If you’re a Real Housewives fan, you may have followed the fitness journeys of Tamra Judge and Teresa Giudice as they trained for bikini competitions. (Shout-out to those super impressive muscles, ladies!) But beyond the Bravo-lebrities’ experience…the world of bikini competitions probably feels like a bit of a mystery. What’s going on behind-the-scenes of those photos of ultra-tan, ultra-fit women in flashy two-pieces on Instagram?

Well, the spectacle is only part of what bikini competitions are actually about. Beyond the sky-high heels and smiles are months of intense preparation, which can be detrimental to physical and mental health, for some.

Whether you’re thinking about signing up for one yourself or you’re just curious, here’s everything you need to know about bikini competition training—what the show is like, how people train, whether it’s safe for you, and what real bikini competitors have to say about them.

Contents

The first thing to know is that bikini competitions don’t come cheap.

Becoming a part of this world is quite an investment, as there are a number of costs associated with bikini competitions, beyond what you might expect, says Mindy Irish, NASM-certified personal trainer, contest prep and posing coach (plus, a national-level bikini competitor herself).

Here’s how it adds up, according to Irish:

So yeah, it’s not exactly an inexpensive hobby. That said, “many of us use this as part of our own income, so competing has purpose well beyond the expenses.”

So, what actually happens at a bikini competition?

“Competitive bodybuilding shows are held year-round, country-wide in a variety of venues and calibers,” says Irish. Individual federations—like National Physique Committee (NPC), one of the larger ones—host distinct events, but the rules and guidelines are generally pretty uniform.

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“Within the show, there are different categories for women and men,” says Irish. These categories include Bikini, Figure, Physique, Fitness, and Bodybuilding—all of which have unique expectations for muscle size and leanness from the contestants.

The “Bikini” division, specifically, is for competitors with the least muscle mass of all five categories, Irish explains. The requirements for this category include: “A foundation of muscle which gives shape to the female body, full round glutes with a slight separation between the hamstring and glute area, and a small amount of roundness in the delts” according to the NPC bikini division rules. (Think: Distinct muscle definition, but not huge, bulging muscles.) This category generally has the highest number of participants.

“Competitors within this category are organized in to different classes based on age and height. And, as a class, they walk out on stage and compete based on stage presence, body composition, and an overall balance of muscle proportions,” she says. Each class may have 15 to 30 (or more) competitors.

Competition suits can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000.

As a class, competitors in the bikini division are judged on a front pose, a back pose, and a 10-second individual posing routine (as well as their transitions and flow)—all while wearing five-inch clear heels.

They’re also evaluated based on their stage bikini style, full hair and makeup, and a dark competition spray tan.

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“Generally speaking, the goal is for a competitor to present a lean, athletic physique with balanced muscular proportions,” says Irish. “All while representing poise, beauty, and athleticism in a polished presentation on stage.”

Given these guidelines, preparation for a bikini competition is pretty intense.

What happens on stage is really the last step. The first is having a solid fitness base—before signing up for a competition, Irish says you should have at least a year or two of weight training under your belt.

Training can last six months to a year.

Once you’ve decided to do a competition, you can amp up strength training to focus on muscle groups that need more work developing. “This time is called the building, or improvement season, and this can last as long as six months to years at a time,” says Irish. “The goal in this phase is to eat enough food to be able to add muscle, train routinely, sleep on a rhythm, and keep body fat levels in check.”

Individuals don’t typically make these plans for themselves, though. As the contest gets closer, most participants use a hired coach who will “read the competitor’s body and guide their nutrition and training to prep for the contest,” says Irish.

“I’m lifting the same, if not more, than most of the men at my gym.”

While plans vary based on the competitor, generally the most challenging part starts at 12 to 24 weeks before the show.

“This is the stage competitors cut calories and eat very strict diets,” to help keep body fat low and highlight muscle definition, explains Amelia DiDomenico, ACE-certified personal trainer, owner of Amrose Fitness Studio in West Hollywood, California. “Everything is measured, even to the ounces of vegetables.” And competitors generally split their diet evenly between fat, carbs, and protein, a.k.a. macros.

That said, competitors need to be careful not to cut calories too much, as this will start to deteriorate hard-earned muscle. (Note: Some competitors opt for very low-carb plans, but DiDomenico says that’s not recommended. And generally carbs are cut in the final week or weeks leading up to the competition.)

This is also usually the stage where competitors ramp up cardio (often in a fasted state) and continue weight training—sometimes they’ll do both types of workouts a day, says DiDomenico, with rest days built in.

Competitors also generally have to drink a gallon of water a day during this phase. This is partially to help stay hydrated during intense training. But also, according to DiDomenico, when competitors drink that much water, their body gets used to expelling that amount of water. So the strategy is, when they decrease intake closer to the competition, their body is still used to expelling the same amount of water, which helps emphasize more visible muscle definition.

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Learning how to pose is also a big part of preparation. “The biggest factor in competitive bodybuilding, and specifically the bikini division, is the art of displaying a competitor’s physique on stage—you have to be able to move with fluidity and avoid looking robotic in the process, all while in five-inch heels and a bikini,” says Irish.

To make sure competitors feel confident on stage, daily posing practice usually starts about eight to 12 weeks before the competition, she says. “Many competitors use a posing coach, either in person or online,” she adds.

Because of the hardcore prep work involved, Bikini competitions are definitely controversial.

The extreme nature of bikini competitions doesn’t come without risks. Physically, burnout is a concern—when your body doesn’t fully recover from the rigorous workouts. While signs of overtraining can be nebulous, some red flags are irritability, moodiness, exhaustion and sleep problems, plus workout plateaus. (Basically, you hit a point where you feel weak and you’re not improving.)

“I was completely blind to how much all the eating restrictions were taking a toll on my body.”

Calorie depletion is another worry. “The light that shines in a person’s eyes just sort of goes out at a certain level of calorie depletion— unstable emotions like hysterical crying, anger, depression, and more, irrational thoughts, hunger pangs, sleeplessness, listlessness or feeling ‘sick,’ irregularity with hormones and menstrual cycles, and bad breathe,” says DiDomenico.

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There are also mental health risks associated with training for bikini competitions. “From a clinical perspective, these competitions mask high levels of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorders,” says DiDomenico (who also has a master’s degree in clinical psychology).

Ashley Borden, ACE-certified personal trainer, has also witnessed this firsthand—a former friend would flip between binge eating and training. “She would go into competition mode, and everything changed,” says Borden. “It was more militant than anything I had ever seen—she restricted everything and was a grumpy, selfish jerk.”

Obviously, this isn’t to say that all bikini competitors have eating disorders, Borden and DiDomenico both stress—for some, it’s quite the opposite.

“From my personal training perspective, working hard for a goal and accomplishing it can lead to increases in self-esteem and self-efficacy,” says DiDomenico. For that reason, bikini competitions are certainly not a hard no in her book, but she does offer this caution: “I think that both emotional and mental stability are important for competitors to consider before signing up to compete.”

(If you have a history of disordered eating or body dysmorphic disorder, these kinds of competitions are likely not a good idea—remember, organizations like NEDA can provide help and resources.)

The reality: Some people have positive experiences with bikini competitions…some don’t.

Alejandra Mace

For Alejandra Mace, training for a competition helped her deal with her divorce. While she ultimately decided not to compete as an act of self-care during a rough time, the process of training was the reward itself. “I realized even though it felt like I didn’t accomplish what I put my mind to, I had actually accomplished quite a lot,” Mace . “I had learned how to be strong. I had learned how to respect myself and be proud of myself.”

Ariella Grinberg

Ariella Grinberg echoed the same sentiment—after she traded cardio for weights and participated in her first bikini competition, she was hooked on the confidence she found. “I’ve competed in six shows in two years, made some of my best friends from competitions, and launched my own business,” she says.

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However, other bikini competitors have different feelings about their experiences. Brittany Loeser passed out on a Stairmaster after depriving her body and training too much. “In the throes of prep, I was completely blind to how much all the eating restrictions and bingeing were taking a toll on my body. And when it came time for the bikini competition, I didn’t even enjoy it that much,” she previously told WomensHealthMag.com. For her, focusing on mindful eating and how her body feels is more rewarding (and she still loves lifting, even though she’s not training for a competition).

Ultimately, whether a bikini competition is right for you depends on who you are.

As popular as bikini competitions are, they’re not for everyone. But for people looking for a new and challenging outlet for their passion for fitness, it can be a great goal to work toward, says Irish.

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Of course, it’s a big commitment. “Like all competitions or sports, competing at that level requires extreme training, discipline, and focus,” says DiDomenico.

“That’s what competitive bodybuilding is all about: The love of the process and the enjoyment of getting on stage and showcasing our years of dedication and hard work,” adds Irish.

