For as long as I can remember I have fought a tendency to set unreasonable or oppressive goals that I then fail to meet. Wanting to break out of this cycle, I looked for a project that I could not only start, but complete as well.
To commemorate my 40th birthday I decided to do something totally out of character: compete in a figure competition. A figure competition is a bodybuilding contest in which muscular growth is not pursued to the same degree as in a more traditional bodybuilding show. Figure provides an option for those who wish to compete but do not want to build muscle to the extreme of a bodybuilder, or perform acrobatics as would a fitness competitor. In figure, the judges are looking for a physically fit/athletic body and well balanced physique.
My project began January 9th, 2013, and for next 20 weeks I followed the strictest of regimens. Weight training was an hour and a half each day, five days a week, while cardio training was 45 minutes a day, five days a week. My diet consisted of egg whites, chicken, tuna, salmon, almonds, cashews, peanut butter, protein shakes, sweet potatoes, yams, oatmeal, and specific vegetables including spinach, mushrooms, cucumber, asparagus, green pepper, and cabbage. Processed sugar and artificial sweeteners as well as dairy and fruit were eliminated from my diet. I was given one cheat day each week when I could eat anything (to a maximum of 1,000 calories) that I wanted.
To sum up a typical day in my life during for the past 20 weeks: before work I trained, after work I trained, on the weekends I trained. And when I wasn’t working out I was at work or at the grocery store, or napping, or cooking, or doing meal prep, or washing the leaning tower of Tupperware that had accumulated from my prepackaged daily meals. There were also posing practice sessions, supplement shopping trips, and weekly meetings with my coaches during which they would gauge my progress and tweak my diet and training programs where applicable.
Everyone has a different prep experience and my body seemed to fight the process the entire time. As the weeks progressed and the diet was modified, I began to lose my sanity, morphing into an unpleasant, and quick to anger version of my former lively self. I found it very hard to think and rationalize while following such a low-carb diet. My energy levels plummeted very early into my prep and regardless of all diet modifications, that’s unfortunately where they remained for the duration of it. I also experienced irregular bowel movements and was freezing cold all of the time. I turned into a recluse, avoiding all social interactions because sometimes I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone at all and when I did I could only stand talking to certain people, like my workout partner Lianne (FFG), because she understood how I felt and what I was going through. It’s important to realize that it takes time to learn what foods work best for your metabolism as well as the cardio duration and intensities to which your body will respond. There are many things that I know now and that can be handled differently for my next competition.
The weeks of competition prep were life-changing. I’ve learned a lot about my body and mentality while dieting and training with a specific goal in mind. It’s you against yourself; you literally battle with yourself and your mind. Overcoming exhaustion and tired limbs takes the kind of will power that some people just don’t have. When tempted to throw in the towel I reminded myself why I had set out to do this project in the first place, and considered how disappointed and angry with myself I would be if I allowed myself to quit. Starting was the easy part and regardless of the outcome, I knew I had to complete this project; I would not allow myself to walk away.
It was so incredible to see my body change in front of my eyes, practically daily. When competition day came on June 1, 2013, my stage weight was 123 pounds. I had lost 20 pounds in 20 weeks and I presented on stage at 8% body fat, an extremely lean and well conditioned physique.
The Northern Alberta Bodybuilding Championships on June 1 exceeded all the expectations I had set for myself when I started this project. I placed 4th in Tier 1 Figure Tall and I placed 5th in Masters (35+) Tall. These placings qualify me to compete in Provincials on June 15th in Edmonton, in the August CBBF Nationals in New Westminster, BC, as well as in the April 2014 Montreal IFBB International Events Qualifier.
The week after the show I allowed myself to indulge (somewhat irresponsibly) in good foods (Lianne’s homemade cheesecake with different fruit toppings and smoked salmon salad from a local restaurant called the Sugarbowl), as well as unhealthy choices that I enjoy (yogurt covered almonds and energy chews from Planet Organic). I also provided my well deserving body the opportunity to repair and heal by taking a 5 day rest from lifting weights while focusing on a week of active recovery instead. Now that my cravings have been fulfilled, this week marked the start of my post competition transition diet, 6 small meals per day consisting of lots of protein, veggies, healthy fats, and complex carbs. To ensure proper hydration I also drink 3L of water a day.
My competition body was shredded and lean; it was truly amazing. But the only way to look like that is to restrict your diet while increasing your cardio and weight training; I knew the physique that I presented on stage would not be sustainable. It was a ‘borrowed’ body that I had every intention of thoroughly enjoying in the moment, but had no intention of maintaining. Health, fitness, and clean eating are now a lifestyle for me. All the same, I no longer have to concern myself with having visible abs, hitting a target body fat percentage, or the number on the scale.
Preparing for a figure competition takes planning, dedication, and money (competition related expenses can quickly add up!). While continuing on with competing was never my intention, I have been presented with some great opportunities. Right now, I have some goal setting to do and some important decisions to make.
The fact that people think this is ‘normal’ and just ‘what needs to be done’ for competition is why so many people are messed up. Reinforcing antiquated, outdated, and ineffective methods for prep. I hope that people learn from this and understand there IS a way to be a competitor AND be healthy… the two are not mutually exclusive.
Please check out Layne’s videos on metabolic damage! It’s important to your health. You will never want to prep this way ever again.
I think that Jody had a particularly difficult prep, mostly because she has a crazy-high metabolism. Mine was not nearly as bad, but I did feel like crap for the last month and would never do the water load/dehydration ritual ever again. I would love to hear more about the new ways of prepping that Layne and others have developed. I know that Fitbabe had a great prep this year and did not go to extremes.
Great post! Congrats! It’s interesting to see a realistic view of what it takes to successfully compete – that you were cranky, it wasn’t always enjoyable, but ultimately it was rewarding for you. Your back is fabulous, btw! To both of you – thanks for sharing!
Congrats! Great post.
I agree with Layne in that it doesn’t have to be so hard. While an individual’s contest prep will depend on their body type and genetics, the largest part of it is determined by the coach’s philosophy. There is no reason that prep should consume your life and make you miserable. 20 weeks is an incredibly long time to go without being able to eat whatever vegetables you like! It will never be a walk in the park, but it also shouldn’t be a living hell.
This is fantastic, thanks for all of your responses and feedback! If anyone is interested in a more in depth view of my competition prep it is documented under my Facebook page labelled ‘Figure Girl – My Journey to the Stage’
Layne, I didn’t understand what you meant by “Reinforcing antiquated, outdated, and ineffective methods for prep” until I went back and re-watched your BioLayne Video Log 12. I admire and appreciate your rational, scientific perspective, thank you for continuing to share your knowledge.