Ever Wonder What It’s Like To Be A Bodybuilding Competitor? Here’s Your All-Access Story
Why would anyone in their right mind decide to prepare for a bodybuilding competition in which you get on a stage, minimally clothed and coated in spray tan, just to get judged on your body? Not your personality, not your character, not your background — your physique.
For anyone that’s thinking about competing, or just wants an inside look into the process, here’s my all-access story.
Bodybuilding competitors choose to compete for dozens of reasons. It’s a very unique sport with so many different stories. I decided to compete because after I graduated college in May of 2014 I was in an awful rut looking for a job, had no idea what I was doing, and felt a loss of direction.
I started to cope with that using food — not in an awful way, but enough so that I was the heaviest I had been in a while. I just didn’t feel good about where my body was at, especially knowing where it had been before. Finals and graduation got the best of me, and I feel like I just got lazy.
I had always seen/followed bikini competitors and fitness models on Instagram. I would see these incredible transformations from average to STUNNING, culminating with the same people tanned, ripped, and posing onstage during show day. If they did it successfully, couldn’t I?
Step 1 — Finding a Coach
I thought about competing and went through one of those “no one is gonna ask me or tell me to do it” type things. I guess you could call it a small epiphany of sorts. So I started to research. At first, I wanted to do it by myself, without a coach. I figured I knew a ton about fitness and nutrition from being a certified personal trainer, and these days, isn’t everything available on the Internet?
But the more I researched, read blogs, and scoured message boards, the more I realized having a bodybuilding coach was about so much more than just having someone to tell you what to do.
A coach was someone on your team—in your corner for support—and an individual to hold you accountable every step of the process. So I began searching for a coach. There is no large database or Yellow Pages of bikini prep coaches. You can go through larger “companies” that prep a ton of girls at once, all via Internet/Skype and all with the same cookie cutter kind of plan. I didn’t want that though.
Emotionally and mentally I needed a personal coach, and I wanted someone I could meet. I started looking around and came across a bodybuilder on a forum who was located in Chicago. I reached out to him and asked if he knew anyone in the area. He knew of a girl at his gym who might be interested in helping me out.
Long story short, she became my coach. And she was more than I could have ever asked for.
Step 2 — The Hellacious Prep Process
“The week before my show, the best part of my day was swishing Listerine because it was the only thing with flavor.”
Social media is a big fat liar, because prep (at least your first time) is absolutely awful, and girls try to make it look super glamorous. I mean day after day it isn’t awful, but week after week, it gets pretty tiring. I look back at my journey and wonder how I did it.
Between fasted cardio (cardio on an empty stomach), relentless lifting sessions, lifting HEAVY, and chugging gallons of water every single day, my body ached. In the beginning, you’re kind of on a high because you’re like “wow I’m doing this I’m so cool” but that goes away QUICKLY. Especially as your diet tightens up, carbs disappear, and your chicken becomes infinitely harder to eat.
The week before my show, the best part of my day was swishing Listerine because it was the only thing with flavor.
Every single day your diet is 110%. There is no room for error, no excuses. I sacrificed a lot. I didn’t eat dinner with my family, wasn’t able to go to dinner with friends, did absolutely no drinking, and skipped social activities because I had to go to the gym. It is without a doubt the most isolating process. A typical day looked like this:
- 5:00 AM: Wake up, go right to gym, 30 minute stair stepper intervals and run 2 miles in a sweat wrap.
- 6:30 AM: Eat egg whites and oats, shower, go to work where I am a personal trainer.
- 9:30 AM: Eat chicken and veggies.
- 12:30 PM: Eat ground turkey and veggies.
- 2 PM: Go back to gym to lift, use fat burners, pre-workout, coffee — whatever I could do to get myself through each rep. No carbs = literally NO pump during a lift. Ugh.
- 3 PM: Drink a shake, eat a rice cake, watch the Food Network and contemplate life.
- 5 PM: Back to the gym for cardio, 30 minutes of walking lunges and sprints on treadmill.
- 6 PM: Eat 5 egg whites…yum?
- 7 PM: Not joking…in bed. Sleeping was the best part of my day.
Those workouts typically consisted of at least one cardio session a day, if not two. As I got closer to my show, I had to increase cardio because the weight wasn’t coming off fast enough. Lifting sessions could last anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. I had days specifically dedicated to glutes, and found that isolating muscle groups was so important.
And I don’t want it to be thought that it was wimpy weight training — I’ve never been stronger and PR’ed on pretty much every lift. You vs. you…every single day.
Throughout the prep process you start to view your body completely differently. You get used to being super lean all the time. I’ve gone up four pounds since my show and I feel like a whale, which isn’t the case at all. But you get so used to being so thin, so lean, and so “tight” all the time, that that’s what your “normal” becomes.
But that’s not what real life is like. That body took every single hour in every moment of those 16 weeks — and I didn’t even place top 5 in my show.
Everyone thinks I’m psycho. Why would anyone put themselves through that torture? And why would they PAY for it? I’m broke and it’s not a cheap hobby. Total, the entire process cost me $2,400, including the prep + competition.
It’s not fun. I’m not sure why my boyfriend is still dating me. He was so supportive and so were my friends and family, but your hormones are unreal and you’re so depleted physically and mentally. Motivational YouTube videos helped, but it’s an incredibly isolating sport. I learned that most people that do this are very, very introverted people who have nothing else going on in their lives. Competition prep + bodybuilding is it for them, and it starts to consume their every thought.
I understand that now, but it can really get the best of some people — be prepared to be lonely along the way.
Step 3 — The Finished Product
All of that said, show day was amazing and made the process entirely worth it. I personally loved it and would do it again.
But it’s also crazy. Competition day is super long. You’re up at 5 AM getting tanned and perfecting your makeup and hair. I was coated 8 TIMES with spray tan. You wait A LOT. You go on stage once with your entire division/height class and then do it again at night.
And after all of that, like I said earlier, I didn’t even make top 5. That in-and-of itself is really hard because every single person on stage has worked their butt off, yet only a few get any recognition for it.
I realize that this memoir might make competing sound like a negative thing, but it’s not. There are so many positive aspects to it, and I proudly look back at my accomplishment every single day. The strength of my body is nothing in comparison to the strength of my mind, willpower and heart.
You meet amazing people through the process, challenge yourself and learn true sacrifice despite temptation. It also shows you that there are no limits to what you can do and where you can go.
There’s also a real-world payoff. Throughout my prep, I decided to create a private Instagram account to document my progress. Along the way a supplement company followed me on my journey and wished me good luck on my show day. I was even offered a sponsorship with TrueCore Supplements, which I gladly accepted.
Now I can truly say that whatever your dreams are, if you really want it and work hard for it, you CAN do it. Ever tried, ever failed? No matter. Try again, fail again. Fail better.
is an AFAA-CGF, Beachbody INSANITY Coach, former chunky gal
, 110% pure fitness junkie and an SEC-lovin' sorority girl at the University of Missouri.
When she isn't spending her extra time as a campus tour guide (Go Tigers!), she's probably scrounging around the aisles of Barnes & Noble or doing some impulse online shopping.
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