If that sounds up your alley, awesome! Training and competing is an impressive feat that pushes your body and your mind—just be mindful of your physical and mental health along the way. And if not, you can still admire the hard work that goes into bikini contests while sticking to a fitness and nutrition plan that works for you (no competition necessary).

Alexa Tucker Freelance Writer Alexa is a Denver-based writer and editor who covers all things health and wellness, lifestyle, travel, and beauty.

My body experiment: bikini competition

In our series, My Body Experiment, we ask high performers to tell us about major changes they’ve made in diet, fitness, and general wellness. Here, they’ll chronicle the results of their trials, positive and negative. First up was Derek Beres who flipped his eating habits in hopes of reenergizing himself mentally and physically. Next up is Simone Tchouke, who went through a grueling fitness and diet routine for a chance to win a bikini competition. Here, the results:

The Beginning

I literally stumbled upon this world—essentially beauty pageants for muscles—by accident. I’ll tell you how I transformed my physique and got down to 13 percent body fat, but first a little background to help give some context.

I come from very humble beginnings. Growing up in Cameroon in central Africa, I didn’t have dolls or toys so I played football, jumped rope, and was very active. I came to New York City when I was 15 and I wanted to play soccer and run track but my parents were afraid it would take away from my studies.

When I went to City College in Harlem (where I got my BS in biochemistry) I would train with the track team, though my parents wouldn’t let me officially join. The coach was like my very first trainer; he taught me how to squat and gave me workout routines. Then, a friend gave me an illegally-burned copy of Insanity and I started doing it in my living room. It was so hot in my apartment and I would sweat so much. But somehow all that sweat made me so happy. I created an Instagram account (@Love_Fitness1) and I started following others in the space. I kept seeing these girls in brightly-colored bikinis—and they didn’t look like Victoria Secret models, they were fit. I thought to myself, ‘I could probably push it up a notch and look like that.’ Bikini competitions, I learned, involve standing in your bathing suit in front of a panel of judges who rate you solely on your looks: your physique, your presentation, your smile, hair, makeup, and even your tan.

I didn’t have money for any kind of gym membership but I had a friend from City College who did. His name is Sam Baker and he’s a firefighter. My new routine became this: I would roll out of bed and do an Insanity DVD. Then, go to my lab, go to class or work (teaching math and science at an after-school program) after which Sam would sneak me into the gym. After about four months of this, I befriended the manager and he introduced me to my current coach, Tennille Ray. She showed me how to pose on stage and she cleaned up my diet. Three weeks later, in Otober 2013, I placed in the top five in my first bikini competition.

Meanwhile, people started asking me if I could train them and I said to myself, ‘You know what, I’m going to give it a shot.’ Fast-forward and I became a trainer at Equinox in February 2014.

I competed again in 2014 and 2015. This year, at 29, I set my sights on two back-to-back competitions: the NPC Mid Atlantic Natural Classic 2017 on May 13th and the NPC Bev Francis Atlantic States Championships on June 3rd. The latter was my “goal” competition and the former would serve as “practice.”

I started training in January because I wanted to build a little more muscle in my legs but I started my diet in February. Normally I stay around 140 pounds and 18 to 20 percent body fat. For this competition, I lost a few pounds but the real difference was my body fat percentage which dropped to 13 percent. Here’s how I did it.

The Bikini Competition Diet

There are three phases to my diet but during each, I eat five to six meals a day. I don’t count calories (I don’t even know how many calories are in a cup of rice off the top of my head) but instead focus on macros—fat, protein, and carbs—and get a certain amount of each in my meals. It’s super precise because I weigh my food.

A point of contention amongst the super-fit is alcohol (and whether you can compete at this level and still imbibe on occasion) but I’m lucky in that I don’t drink at all. I prefer eating my calories. If you put ice cream down in front of me, it would be so hard for me to say no. I cheated on my diet a few times during this training cycle but you have to keep that under control because when we’re talking about this low of a body fat percentage, what you do in private shows in public. The judges are going to know if I have been eating cookies. When you get on stage under all those lights in a tiny bikini, you see all your choices.

PHASE 1: Muscle-Building (January-March)

This is when I had the most food because I needed it to build muscle. My protein came from eggs and egg whites, chicken, ground beef, or turkey. I’d eat a ton of leafy greens like spinach and kale. I’d also eat asparagus which has a lot of vitamin C and is a natural diuretic which helps you not to hold excess water. I’d also get a little healthy fat from avocado or coconut oil. In the first two or three meals of the day, I’d eat fruit or good carbs like quinoa or sweet potatoes. Then, I start weaning off the carbs because food is fuel so you want it when you need it. It’s not like rice is bad but if you eat rice and go to sleep it just sits in your stomach. If you eat it before you go to work out, you need all that fuel. During this phase, I’d also drink one gallon to 1.5 gallons of water a day.

PHASE 2: Maintenance (April)

At this point, my workouts peaked and I was lifting lighter weights for more reps than I was in phase one. So, I ate fewer carbs because I didn’t need them as much. I ate about the same amount of protein as in phase one but the type shifted—I ate more fish, which is leaner than chicken and turkey. I also got rid of all sugar. So, I cut fruit (the five strawberries I used to eat with breakfast—banished). The fat and water stayed about the same.

PHASE 3: Leaning Out (end of April – competition)

At this point, I could have no complex carbs at all except on leg training days. I would have a little carb before those workouts because I needed it to lift all that weight. I didn’t eat that much chicken or other meat because leaning out was my focus so I needed to eat the leanest foods possible. Chicken and salmon are not lean enough. I won’t even eat black cod—only white cod. For five to six meals a day I was literally eating some combination of egg whites, white fish, and greens. Sometimes I’d cook my egg whites with a little coconut oil. I’d drink two gallons of water a day to help flush out my system.

The Bikini Competition Workout Plan

My boyfriend, Oliver Williams, created my workout program for me. It was nice to just be handed a plan and execute on it rather than overthinking it. He split my lifting routine up by muscle groups. I had a leg day during which I mostly focused on my front (i.e. back squat and front squat) and another leg day where I focused on the muscle groups on my posterior chain (i.e. deadlifts, hip thrusts). My weakest links are my legs so I put more focus on them. I had two upper-body push days (i.e. push-ups, barbell bench press, shoulder press) and two upper-body pull days (i.e. pull-ups, bent-over rows, lat pull-downs). I don’t do abs. When you’re squatting and deadlifting, you’re using your core plenty. Each of these workouts would take me about two hours. Sunday was off.

During phase one, I was lifting very heavy. Every week, I was bringing up the weight a little bit. For example, I started at 95 pounds on the back squat (five sets of eight reps) in January and peaked in early March at 180 pounds. Then, I started going back down because the changes in my diet wouldn’t allow me to lift as heavy. It was important for me to be steady and safe with my training.

In the beginning, I barely did any cardio, maybe 20 minutes if I wanted to. Then, around the end of February, I would do 30 minutes on the StairMaster or bike in the morning or at night three times a week. Cardio causes you to lose fat as well as muscle so if you’re trying to preserve the latter you don’t want to do too much. Two weeks before competition, though, when I was trying to become the leanest possible, I was doing one hour a day five to six days a week. The cardio really depends how well you stick to your diet and how much you need to cut. If you eat a certain way, you really don’t need to do much at all.

When you work out, you’re destroying the muscle and you need to repair it when you’re sleeping. As a trainer, it’s hard to get enough sleep because you have a session at 5:30 a.m. I try to get about six to six and a half hours of sleep a night. But if I was getting eight or nine hours of sleep, it would be different. You perform better if you’re not tired.

“The cardio really depends on how well you stick to your diet and how much you need to cut. If you eat a certain way, you really don’t need to do much at all.”

The Bikini Competition Beauty Regimen

At 7:30 a.m. on the day of the second competition I rolled out of the hotel bed and met with my coach. My tanning appointment was around 8:45 a.m. Then I had my makeup done and my wig curled and put on. I cannot go out there with my natural hair. Nobody’s going to tell you, “Oh, you can’t have your hair out.” But, I’m not going to score as well. You have to look good enough that if they want to put you in a magazine, somebody would pick up the magazine.

Next, I put on my jewelry and press-on nails and finally, I put on my bikini and high heels. I practiced walking in my heels (with my coach and also in a group) from the moment I chose a date to compete. You have to walk effortlessly in your heels on stage; you can go from first place to third place if you don’t present yourself in flawless way.

The Main Event

In the May competition, I did really well. I won my class and overall. But it was the June competition that I had really set my sights on.

At 2 p.m., I walked on stage and did my solo routine. I flexed and presented my body for about 30 seconds. The judging is not just about your look, it’s also about how you present it—from your smile to your walk.

Want to know what it takes to get into bikini model shape? Fancy competing yourself?

