should invest in a few posing sessions and having a coach who helps you with this is worth the investment. You could also teach yourself with YouTube videos but this is not as easy as it sounds.

At the end it all comes down to how you present yourself on stage and if you are able to show your hard work. You can save money by signing up for group sessions or session packages.

Approx. cost: Private sessions: $60-$150 /hour; Group sessions: $25-$35 /hour

3.Food

If you are already eating pretty healthy and do your weekly meal prep you already have an estimate about the expenses for food. However, you will probably be eating more protein and more frequently throughout the day.

Food costs for you may go up or down depending on how you ate before. Consider looking into food companies that offer customized nutrition plans and weekly delivery. Pura, for instance, is one of the best companies, preparing meals exactly according to your macros. This may be a little more expensive but saves you a lot of time and energy.

Approx. cost: Doing your own meals: $320 /month; Using a meal prep company: $680 /month (*food costs vary depending on the country you live in)

4.Supplements

You don’t have to go crazy on supplements. If you don’t have any health issues or compromised gut function that would need extra support, sticking to the essentials such as protein powder and BCAAs may be sufficient.

Approx. cost: $50+

5.Gym Membership

You can skip the membership and get by with a squat rack, barbell and bench, dumbbells and a pull-up bar at home. Otherwise, gym memberships can range from

$45-$140 /month

6.Federation Membership Card

Different federations will have different membership fees. Most shows require you to be a member of their federation before you can register for a contest.

Approx. cost: $60-$120

7.Competition Suit

A new custom suit can start at $150 and can get up as high as you would like. If you could see yourself competing in several shows, investing in a custom suit is a great idea. You can use that suit for several shows and eventually resell it for 50-75% of your purchase price.

If you want to save, you can look for a used suit. You can get a beautiful used one for $120 and up. There are also a few sites where you can rent a suit instead of buying one. Another option is to buy an affordable plain suit and add the stones and bling yourself to offset the costs.

Approx. cost: $120+

8.Competition heels and jewelry

Clear competition heels can range from $40-$60 and jewelry comes down to about $50. You can also add rhinestones to your shoes yourself.

As for jewelry, you will need rhinestone bracelets on one or both wrists. If you compete in figure or bikini you will also need earrings.

Approx. cost: $30-$80

9.Show day makeup

Your makeup must be very dark and should also match your tan. If you buy your own, it will last for multiple shows.

Having a professional do it is a little more expensive but may be helpful at the first show.

Approx. cost: Professionally done: $50-$90; DIY: $80 (multiple shows)

10.Hair

You can definitely do this yourself or have a friend do your hair for you. When it comes to hair, having a professional do it at your first show may be less stressful, but also more expensive.

Approx. cost: $30-$80

11.Competition tan

Using the event tanner is definitely recommended as they will make sure you look amazing on stage (win-win situation). This is more expensive but recommended for the first show. DIY competition tanning products will last about three shows.

Approx. cost: DIY: $50-$80 (for three shows); event tanning service: $100+ (per show)

12.Hotel and Travel costs

This varies depending on how far you have to travel for your show. Competing in local shows keeps these costs affordable.

13.Competition Entry Fees

Costs are about $30-$50 per category entered. This varies from show to show.

Approx. cost: $50-$200, depending on how many categories you want to compete in

14.Manicure

You will have to make sure that your nails are in good shape. You can do it yourself or get a manicure. French manicures look good on stage but in general, color and length are up to you.

Approx. cost: $15-$80

15.Photography

The event photographer will usually offer packages for $60-$75 for all of the pictures they take of you during the show. If you enter more than one category, the photography package may be more expensive.

In addition most competitors schedule a 1 to 2-hour photo shoot the week of the show, which may cost $150+. This is totally worth it though!

Approx. cost: $60+

As you can see, there are ways to keep the competition expenses to a minimum. How much you ultimately decide to spend on each thing is up to you.

I recommend making a list before you start your contest prep in order to prioritize expenses. Hiring a coach and signing up for posing sessions should definitely be at the top of your list.

Don’t let money be the reason not to compete! There is always a way to make it work.

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Motivation

My Weekly Update – 3 Weeks Out!

Here we are at the end of the 4th week before my comp… 3 more weekends and then it’s show time!

Training

Things have remained largely unchanged from last week. I still do weight training 6 days a week and on the 7th day I do 40 mins steady cardio. My workouts usually involve about 6 exercises with light to medium weights or sometimes even bodyweight. The focus is more on the contraction of the muscles. I see a lot more definition as my body gets more toned – check out my triceps  below!

My weight & body composition have remained more or less stable. Anyways the hour or so in the gym is the easy part! Now let’s talk about food…

Nutrition

There have been no changes to my diet this week. This can be a good and a bad thing. THe good part is that I still do have carbs (rice & sweet potato). The bad part is that I started getting bored with my food. I’m sure anyone on comp prep or a transformation journey can understand – there is only so much chicken and broccoli that you can eat 😀

So this boredom has inspired me to look for alternative ways to spice up my food. Some have been more successful than others. What I would like to share with you this week is my discovery of veggie chips / crisps.

There’s quite a few options out there, but I personally liked the broccoli crisps. I also tried some raw spinach & pumpkin crunchies and dried kale chips. They definitely make veggies more attractive, however do be mindful that some may be high in fat (if fried) or salty flavourings.

 

Lifestyle / The Mind Game

Once again, I’m continued to be blessed with a pretty average week at work. Although the intensity is building up, I’m not working flat out… yet!

Mentally I went through a dip this week. I began to question why I was doing this – so much effort just to be judged on stage for a few minutes by people who did not see me sweat or eat salmon at 6am (when all I wanted was a bowl of muesli 😩 ).

