You’re scrolling through Instagram and you see that one of your friends competed in an NPC bikini competition this weekend. You’ve watched how hard she’s worked over the last few months and you can’t believe how amazing her transformation has been! You think to yourself, I’d love to look like that, maybe if I signed up for a competition, I could look like that too… If only it were that simple!
To an outsider looking in, it may seem like competition prep simply entails eating chicken and broccoli out of a Tupperware and getting your workout in every day, however, you may be surprised to find that there is more than meets the eye. I’m hoping that by the end of this article you will feel empowered to know if you are ready to start your first contest prep.
Truth #1: Competition prep will likely take longer than you originally thought.
When I first started my journey as a competitive bikini athlete, I thought that I would achieve everything I set out to in a matter of 16 weeks. I scoured the internet for coaches and it seemed that most coaches offered 12-16 week prep packages. I was convinced that if I could stick to my diet and train extra hard for 4 months that I would end up looking like Amanda Latona, who at the time had already been competing and training for over 10 years.
Many competitors, even at the regional level, have been training for 1+ years. To achieve a competitive physique, you will have to have lean muscle mass. The tough part about gaining muscle as a natural athlete (note: not on performance-enhancing drugs/steroids) is that it takes time. Even if you are optimizing EVERYTHING that you possibly can, the maximum amount of muscle that a natural woman can gain per month is 1lb and that’s on the high end. Most women are only able to add closer to half a pound per month. Additionally, you really can’t add muscle while losing fat aggressively. So if you have fat to lose and muscle to gain– you will need to work on one goal at a time.
For most people, this will require at least one phase of Reverse Dieting and building muscle of 6-18 months and THEN a body fat cutting phase that accounts for 1.5 weeks for every pound the person needs to lose to get stage lean. (PS, Stage lean is probably leaner and more extreme than you think. It’s much different from what a model looks like in the magazine. When you’re stage lean you should be able to see almost every muscle on your body!)
That being said, not having enough muscle can make or break your stage look. Many mistakenly think that all they need to do is drop weight. That if they lose 10-15 pounds of fat, that they will win their show! That’s not the case for most people when they start (unless they were a lifelong athlete.) Bodybuilding contests are not a contest of who is the skinniest. It’s not about seeing your bones or your ribs. It’s about having muscle on your frame to create a balanced, symmetrical, fit, feminine shape.
The first question you really need to ask yourself is how flexible am I with my timeline?
At Fitbliss, we aim to work with athletes who are committed to their process and open to the time it may take for their physique to be balanced, conditioned & competitive while maintaining physiological and psychological health as, without that, an athlete’s career will be very short and often times will have a negative impact on happiness and overall quality of life. With the amount of time, energy, money, focus, and work prep takes we believe women should only commit if it’s ADDING to their life, not making life worse.
Understand that unlike most sports, the preparation IS the sport in a physique competition. It is never a bad idea to take more time for your prep. Think about it this way… if you were a competitive soccer player, you would spend months out of the year preparing for hundreds of hours of game time out on the field. For competitive bodybuilding, you are spending sometimes 1-2 years preparing for 2-3 minutes on stage. You have to fall in love with the process of getting there and understand that if you want to be successful it isn’t a matter of cutting for 12 weeks and then not counting a macro again until you’re 12 weeks out from another show.
Truth #2: You have to be committed to making a lifestyle change.
Doing a competition prep requires time and dedication spent on both nutrition and training. Remember, it’s not all about the progress that is made in the 12 weeks prior to your show (though that is when you start to notice most of the changes to your physique), it’s about the consistency leading up to it!
Can you commit to tracking your nutrition in MyFitnessPal or app of your choice 7/7 days during contest prep phases (or following a meal plan with your prescribed macros) and hitting within 50 calories of your weekly calorie average and within 10g of your goal protein intake daily (typically between 120-150g per day)? During contest prep, your numbers won’t always be low, but whether they are 1500-2100, as an athlete, you need to be able to commit to hitting your numbers.