If you do, you might want to start following former Pro Bikini World Champion and current competitor in the WBFF World Championships, Cristina Silva.

Also a PT, Cristina knows a thing or two about building muscle, burning fat and what kinds of weight training are especially beneficial to women.

Originally from Mexico, she started competing in 2015.

‘When I arrived in the UK seven years ago, I was astounded by the number of people going to the gym, cycling to work and the number of people running on the streets of London,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.

‘I used to train at the fitness centre of my town in Mexico. It’s was quite an old bodybuilding gym, rusty and very old school! There was no comparison with the one in London.’

She won her first ever bikini competition and has gone on to compete in the fitness category (the main difference being that fitness models have more muscle definition than bikini competitors).

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‘I never imagined that result and that was just the beginning of my career as a competitor!’ says Cristina.

‘After that competition in May 2015, I decided to compete at the World Championships in Las Vegas…and finished as the 2015 Pro Bikini World Champion. I’ve been competing every year since, and last year I decided to step up a category and jump from bikini to fitness. So, my new challenge is to win the WBFF World Championships in that category.’

We spoke to her after she took us through a particularly brutal lower body workout, packed with single-leg squats, Russian lunges and single-leg squat jumps and leg presses, about how her routine changes between competitions and the biggest mistakes women are making in the gym.

Cristina’s pre-show training regime

Fitness models, like boxers, have an intense period before competitions where they try to shred any excess fat – often going down to between 13% and 8% (the average woman has between 25-30%). Leading up to shredding season, however, competitors will have been trying to pack on the lean muscle – and Cristina says that the off-season period is just as important as the weeks leading up to the show.

‘Training for a show isn’t just about the last 12/16 weeks leading up to the competition,’ Cristina explains.

‘The off-season period is equally as important. It’s during that time that the big changes are made by building the body and the muscles for when the time comes to get lean and ready for the stage.

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‘During the off-season period, training hypotrophy is the goal. This is why it’s important to train the muscle groups two or times a week, two/three sets of 10/12 repetitions. During this period, I avoid doing any cardio activity, focusing mainly on building muscle and working on my body.’

Cristina’s hypertrophy routines

Weight training is split into three kinds – endurance (over 12 reps of any exercise), hypertrophy and strength (1-6 reps).

For burning fat and building muscle, you want to be training in hypertrophy (three sets of 10-12 reps). You also want to be training different muscles every day so that you’re giving each set at least 24 hours to repair before you go again.

Her typical weeks look like this:

Day 1: Legs
Day 2: Pull
Day 3: Glutes
Day 4: Active Rest
Day 5: Push
Day 6: Legs
Day 7: Rest

‘When the time comes for me to start getting ready to step on stage, the changes in my training are minimal, the only difference comes with cardio routines which I add to my training.

‘Normally, I start with 20 minutes a day of steady state such as incline walking or going on the cross trainer. I’m always trying to keep my heart rate between 130/140 RPM to stay in the fat burning zone. As the week’s progress, the cardio increases depending on how my body is responding to it and how fast I’m getting lean.’

Cristina’s pre-show diet

‘My diet for the 12/16 weeks before the competition is really simple. I use macronutrients to calculate my calorie intake and I make sure I have the right amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

Diet breakdown

Cristina’s diet consists mainly of:

During the preparation, Cristina says her goal is to reduce the calories as little as possible, to avoid the breakdown of muscle – which is surprising considering just how lean these women have to get.

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‘I always start reducing my fats first no more than 5g a week and then if it’s necessary, my carbs no more 5g a week.’

Supplementation is important during the final weeks of prep. As an ambassador for sports nutritional brand USN, she’s supplied with everything she needs.

‘I normally use pre-workout B4 bomb and creatine, because it helps me maintain good quality training quality when my calories run down and my energy is low.’

She also has whey protein shakes post-workout to help with her recovery and during sessions, drinks BCAA and amino acid combinations (you can get all these things from most fitness and health supplement brands).

Why we should be training one body side and then the other

When most us do upper and lower workout regimes, we’re working both of our arms and both of our legs at the same time. You squat on both legs, for example.

Cristina, however, concentrates on working one side and then the other – making the workout infinitely harder. I thought I was strong until I tried to do six reps on the leg press…using only one leg. It was virtually impossible.

So what’s the benefit of training each side individually?

‘Most humans are asymmetrical,’ she explains.

‘Normally we tend to use one side of our body more than the other one, this creates an imbalance and that’s why it’s important to work our body separately. An imbalance in your body could result in an injury. By training a single side, we can fix this imbalance and avoid injuries.’

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That goes for any kind of sportsperson – from runners to footballers and weightlifters.

‘By working on a single leg, we force our body to work the same in every way, which also helps improve balance and coordination. Remember that not everything is about just getting strong but working on things that will improve our quality of life in a future.’

Women are still scared of weight training because they think they’re going to bulk

‘A lot of women are scared of doing weight training and focus more on cardio training trying to change the body shape – and that is the biggest mistake.

‘Weights do not make girls muscular, we don’t have enough testosterone to build the same amount of muscle as men. On the other hand, weight training is the best way to re-shape our body, making us look more toned and lean. Cardio can help a little bit to lose fat, but the bad side of this is the body adapts to it really fast, so the number of calories that you burn at the beginning will not be the same with time. Your body needs to be challenged with different routines to keep burning those calories.

‘Another mistake is thinking that we need to stop eating to lose weight. It’s about balancing your protein, fat and carbs during the day and choosing fresh, organic food and avoiding processed foods.

If you want that classic hour-glass look, stop concentrating on squatting

‘It’s not about just one move, it’s about the general routine you do at the gym. For a girl, doing back and shoulders exercises together with legs and glutes will help achieve this shape.

‘Wide back and shoulders will make the waist look smaller and nice big rounded glutes will give the final touch to have the full shape.

Moves for an hour-glass bod

Some exercises that you can do are:

  • Shoulder press, lateral raises, upright rows, reverse pec dec
  • Lateral pull down, chin-ups, Rows, pullovers, Straight arm pulldowns.
  • Squat, lunges, raised lunges, sumo squats, Rumanian deadlift
  • Kickbacks, reverse hyperextensions, hip thrusters, bridges

What advice does Cristina have to women looking to get into competing?

‘You don’t need to get a title to accomplish something,’ she says. The most important thing is the experience and the learning.

‘Just stepping into a stage looking at your best is already winning, getting a crown would be just a plus.

‘Choosing a good coach is also important. Someone who understands your needs as a competitor and who will take care of you during the preparation and not just take easy roads to get you lean. The easy roads are most of the time the unhealthiest ones. Choose wisely.’

And perhaps the biggest question…are bikini models really that healthy?

‘Training for bikini competitions is an amazing experience that requires a lot of discipline, but the process can at times be difficult for the body and mind.

‘Extreme diets, with restricted calories and intense training for long periods can bring many side effects like losing your period, mood swings, hormonal changes etc. However, if you train properly and follow a good diet, then it’s achievable.

‘The goal of a bikini competitor is getting really lean for the stage. For the female body, a normal percentage of body fat for an athlete is 15% to 20%, for a healthy woman is 21% to 25%, and a bikini competitor can be anywhere between 8% to 13%.’

So…we’ll leave you to be the judge of that.

Cristina Silva is an ambassador for leading sports nutrition brand USN who have just launched their brand new Blue Lab Whey protein. To find out more visit www.usn.co.uk.

MORE: ‘Netflix of fitness apps’: How Fiit could actually replace your gym membership

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So how do I go about solving the puzzle of contest dieting?

Tell your body to build its tolerance to long and slow enduring miles via a properly applied long-distance running program and you will be a good marathon runner.

Tell your body to build large muscles by lifting a sufficiently heavy load, sufficiently many times (sets and reps), sufficiently often (frequency) to make the muscle adapt and grow larger and stronger and you will be a good physique competitor.

Tell your body to become faster and more explosive by doing short sprints with full recovery, low rep and explosive training with some strategic plyometrics and agility drills – and you will become a better track & field athlete, sprinter, fighter or dancer.

So why do girls think they will end up like some sort of superhuman hybrid if they combine all these different types of training into one Perfect Program?

Long, slow miles build endurance champions, but they tend to look completely different from sprinters or dancers, don’t you think? Because the former is telling their muscle to become more energetically efficient, i.e. smaller and with increased oxidative capacity, i.e. strengthening the “aerobic engine”.

The latter requires muscles displaying highly powerful and explosive contractions, with a highly developed ATP-CP and glycolytic system which – incidentally – is a fantastic sink for incoming carbs.