But then again, I am not a quitter. I set this personal goal and I surpassed my expectations during my first comp. It only seemed right to accept this invitation to step on an even bigger stage and face even fiercer competitors.

Of course, having someone to talk to is key. Talking to my coach made me realize that I am not the only one who struggles. So with the right support, I know I can face this challenge head on.

Like they say, you never know your limits unless you push yourself to them…

Motivation

My Weekly Update – 4 weeks out!

Wow, only  a month left – where does time go? Let’s see how I’ve done this week.

Training

I think I’ve finally adjusted to the new training schedule and added cardio. There is a lot more focus on squeezing and activating the right muscles to get that definition. I do 15 mins steady cardio post-workout on most days and a 40 mins session on the weekend.

I don’t spend as much time on stretching and posing practice as I did during the last comp prep, however I do feel better and more confident this time. Of course there is always room for improvement, so I do practice posing about 4 times a week.

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Nutrition

I still do get to enjoy carbs (rice & sweet potatoes) after, and sometimes before, my workouts! Definitely helps to keep me sane 🙂 That + coffee. Yep, that is the secret that is keeping me going with the current diet & work schedule – 2 cups of coffee a day on average.

I have spaced my 5 meals a day a bit to compensate for my working hours + evening TV time 😀 and some coffee in between usually does the trick.

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Lifestyle / Mindset

Luckily, this week has been fairly easy at work and I have been able to stick to a 9.30ish – 6.30pm-ish schedule. Despite that, I am still relying on melatonin to get some decent sleep. Perhaps I have developed some kind of fear of not falling asleep as discussed in this article from PsychCentral.

I do get about 6 hours a night (on a good night), which is less than the 7-8 hours I used to get before my last competition. However, that came at the expense of my social life (which was limited exclusively to the weekend). This time around, I am spending more time socializing or doing other hobbies such as reading & watching TV.

In the end we all get the same 24 hours, what we do with them is up to us. Here’s a typical working day in my life:

  • 1 hr in bed… waking up, stretching, having my first meal & getting ready for the gym 🙂
  • 1.5 hrs in the gym
  • 1.5 hrs commuting
  • 9 – 10 hrs in the office
  • 2 -3  hrs rest & recreation (reading, working on the blog, catching up with friends & family, lazing in bed 😀 etc.)
  • 1 hr house chores / prep for the next day or for the gym
  • 7 hrs in bed (although falling asleep can take me more than 1 hr sometimes)

Seems like a lot of time when you put it on paper no? You can always find some time for your personal goals 😉

Fitness, Motivation

My Comp Prep – 5 weeks out!

As the clock ticks, here’s my weekly update on my preparation for the Arnold Classic Europe – one of the biggest IFBB events!

Training

With only 5 weeks to the show, my training programme now has a bit of steady cardio after every workout (as opposed to pretty much no cardio during the maintenance phase). As with most competitors the weapon of choice is the stepper or stairmaster. This cardio machine has the magical ability to burn more fat than the stationary bike or threadmill and also to make time pass slower…. yup slow boring torture 😊 but you do walkaway with a firmed butt and tighter calves!
I still do weight training 6 days a week, focusing more on the back and legs (twice a week). And on the 7th day I have 40 mins of steady cardio. For my last competition I did do strongman circuits once a week which is basically HIIT with weights 🙂 This time however we are taking a more steady cardio approach.

Nutrition

Up until now my diet has been fairly high in carbs (bless those sweet potatoes 😍), however things are about to change as we get closer to show date. I have 6 meals a day + 1 protein shake (post workout), mainly consisting of fish, chicken or beef with a mix of vegetables. Over the past few weeks (8-6 weeks out) my macros have been: 170g of protein, 100g of fat and 30-100g of carbs depending on the day (high carb day vs low carb day).

Depending on how my body responds my diet will change more often now in the last few weeks, in fact waiting to receive my new meal plan this weekend 😅

Cravings? I’ve learned to ignore them… But there is one thing keeping me going: all the bread and churro a I’ll eat when I am done!

As much as I love food, eating salmon or steak at 6am is proving to be a difficult task!

Lifestyle & the mind game

Unfortunately for my, as with my last comp, this one coincides with a fairly busy period at work. That means getting out of the office on time can be a bit of a challenge. I still do get home around 7.30pm, but spend more time winding down in front of the TV  (and getting ready for the next day) than I can afford too. In the end something has to give, and this time it is sleep. I’m currently getting on 5-6 hours of sleep (on a good night) compared to 7 hours during my last comp prep. However, I do get to spend more time with friends & family (and the TV of course!). So far, I’m getting by just fine but I do aim to increase my sleep in the coming weeks… Fingers crossed!

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Since this is my second competition, I do feel much more relaxed about it. I know exactly how things are going to go down on the day. I have less posing work to do, as I am no longer a complete beginner. I’m looking forward to it, both with excitement to be part of such an even (hello Arnie!) and with the anticipation of what I’m going to do with my free time after the competition (read: planning my next fitness challenge!).

Yes, I can’t wait!

Fitness

Exercise of the week: Arnold Dumbbell Press

The Arnold dumbbell press is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s all time favourite shoulder exercise invented by the man himself. It can work different parts of the deltoid in one exercise, great for the front and side heads of the delts. The extra stretch and range of motion you get through this exercise ensures that you recruit more muscle fibres and results in stronger contraction. All of this makes the workout more intense.

 

 

How to do this exercise:

  • Sit on a chair bench with your back rested
  • Hold the dumbbells with palms facing your shoulders (a supinated grip), keeping your elbows flexed
  • Press the dumbbells upward over your head, slowly rotating your hands forward
  • Don’t lock your elbows / arms, but do force your delts towards the ceiling
  • Lower the dumbbells rotating your hands back to the starting position with hands facing your shoulders