In addition, can you also commit to training a minimum of 4 days per week, often 5 times per week, and up to 30 minutes of cardio 4x per week as your contest approaches? (Note: we keep cardio minimal and most athletes do not do more than 100 minutes per week)
Truth #3: As coaches, we can’t always predict how quickly you will progress.
Many factors impact your rate of muscle growth and fat loss including genetics, history of dieting, training, stress levels, sleep, and unplanned life events. This is one of the reasons why hiring a coach that you trust is so important.
Though we do have an idea of how quickly things can and should move during the cutting phase of your competition prep (sometimes ranging from 0.25-1.0lbs per week), we don’t always know how your body will respond. The same can be said for your muscle growth phase. You can speed the process by being consistent and compliant during both of these phases, but at the end of the day, sometimes those factors that we mentioned before make things take a little longer. Bodybuilding is a judged sport. Try to keep in mind that your coach has your best interests in mind and is never trying to hurt you or hold you back by suggesting that you hold off on a show.
Are you okay with your coach not cutting your calories or dieting you right away if she thinks that it’s the right move for your physique? If you originally planned on doing a show but your coach believes that you would be more competitive if you wait for a later show, are you willing to trust her and the process?
How coachable are you REALLY?
Truth #4: You need to start with a healthy metabolism and relationship with food.
There is quite a bit more to achieve a competition-winning physique on stage than just having a low body fat %. You need to have a good foundation in place without having crashed dieted or over cardio-ed your way there. You also need to have a decent amount of muscle and a healthy amount of body fat to be ready to prep.
If you are starting your prep eating 1500 calories or less, unless you are 1-2 months out from a show with a balanced physique, you will likely need to reverse diet. Obviously you can always create more fat loss by cutting more calories and adding more cardio. However, you eventually reach a point where going to such extremes will be detrimental to your bigger picture goals.
At Fitbliss, we recommend being in a position where you have been consistent with balanced nutrition (including adequate protein intake) and training for a full year before starting a competition prep. Starting here will ensure that you are able to maintain a positive self-image, relationship with food, and healthy metabolism! At the end of your competition prep, we want you to be in a better place, both mentally and physically, than when you started!
Truth #5: You need the right motivation and timing.
Are you starting a competition prep to get back at an ex? To help you to stop binge eating? To get those last 10lbs of baby weight off? It’s important to check your motivation BEFORE starting a competition prep.
If things are stable with your job, relationships, finances, and you don’t have too many social obligations that will be taking you out of your routine (ie. your friend’s destination wedding in Cabo or your family trip to Italy) then you are more likely to have a successful prep!
If things are not stable with your health, your relationships, your body image, etc., you may find that when your competition prep gets tough (and it usually does at one point or another) you just don’t have the right motivation to stay in the game. Sure you can make travel or your stressful schedule work, but you could also find that it does more harm than good to add in one more thing. During these times you may decide that it’s best to work on maintaining your physique and balancing stress levels instead of putting yourself through a prep that is not well-timed. Remember that there will ALWAYS be another show and another opportunity to prep. Most likely, the stress of adding in a competition when you’re going through a stressful or difficult time just makes life even less manageable.
Truth #6: You need to actually want to get on stage and have the financial means to get there.
Remember, the prep part is actually just one element of doing a competition. Getting on stage in a blinged-out bikini is a whole different ball game. Many people start a competition prep because they just want to look like a competitor without actually competing. Between the necessary investments for a show in coaching, a suit, heels, spray tan, posing, hair and makeup, things get expensive. Having the experience of competing is exciting and rewarding, however, keep in mind that it’s an extreme sport with the end goal being that you get on stage and that the physique that you gain from competing is very temporary.
|Essential Costs of Contest Prep|
|Entry Fee||$150 (per class) for local, $300 (per class) for national shows|
|NPC Federation Fee||$125|
|Contest prep coach||$150/month|
If you finished reading this and you aren’t totally scared away, then congratulations, you may be a great candidate for a competition prep! If you’re not quite there yet, don’t get discouraged! You can do anything you set your mind to!
Know that competing is a personal choice and a hobby! If you are starting a competition prep, make sure that you are in it for the right reason and try to keep perspective as you push yourself to new limits!
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