A typical workout for a sprinter is 10-15 repeats from 10-100 meters with full recovery (walking) of 2-3 minutes in between. A total distance of 2000-3000m/1.5miles. They don’t even diet but think of food (and especially carbs) as fuel – and a lot of them could probably step right up on a fitness contest stage and place in the top 5 with ease. Far from the 60+ minutes of treadmill or spinning classes done by 95% of girls in gyms around the world, and how many toned butts do you see there?

And I don’t even like lots of running for women. Due to biomechanics, faulty technique and overuse of high-tech running shoes (read: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/magazine/running-christopher-mcdougall.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1) injury rate statistics actually show that only 15-20% get away with it long-term. Funny how those 80-85% who end up hurt think they belong to that 15-20% of Mommy’s special snowflakes who don’t.

Most of you probably put in hours of gym time every week to achieve a leaner and more athletic looking physique, so why would you even begin to think that training like a middle- to long-distance runner would accomplish this somewhat rare feat?

You see, it’s not all about the caloric burn, it’s about what stimuli your body is receiving and adapting to. Since the heart rate monitor is telling you that 30 minutes of cardio burnt 200kcals, and since a magazine article told you that low/moderate-intensity cardio burns the most fat (%age-wise at least), you should go for 1-2hrs sessions if you REALLY want to burn fat.

Right?

Wrong, and it’s actually been shown both in research and in real life that the female body can preferentially mobilize fat from the upper body and store them right back in their lower bodies with long duration moderate-intensity cardio. Also, this type of cardio directly inhibits muscle growth, so you’re basically sabotaging your Butt Blaster/Thigh Master efforts as well.

But hey, if you really want to keep that skinny-fat ass and legs, stop reading now and forget everything I just told you.

Sure, you may burn more fat DURING the session itself by doing low- and moderate intensity cardio, but what happens the remaining 22-23 hours of the day is of far more importance, don’t you think? There’s a reason why most long-term studies show high-intensity intervals to be superior for fat loss.

Even if it’s mainly glycolytic in nature and burns less calories on an acute basis, it will effectively tell your body to refill muscle glycogen stores from the carbs you’re eating, while burning fat as fuel when you are resting and recovering. You can probably see where I’m going with this – I like interval based cardio, and especially so for women.

With a caveat; and let me reiterate what I said earlier, women’s bodies are a complex survival machine. Cutting calories too much or doing too much activity will stop progress in its tracks, so don’t overdo the cardio aspect.

You’re most likely already doing intense weight training 3-4+ days per week, which has a very similar neurological and biological impact and signaling effect as intervals, so stay on the conservative side and gradually build up your work capacity.

My favorite types of cardio for women:

  1. Sprint intervals. Start off with dynamic mobility work, followed by about 5 minutes of gradual warm-ups. Then it’s the sprint intervals: the next 5-15 minutes (start with 5 the first time out) you go hard (90-100% effort) for 5-15 seconds, easy for 45-60 seconds and repeat. End with a 10-15 minute cool-down (walking or easy jog) and stretching. Total duration for the whole session will be in the 20-30 minute range. Start with 1-2 sessions per week and increase up to a max of 2-3 sessions. And no, I don’t recommend Tabata intervals for most people. There are more interesting ways of killing yourself. Recommended activities for sprint intervals: hill or stair sprints, prowler/sled pushing or dragging, elliptical or rower set at high resistance, Airdyne bike.
  2. Tempo intervals, where you go at a slightly lower intensity (around 70-80% of max) for 30-60 seconds, easy for 90-120 seconds, and repeat. This is a popular type of workout for sprinters to add training volume without overtaxing the fast and explosive type II fibers. I limit total duration to 20-30 minutes here, as well. Get an idea of what 100% is to you, because when I say 70-80% speed/intensity that’s exactly where you need to be. Elliptical, rower, Airdyne bike, skipping rope, swimming, barbell/dumbell/kettlebell complexes and soft track or grass field running (with barefoot shoes). I don’t recommend longer 2-4 minute intervals for physique- or power and strength athletes, at all.
  3. Long duration moderate intensity cardio is something I use in moderation, as you’ve probably picked up on earlier. Also, no lactate threshold training, stick to lower intensities if you insist on longer duration cardio sessions. For recovery purposes or if you’re sedentary during the day – a brisk walk for 30-60 minutes is great, and it can be done on a daily basis as long as you don’t exceed a heart rate of 130-140bpm. I sometimes recommend this option exclusively, meaning no intervals if you’re already doing 4-5 high volume weight training sessions, and trying to improve your leg size and strength. Adding lots of intervals to this would probably destroy you and I’ve seen it happen all too many times.

If you’re competing in Athletic Fitness, you obviously need to row a lot for cardio, and you also need to imitate contest conditions where you’re often limited to 1min rest from the rowing event until dips and chins.

Progress from 2-3 cardio sessions per week all the way up to a maximum of 4-6 sessions, of which sprint intervals no more than 2-3 days per week, and tempo intervals 2-4 days per week.

Watch for signs of overtraining/overreaching and sub in brisk walking if your legs begin to flatten out and feel tired. Doing too much high-intensity work when your recovery is already compromised by a caloric deficit is a seriously stupid idea, so don’t.

Splitting it up into 2 or even 3 short sessions during a day is better than 1 long session, meaning 15 minutes morning and evening is better than 30 minutes in the morning. Something about stimulating the metabolism more often, as well as avoiding cortisol accumulation.

Also forget about that “pump and tone” stuff and making your workouts into cardio sessions. The same stimulus which built the muscle will be the one maintaining it.

I know Crossfit is all the hype now, but I’m very ambivalent towards training complex lifts requiring both skill and coordination until failure with short rest periods.

Yes, you can get strong, but in my experience you will get stronger and fitter by separating strength and cardio – and with less injury potential to boot.

Also consider the fact that women in general will do more reps at a given intensity than men due to neurological inefficiency, so do 5-8 rep training on a regular basis to keep strength levels up during a diet – even delving into 1-3 rep territory as long as you stay explosive and use long rest periods (2-5mins).

Here’s a typical training week deep into contest prep, about 4 weeks from the competition date – and this ONLY an example, not a template to copy indiscriminantly:

Monday:

Morning: Tempo intervals, 5min warm-up, 30secs high intensity, 90secs low intensity for 20mins, 5 min cool-down. 30min total duration. .

Afternoon: Shoulder pressing, side and bent laterals for shoulders, some triceps work

Tuesday:

Morning walk/jog for 15-20 minutes. Afternoon/Evening: Sprint intervals – 5 min warm-up, 10 x go hard for 10 secs, easy for 40 secs. Easy walking for 7 minutes. Total duration 20 minutes.

Wednesday:

Morning: 30min brisk walk

Afternoon: Barbell or DB complex: 8 explosive reps each of Bent Rows, Cleans, Front Squat, Shoulder Press, Squats, Good Mornings – moving directly from one exercise to the next. It’s a natural progression. Rest for 1 minute. Repeat the circuit 6 times.

Thursday:

40min brisk walk in the morning.

Afternoon: Lats and biceps, added delt work

Friday:

Morning: Tempo intervals, same as Monday

Afternoon: Chest, back – horizontal pulling focus (rows and deadlift variations) with some added glute/ham work.

Saturday:

20-30 min brisk walk and easy mobility work or rest

Sunday:

20-30min brisk walk in the morning (I occasionally have someone do sprint intervals on the same day as legs as it leaves more days for recovery)

Afternoon: Legs

The final week

I don’t play around too much with carbs at this point. The judges usually prefer the dry, hard look, and not fullness or vascularity as in a bodybuilder – so don’t try to carb up like a bodybuilder.

What usually works best is just dropping down cardio to a bare minimum and increasing carbs ever so slightly for a few days at the beginning of the final week.

Depending on conditioning, drop back down for the last couple of days to get rid of any subcutaneous water retention. If you need more fullness on contest day, add a couple of meals of carbs, fats and sodium before pre-judging and you should be good to go.

Only if someone is really lean, somewhat stringy and flat and/or under-muscled will I try to improve their look by carbing them up more, but I still prefer to do that early in the week (Tuesday-Wednesday) and drop carbs back to diet levels Thursday and Friday (for a Saturday show) if they start spilling over.

(edit: I have since perfected a carbloading strategy with a substantial amount of specific types of carbs are introduced the last 36hrs. This only works if you are lean enough.)

Just keep water and sodium high throughout the week (5-8 liters is a good range – it will be hard the first couple of days then you adapt) and only drop sodium (don’t eliminate it) for the first meals on Friday, then bring it back in for the final meal or the first meals on Saturday depending on when pre-judging starts.

Water is kept in the whole time, but Saturday you only need small sips between meals if you’re really thirsty. The rest is an individual adjustment process, so I can’t give you any cookie cutter routine here – it will depend on how you have responded to various diet manipulations on the way and how lean you are.

A trial run 2-3 weeks out will save you a lot of trouble, and take note on what days you look the best, but when in doubt – KISS.

No, it wasn’t a romantic invitation. It means ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ and don’t waste 20 weeks of dieting by doing something overcomplicated and silly the last couple of days.

Having a coach with a good eye to give you honest feedback and keep your head in check is not only a bonus, but a requirement unless you’ve competed many times and know your body inside out.

So there you have it, my contest prep tips for female fitness and bikini competitors, based on 50% science, 50% experience, and 50% stuff I made up as I wrote it. Yeah, I know it adds up to 150% but don’t let my math skills get in the way of rethinking your old strategy and taking something useful away from this article.

Coach Borge A. Fagerli

Oslo, Norway

Figure It Out: How To Successfully Prepare For A Figure Competition

So, you think you want to enter a figure competition, do you? “Yes,” you say. After all, you workout hard, eat well, and maintain a relatively lean physique. You have a strong work ethic, are determined to reach your goals, and love meeting new challenges. Well if that’s the case, I say go for it! Of course, that leaves you with much to be learned and accomplished.

The journey to physique competition is probably the toughest you’ll ever endure, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Being able to prove that you’ve got the mental and physical ability to get in contest shape and stand on stage that day is enough to give you the self-confidence boost to go after any and all of your lifelong dreams, not to mention, you get in great shape!

When I first had these thoughts and desires several years ago, I began by spending hours a day on the computer, researching the ever-scattered tidbits of information an aspiring competitor could get her hands on, which left much to be desired. Two years later, I entered my first show. Two years after that brings me to this point—preparing to enter my seventh physique competition and try my hand at the NPC national-level.

I love helping out new competitors; I offer it as an online service and also hold monthly competitor workshops at my gym. What I’ve also decided to do with this article is to write a complete guide for preparing for a figure competition—everything you need to know from start to finish, diet to training, suits to hair, heels to posing. I hope this helps ease your mind and lessen the stress you will encounter during your prep, and bringing home a trophy wouldn’t be too bad, either!

Choosing A Show

The first step in preparing for a show is to choose an organization and a division in which to compete. We’re assuming the second has been done, as this article is geared towards figure competitors. There are also divisions for fitness, bikini, and fitness model.

As for choosing an organization, attend local shows in your area and research the different organization websites online. Check out results and photos from the shows you are looking to enter to see what the desired look is, and decide which look you prefer and could likely attain.

For a figure competition, you should allow yourself 3-6 months of preparation. This ensures enough time to take care of all the details, while also focusing on your training and diet, without added stress of being pressed to meet a deadline and wondering if you’ll be ready on time.

After selecting several shows of interest, research the chosen organization’s criteria, rules, and judging requirements. You will have to submit your entry form and registration fee, adhere to any drug-testing requirements, and put together posing routines and quarter turns according to that organization’s standards.

It’s a good idea to contact the show promoter to sort out any questions you may have at this point. If the show requires traveling, ensure you find a means to get there and make any necessary reservations, including airfare or hotel, if required.

12-8 Weeks Out

At the 3-month point, you should begin the first stages of preparation. They include hiring any professionals to assist you and mapping out the first stages of your training and diet. People often question why I use a nutritionist for my prep; they assume that if I am at an elite level of fitness, that I should know enough to do my own nutrition. This simply is not true.

There is nothing wrong with hiring a nutritionist or a personal trainer that is skilled in the area of physique competition to assist you in your efforts. The extra support is also very helpful!

Due to budget constraints, I suggest hiring one person to take care of the one area in which you feel you need the most help. For me, and many competitors, that area is diet. What to eat, what not to eat, in what amounts, when, and how to peak during that final week are beyond most workout enthusiasts’ basic knowledge.

Diet

At 12 weeks out you should begin counting calories and starting to eliminate the junk foods from your diet. Get into the habit of eating 5-7 meals per day, each meal containing a protein, carbohydrate, and some fat, and drinking one gallon of water per day.

Limit cheat meals to one day on the weekend. Start preparing your daily meal plans, buying and cooking food from scratch as much as possible, and weighing and measuring portions. Also be sure to track your calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fat for every item you put in your mouth.

Begin limiting simple sugars to what is found in fruits and complex carbohydrates – no junk food sweets or candy. Replace any full-fat dairy products with low-fat or fat-free versions. Start increasing your fiber intake gradually, and aim for 35g per day.

A great tool to track your daily food intake is http://www.fitday.com. It’s free, and contains a huge food database and the option to customize your own foods. It can be accessed from any computer with internet access, or there is a desktop version you can download to your home PC or laptop.

If you are doing your own diet, begin by putting in 1g of protein for every pound of bodyweight, as a minimum. You do not need to go higher than 1.25g per pound. Make sure to keep healthy fats in your diet as well. Keep about 20-30g of fat in your diet, and supplement with nuts or nut butters to ensure you’re reaching those numbers.

When it comes to carbohydrates, much is determined by your individual body type. Are you overly sensitive to carbohydrates and tend to store fat easily? You will probably want to keep this number equal with your protein intake. If you are thin-framed, have a fast metabolism, and have a hard time putting on fat or muscle, you can stand to add more carbs in your diet.

These first few weeks, you want to make sure you are consistent with whatever numbers you go for. You will then be able to track your progress and make changes according to what your body does.

Consistency is the key in any successful nutrition program. If you aren’t doing the same thing from day to day, how do you know if you are getting enough protein, too many carbs, or not enough water? Eliminate all but one variable (carbs), and use your weight and energy levels to determine if you need more or less calories.

Training

A lot of new competitors hear the false rumor that to lean out, they need to increase their reps and decrease their weight to get more of a fat-burning effect. This will increase your heart rate, but it will also allow your body to give up much more of its hard-earned muscle. With the primary goals of contest prep being to lean out and to conserve muscle, you definitely do not want to go this route.

What you should do is continue on the same lifting routine that got you the physique you have right now. Whether it’s a 4-day split in the 6-10 range, or an upper/lower split in the 8-12 range, you want to keep the weights as heavy as you can throughout your prep period. It will get difficult; your energy levels and strength both decrease dramatically on reduced calories and lower body fat levels.

Your weight workouts should focus on high intensity. You can make any type of workout a high-intensity one. There are many techniques in which to do this. You can reduce your rest periods to 45-60 seconds between sets, and begin super-setting exercises together.

You can throw in a few high-rep sets to really get your heart-rate up, but remember not to sacrifice weight in your other exercises and sets. Negatives, drop sets, and forced reps are other great ways to increase your training intensity. Your heart rate should be soaring, you should be sweating, and your muscles should definitely be burning and fatigued!

Cardio

It’s difficult to recommend a proper cardio regimen for anyone without knowing their training history, body type, and how much fat they need to lose for a show. In general, I recommend starting with 3 30-minute sessions per week and take it from there. If you are already doing more than that, do not increase your cardio at this point, just maintain where you are.

Cardio should only be increased upon the occurrence of two things: one, you stop losing fat for at least 2 weeks without having changed anything else in your program; two, you first drop your calories by 100-200 consistently for 1-2 weeks and have still not lost any body fat.

Always manipulate your diet first, and do it slowly and gradually, before increasing your cardio. Once you have to increase cardio, add 5-15 minutes to each session for the first week and that will likely do the trick. Once your sessions reach 45-60 minutes in length, you can add in another day of cardio.

I always recommend taking one day out of the week where you rest completely from all weight training, cardio, classes, and practice. Your body needs the rest and it’s a nice perk to look forward to at the end of the week, helping rest and recharge you physically and mentally for next week’s training and diet.

Since there is so much controversy regarding particular supplements and whether they work or not, my supplement recommendations come in order of importance and in order of effectiveness based on popular research and my own experience. If there is something not on the list you wish to take and can afford to do so, then there is nothing wrong with adding it in to make your preparation and life a little easier.

  • Multi-Vitamin/Mineral: First and foremost, this is a necessity. I even double the dose and take one each in the morning and evening during contest prep. While on reduced calories and strenuous exercise, you are depleting your body of its necessary vitamins and nutrients, so doubling up on this supplement is a great idea.

  • Extra Vitamin C: This is also a necessity for me and all my clients in contest prep mode. The extra vitamin C is needed to help boost the immune system, which is severely weakened from all the rigors of contest prep.

  • Extra Calcium: This is very important for female competitors and should not be ignored. Women need a minimum of 1200-1400 mg daily, and most multi-vitamins only contain 500 mg. Add 500 mg of calcium in your morning and evening doses to ensure you are meeting the minimum requirement.

  • Glutamine: While there are many debates as to whether or not supplementing with glutamine is effective in what it promises, I believe in its powers and always add this in precontest. Take 5-10 g daily, split into 2 doses. Pre or post-workout is a great time to take glutamine, and also right before bed.

  • Echinacea and Gingko Biloba: I am an adamant believer in the effectiveness of herbal remedies, so I’ve added these two herbs to my supplementation program. The Echinacea helps boost the immune system, important for reasons mentioned above, and the Gingko helps with mental clarity, alertness, and concentration, all of which are depleted on a low-calorie, lower carbohydrate contest diet.

  • Glucosamine Complex: This is very important during contest prep. As you lean out, your joints, tendons, and ligaments become more susceptible to injury; there is less fat around the joint to cushion and protect it. In addition, the high volume of weight training and cardio puts a lot of stress on your joints. Adding in glucosamine helps rebuild the cartilage around your joints and prevent injuries.

  • Water: Don’t forget water! Get into that habit now of drinking 3-4 liters per day. It might take you a while to build up to that, but it is definitely a necessity. Water is so important for many bodily functions, and has the added bonus of keeping your skin clear and helping you feel full while dieting.

Suit Selection

Also at this point, you need to begin reviewing posing suit designers and narrowing down some suit styles and colors you like, that also fit your budget. Contact 2-3 designers whose work you like, and let them know the date of your show and what division you’ll be competing in.

Tell them what suit or suits you need, and ask them to send you sample photos and fabric swatches. Many designers are booked 3-4 months out, so reserving your spot by 2-3 months is very important to ensure you’re getting the designer and the suit that you want.

Here are my recommendation for a suit designer:

  • Kira Jones – www.vandellacostumes.com

Posing

If you’ve never competed, you should begin learning and practicing your poses immediately. These differ as well, so research your show’s organization to ensure you are meeting their exact requirements for quarter turns, presentation walks, and routines.

I also suggest using online resources, such as Bodybuilding.com, for instructional articles on posing.

You should begin practicing your poses 1-2 times per week, aiming to hold each pose for 30-60 seconds and repeat 3-5 times. Observe yourself in a full-length mirror, and be sure to practice in the actual shoes you’ll be wearing for the show!

Practicing on a hardwood floor, such as your gym’s group exercise room, is also great, as most competition stages are hardwood. If possible, have someone take photos or a video of you posing so you can assess your poses and make appropriate changes.

Sample Workout Plan For Figure Contest Preparation

Day 1: Back, Abs 1 Seated Cable Rows Reverse, wide grip 5 sets, 12, 12, 10, 8, 6 reps+ 8 more exercises

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Day 2: Legs, Calves 1 4 sets, 15, 12, 10, 10 reps each side+ 5 more exercises

  • Instructional Videos
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Day 7: Total Rest

About The Author

Alissa Carpio is a 4-time champion in NPC Fitness & Figure contests. She is currently preparing for NPC Junior USAs, NPC Pittsburgh, and NPC Nationals. Alissa is also helping several athletes prepare for their first competition through her unique online contest prep services.

She offers Fitness & Figure Competitor Workshops to girls in the Washington, DC area. For more information, visit Alissa’s site at www.alissa.net.

What Exactly IS a Healthy Contest Prep?

There’s a little pink elephant in the room when it comes to the subject of how to prep for a physique competition. That pink elephant is the fact that for a number of years, coaches like me have found better ways to prep our clients for their shows. All while a greater majority seem to stick to Draconian old school ways of starving and cardio-ing a girl to death to get her on stage. And it leaves so many female competitors wondering if there is REALLY a such thing as a healthy contest prep? Are there better and smarter ways to go about doing things?

I definitely believe there are better ways to do things, and that a contest prep should be tailored to what that person specifically needs. However, the question still begs, what exactly IS a healthy contest prep? And that’s what I want to dig into for you today.

Can a Healthy Contest Prep Actually Be Done?

Let’s first breakdown what the hell a “healthy contest prep” even means. Now, before we do this, let’s get one thing straight. There’s absolutely NOTHING healthy about prepping for a show.

Your body wants absolutely NOTHING to do with being lean, hard, and shredded to the bone. It was never designed to live like that. It’s the reason why, physiologically speaking, it fights you tooth and nail at getting leaner. Why it simply doesn’t want to. And why you have to literally work your azz off to get lean.

Pushing the Limit is Sometimes Needed

Sometimes going to extreme measures is necessary. Especially when the women’s divisions are demanding a harder and leaner look.

That might mean double sessions of cardio. I know for my clients sometimes 60-70 mins per day (split 35 to 45 mins in the morning, and then 15-20 mins in the evening) is necessary in the final weeks to get that look. For others, it might mean taking calories a little low (never lower than 1200 calories for ANY client I work with) in the final 4 weeks or so just to get those final lines to come in.

But the difference with MY approach, and the responsibility I have as their coach, is to do it in a way that considers a client’s health first and foremost. If we have to move heaven and earth, simply to get a client on stage, we will choose another show.

How I Define a Healthy Contest Prep

In my book, a healthy contest prep is one that considers a client’s overall well being from start to finish. It’s one that will challenge a client in ways they may never have been, but not at the expense of the long term effects of the program.

When you push to your limits with training and nutrition, sometimes underlying problems can rear its ugly head. Compounding adrenal issues, sex hormone imbalances, thyroid issues… These can all be brought on by an improperly set up plan, or if they’ve always been there, made worse from said program.

If I have a competitor on a program, and their body simply isn’t responding no matter what we do, instead of pushing them to a point of no return, we STOP.

I ask that they have full panel blood tests done, and we check for any underlying issues that could be cause stalls or slow progress. This is usually done after we’ve taken calories down, increased cardio, and tweaked the plan to elicit some sort of physical change.

If nothing is working, then you have to look at the underlying cause.

So a healthy prep considers stuff like that, and keeps your overall long term well being in mind.

Dieting in a Healthy Contest Prep

The dieting is the most crucial part of your prep. Without the proper diet set up, you simply won’t see physical change. You can eliminate all cardio, to a great degree, and still see progress – provided you’re eating in a big enough caloric deficit.

But where I see a lot of people go wrong is that they cut out entire food groups, or relegate their entire plan to simply eating tilapia, chicken and asparagus for almost every meal. I’m not sure when this trend started, but really, it has to stop. It’s an unnecessary extreme, and in the long term can really lead to nutrient imbalances and more.

A healthy contest prep will have you in the right caloric deficit to continue to lose fat. It will include a variety of foods, within reason, that can still allow you to get to your goals. Now, I’m not talking about eating burgers and pizza every day.

What I am saying is that it will have various food items beyond (white) fish and asparagus that will not only get you to your goal, but keep other vital nutrients in the diet as well. And all of that DOES impact your body’s ability to function – and thus the results you see.

A healthy contest prep diet sometimes means knowing when to RAISE calories for a client. There have been multiple times when I have been faced with the choice to either lower calories further and increase activity in order for a client to get off of a stall… Or, take a step back and RAISE calories instead, all while increasing activity.

And that’s where having a skillful coach is most important. Because sometimes, taking calories even lower isn’t an option when a client’s overall health is a priority, and knowing how to get around things in a smart way is crucial to the process.

At the end of the day, a healthy contest prep diet is one that is tailored to the body in which it is given. And then tweaked and changed due to the body’s response to the program. Not because at X weeks out we drop all fats, eat only asparagus, eat only tilapia, and do 2 hours of cardio a day…

Training and Cardio is a Healthy Contest Prep

Much like your nutrition, training and cardio is a healthy contest prep is rooted in biofeedback. The number one thing that should be the foundation of your program is that the body dictates all changes.

And when you do that, you’ll truly see that each prep is a different beast. Simply because the body ebbs and flows, and what may have worked once isn’t what’s working now. Being fluid in your approach, and listening to your body is always the best course of action.

Here’s the one thing you want to think about when it comes to your training during prep… What builds muscle KEEPS IT, in the face of fat loss. Continuing to lift heavy, and push your body in the gym is paramount. Not only will you burn a ton of calories, but you will also ensure that muscle loss is kept to a minimum.

What builds muscle KEEPS IT, in the face of fat loss.

When it comes to cardio, my motto is to only do as much as absolutely necessary. You see, the number one problem that most competitors run into is this notion that doing HOURS of cardio a day is what drives fat loss. But nothing is further from the truth.

YOUR DIET DRIVES FAT LOSS.

And in a contest prep, your diet, training, and cardio MUST work together to get the best results.

YOUR DIET DRIVES FAT LOSS. During contest prep, your diet/training/cardio MUST work together to get the best results.

There isn’t much rocket science to all of this. It’s simply a more intuitive approach that considers the individual and their needs. It’s taking a program and doing the work, as opposed to the lazy way out and just popping cookie cutter programming on everyone.

Even in my Inner Circle VIP Coaching Program, I actually have a few pre-designed contest prep programs that clients use for prep. However, as we go along and work closely together towards their show goals, I will often make tweaks to the set program to ensure there is still a level of customization. What’s great is that it allows the client to work with me within a more affordable budget, but still get a smarter planning approach to their overall prep.

Don’t believe that a smarter approach can get you lean… Well I say the proof is in the pudding. Here are a few of my clients where the results of a healthy contest prep outperformed any methods they’ve used in the past…

This is a 52 year old client! Smarter prepping works for EVERYONE.

Are You Looking for a Smarter Way to Prep For Your Next Show?

Look, it’s hard enough trying to figure this game out on your own, and really… You DON’T HAVE TO!

I’ve worked with clients of all starting points, experienced to newbie, 20’s all the way up to 50+ years. So no matter where you are, you’re in good hands.

Stepping on stage should be an exciting moment. It should encourage you, make you feel like you’re on top of the world! Achieving a dream goal. With the WRONG coach… It can be an absolute NIGHTMARE.

Do NOT suffer through old school methods of training and dieting.

Do NOT set yourself up for metabolic damage or adrenal issues simply because your coach has no clue what they’re doing… Nor do they care about YOU or your overall health.

Become a Roxstar, and let me show you what it feels like to truly WIN at this game… From your off season, to your prep, to your show, and well beyond. This is a lifestyle, and one that should empower you along the way.

Become a RoxStar – I’m Taking on Clients for Off-Season Coaching and Contest Prep!

I currently have some openings for those looking to step up their game in contest prep! So don’t hesitate to get started on my customized training and nutrition program that will not only have you looking great on stage… But loving your body and what you’ve EARNED both in and out of the gym.

I have two options for us to work closely together, and one fit for any budget! so I can shoot over some more info about getting you up and started today.

Your health, your body, and your sanity all depend on choosing the right coach to guide you on the path to victory for your upcoming show.

Do not put that precious commodity in the hands of someone who lacks experience, or simply doesn’t care enough about your well being to put YOU first in this game.

A Day In the Life of a Bikini Competition Winner

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The behind-the-scenes effort it takes to become a bikini competitor is insanely hard and takes more willpower than just choosing a salad over fries to go with your burger. I spoke with Taylor Chapman, an ACE-certified personal trainer, who has four competitions under her sequined bikini bottoms, and she shared just what it takes to hit the stage in heels, a skimpy two-piece, and a spray tan.

Preparing for a competition takes about three to five months, depending on how in shape you are. Taylor says if you’re already in good shape, working out three to five times per week, it should take about 12 weeks. If you’re not, you’re looking more at 20 weeks. “You also want to be sure to allow enough time to lose the weight in a healthy manner, aiming to lose at most two pounds per week.”

Strict doesn’t even begin to describe her meal and workout plan. Take a look at what she eats in a day. If it’s not on the list, it’s off-limits. She admits, “I would dream about Mexican food pretty much every night, and I watched the Food Network religiously!”

Meal Plan

Meal 1:7:00 a.m.

1/2 cup oatmeal

3 egg whites, 1 egg

Meal 2: 9:30 a.m.

Pro Whey 30 protein shake made with water (30g protein, 5g carbs, and 1g fat)

Meal 3: 12:00 p.m.

6 ounces grilled chicken

Large salad

2 tablespoons light dressing

Meal 4: 3:00 p.m.

Dannon Light and Fit Greek Yogurt

1/4 cup almonds

Meal 5: 5:00 p.m.

Protein shake

Meal 6: 7:30 p.m.

6 ounces chicken/tilapia/shrimp or 4 ounces lean ground beef

1 cup veggies

1/4 cup brown rice or 3 ounces sweet potatoes

Meal 7: 10:00 p.m.

1 flavored rice cake

Total daily calories: 1,100 to 1,200

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For the first eight weeks of competition prep, she does 45-minute cardio sessions five times a week. For the last month, she steps it up to 60-minute cardio sessions, seven days a week. She says, “I got so tired of cardio that I had to mix up the exercise I did every 20 minutes.” Example: 20 minutes stair stepper, 20 minutes arch trainer, 20 minutes treadmill. Actually, for best results, Taylor recommends interval training to keep your muscles guessing and to avoid overuse injury. As far as weights go, she trained five days a week. “You should build your plan based on muscle groups that need the most work. My typical week is as follows:”

Monday: Cardio, legs, and abs

Tuesday: Cardio, shoulders, and abs

Wednesday: Cardio, chest, and triceps

Thursday: Cardio, back, and biceps

Friday: Cardio, legs, and abs

Saturday: Cardio and abs

Sunday: Cardio and abs

Some competitors split workouts up, doing two in one day, but Taylor preferred getting it all done at once. She admitted that in the last month, having no rest days was killer, so she’d do double cardio on Saturdays (one hour elliptical, then one hour soccer or tennis to mix things up) just so she could rest on Sunday.

Training for a bikini competition is no joke. The before-and-after pics are so impressive, to see what’s possible with hard work and perseverance. But it becomes your only focus. “I hated that I basically had no life for three months. I lived in the gym and out of Tupperware containers,” Taylor said. “You miss out on a lot of outings and events while competing because it can be very tempting to go out with your friends and not partake in eating or drinking. But in the end, it’s worth it when you reach your goals.”

Another tidbit you’ll appreciate hearing is that this perfect body she achieved, with only 12 percent body fat, could only be maintained for that one day of competition. You can’t possibly eat so strictly and work out that much all the time. Her off-season body was much healthier (pictured above), but she had to deal with nasty comments like, “Wow, so I guess you’re done with the whole competing thing, huh?” It takes a very secure and strong person to brush those comments aside, and Taylor admits that competing never made her feel so insecure. But she also said, “This was one of the most challenging tasks I have ever done in my life and I learned the art of willpower and determination. I learned that I can truly do anything I put my mind to.”

  • By Jenny Sugar for POPSUGAR Fitness

How to Train for a Bikini Competition: It’s All About Glutes!

If you want to enter a bikini competition, or just look your best in a bikini, then you better have some glutes! As a matter of fact, in this day and age, you can’t be competitive in bikini competitions if you don’t have a nice set of glutes.

Sure, your other muscles need to be developed, but when a women gets lean, most of the body’s muscles emerge and pop out. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with glutes. If they’re not there, they won’t look good even when you’re at your leanest.

In case you haven’t been to any bikini competitions, let me be very frank. When a competitor doesn’t have good glute development, it sticks out like a sore thumb! I thought about posting some pictures depicting poor glute development but decided against it as that would be rude. Instead, I’ll focus on pictures of great glute development later in this article as it’s important for aspiring competitors to understand how the creme de la creme look so they can plan their training accordingly.

This weekend, former champion Nathalia Melo (see HERE for an interview with Nathalia) was ousted by new champion Ashley Kaltwasser for the 2013 Ms. Bikini Olympia contest. I thought that Nathalia looked incredible, but critics say she was too “hard” looking. Here are the results (click HERE for a more detailed report):

  1. Ashley Kaltwasser
  2. Yeshaira Robles
  3. Stacey Alexander
  4. Nathalia Melo
  5. India Paulino
  6. Amanda Latona

Now, bikini is a tricky little game. Sometimes the judges award the softer, more feminine looking ladies, and sometimes they go with the leaner, more ripped ladies. What the judges never go for is the competitor who has pancake butt!

I’m going to share a ton of pics from this competition so you can see that bikini is indeed all about glutes! As far as training is concerned, if glutes come easy for you and you’re among the genetic elite who can grow glutes easily, then you can adhere to any sort of routine and look better. But this is rarely the case.

As I mentioned earlier, most ladies find that the quads, arms, shoulders, and back are fairly easy to develop and that they end up looking very good as they lean out. The same goes for the abs – just get lean and they tend to look fabulous. However, the exception is the backside. The glutes are the hardest region of the body for most ladies to build.

This is why Strong Curves and Strong by Bret have been so successful. The programs are full body and hit the upper body and core, but they focus on glutes, which is how I feel all good female-based training programs should be written.

The Word “Focus” Implies Specialization

If you try to “focus” on everything, then you’re no longer “focusing.” If you want glutes, then your training must be tailored toward building glutes. You must hammer the glutes and scale everything else back a bit to allow the glutes to thrive. Trying to hammer all the upper body muscles with the same effort you hammer the glutes and trying to add in tons of conditioning work will prevent the glutes from growing optimally. What’s interesting though is that many women find that when focusing on the glutes with high frequency full body training, their upper body strength increases as well.

How Should One Train for Bikini?

Again, bikini training should be centered on glutes. Strong Curves and Strong by Bret are two perfect programs for creating the coveted bikini body for good reason – they hammer the glutes with high volume, high frequency, and high intensity. Most programs have you hitting the glutes 1-2 days per week, but these programs have you hitting the glutes 3-6 days per week with the best exercises and methods for building the glutes.

Going back to the Ms. Bikini Olympia Contest last weekend, here are tons of pics for you to examine, courtesy of Per Bernal (the best fitness photographer in the business) from Muscular Development (the best bodybuilding magazine in the business). For an even more comprehensive set of pictures, click HERE and see the right-hand column of competitors (you can even click on the comparisons tab to see pictures of all of the ladies together).

Prior Pictures of Ashley Kaltwasser, the New Champ (Notice the Incredible Glutes)

Ashley has amazing glutes!

It doesn’t get much better than this!

New Pictures of Ashley from This Weekend

Glute Pics of the Other Competitors

Amanda Latona

India Paulino

Nathalia Melo

Stacey Alexander

Yeshaira Robles

Pictures of the Ladies on Stage Together

How can you not love Nathalia Melo!

Poor glutes really show up in this portion of the contest that has the competitors walking up and down the stage. Luckily all of these competitors look incredible!

I will elaborate on optimal glute training later this week where I share with you my glute training methods. But before I share my secrets, I wanted to first emphasize the importance of glutes in creating the ultimate bikini body.

Bear in mind that these are the top competitors in the world. At local bikini competitions, the physiques are not so perfect. Don’t be discouraged if you’re interested in competing, these ladies have been training for many years. Stay tuned for more information later in the week!

A Guide For Beginner’s Contest Prep!

All Bodybuilders Dream Of Being A Champion

In 1983 I started training with weights as a competitive alpine ski racer and continued training with weights while competing for the University of New Mexico ski team. After a bad fall, which made me stop skiing, I began to get more and more involved in lifting weights, as my thoughts were to make a come back to the slopes.

Soon people in the gym were asking me if I was a bodybuilder. My answer was, “What’s a bodybuilder?” After researching what they where talking about, I picked out a show and proceeded to get ready for my first contest. So, I did the 1988 NPC Boulder Bodybuilding Championships and I won the middleweights. Not too bad for not knowing anything.

If I remember right all I ate was large plates of pasta with cheese, butter and vegetables. Since then I have competed steadily in over a dozen shows, and made top ten in National shows and my contest prep has evolved over the years to become a very scientific process…

Ok, so, you’ve been lifting in the gym for months. You’ve been looking in those bodybuilding magazines, and you’re considering competing too. I know, all your friends say you have a great physique. Before you begin, be realistic. For instance look in the mirror at your own physique. Do you have what it takes?

Be Prepared

Bodybuilding competitions require a certain level of physical and mental discipline. Have you been to a show? Before you even begin the hard journey, find the nearest local show and check it out. Look around… in the audience alone should be a level of bodybuilders with great physiques. Watch the category you want to compete in. Interesting Huh?

One other note that is very, very important—I have gone to many shows since 1988 when I started, and there is always one constant, the individual who is on stage that everyone in the audience is laughing at. I’m sorry about being straight, but “competitive” bodybuilding is NOT what most think bodybuilding is.

You should NOT get on stage just because you dieted—it is “crucial” that your physique actually be ready for stage presentation. Bodybuilding competition is NOT for the individual who just finished their “Biggest Loser” trek and thinks that’s a good reward or the individual who has only lifted for one month and gets up there with those trying to be a “real” bodybuilder.

Politics In Bodybuilding

Most importantly, you better have tuff skin to be a bodybuilder. You need to comprehend one important thing before you step on stage—Learn the politics of bodybuilding. Yes, there is politics, and I’m not talking like something is sour in my mouth about bodybuilding, I love the sport. But, there is politics and don’t let anyone tell you different.

It took me years of practice and mistakes to get my diet and prep right but I still have trouble with the politics of bodybuilding. Sandy Ranalli (NPC Women’s Representative and promoter) told me once, “Anita it’s just being at the right show at the right time.”

Did she say anything about how my physique should look? Nope. Not at all. Though it is very important there is more involved. And that’s reality. Next, is do not think you are going to turn pro at your first National show. That’s if you even make it that far. It has happened to some, but be realistic in your assessment.

Be Realistic

I always shot for top 5 or better, and not to get “cut” from the lineup. All of those are realistic and positive goals for any beginner and a few that are competing right now should take note on. Just doing that will generate enthusiasm and the drive needed to keep the competition fires burning. It’s a long haul for some to turn pro, just ask Bob Chicerillo, Annie Rivecio, and a few of my other fellow competitors.

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Genetics and Drugs

Ok, now let’s talk the genetics and drug thing. Some individuals have what might be deemed as perfect genetics and fast metabolisms. Others carry more body fat than they would like.

Some are tall and some are short. It’s hard to find that perfect body but that doesn’t mean you cannot make yours into something that is close to perfect. And it also doesn’t mean you need to take drugs to become a top-flight bodybuilder. However, it would be nice if you lifted weights seriously for a couple years, and continue to during your competitive career.

Most, and I’m talking the ignorant out there think they have to take drugs just to make it and don’t even train in the gym diligently. There is a lot of hard work, sweat, and pain that goes into those physiques you see in MuscleMag, FLEX and even Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness magazine. I’ve seen some GREAT INBF/WNBF bodybuilders.

Do You Have A Training Partner?

Do you have a partner? What about a support crew? If you do, have your partner look at you, or even another competitor may help. Make sure they are telling you how it is, NOT what you want to hear. That’s not good help at all. We’ve seen that to many competitors think they should have won because they’re support crew said they looked great.

My Support Crew

I remember at the 1993 USA’s—it was the morning of the show and I asked my husband how I looked, “OK!” was his reply. As soon as I heard that I knew I screwed up. After prejudging was over I thought I was cut. I was lucky; I made the cut.

As we went back to the hotel so I could relax for the evening show, my husband told me, without mixing words, “I would have cut you!” Ouch! If that isn’t telling it like it is, I don’t know what is. But, he was right. That is what training partners should be, direct and helpful.

Develop A Plan

Now that we got the tuff stuff out of the way, let’s get into the fun stuff. Lets say you do possess the physique and you have a good foundation of lifting under your belt, are you ready for the dedication needed for competition diet? Do you know what to do to get there? I hope this guide can help you prepare properly so you can become a winner at your next show.

So, let’s get you ready for the stage.

Now, you need a plan. What’s your Plan? What will it take for you to be successful on the stage? That’s easy. A plan! Regardless of your level, a game plan is an absolute must and will make getting ready for that show so much easier. Some people can be ready in less time than a year and others take longer.

The following is a basic schedule to help you prepare for your next bodybuilding show:

12 Months Out

  • Pick your show.
  • Develop your off-season training program.
  • Eat quality foods in the off-season, eating every two to three hours and pounding down protein, lots of protein.
  • Do cardio two or three times a week for 20-30 minutes at a time.
  • Keep accurate records in your training journal (get a journal if you don’t have one).
  • Find a couple different songs you like.
  • Think about suits and your posing routine.

Search For A Competition In Your Area Here!

6 Months Out

  • Start working on your mandatory poses.
  • Change your workout routine, with a focus on anything that might be lacking, but do not neglect the size exercises either.
  • Up your cardio to 30 minutes a day.
  • Continue to eat quality food and 1.5-2 kg of protein per pound of body weight.
  • Eat regular meals all week and “junk food” on Sunday’s.
  • Now is really when you want to give serious thought about your posing suit and where you are going to get it. Because many places get backed up on making suites.

20 Weeks Out (Competition Diet STARTS!)

Set-Up Competition Diet: This is different for many. I was taught and truly believe that starting 20 weeks out eases you into this process rather then many other contest prep people start doing things 12 weeks out from the show—12 weeks out! Isn’t that pretty close and we want less stress not more. But, we all have our preferences.

  • If possible have an experienced judge or experienced competitive bodybuilder assess your physique or someone who is close to the industry and knows what to look for.
  • Start working on your routine and doing mandatory poses, holding each mandatory pose for 10 seconds. Do this after workout.
  • Order posing suits (remember to order two sizes smaller than what you are now for contest day)
  • Take pictures doing each mandatory pose.

The sooner you start working on your mandatory poses the better. I was told by Muscle Sport announcer Kenny Kassle to start doing timed mandatory poses after your workout three times a week to start and then every day the closer you get to your show.

I suggest doing each mandatory for 10-15 seconds to start. It is critical to practice these poses over and over again to cement it into your memory. You want to go up on stage during pre-judging and look like you did this before, like a pro. No, better then a pro. This alone will have you prepared and ready to show your stuff on competition day and it will definitely harden you up too!

  • Every week or two take pictures. This is a great monitor for your progress.
  • Contact the organization to which you are going to compete in or the state chair of that organization and get a copy of the rules. You don’t want to be unprepared.

8 Weeks Out

  • Register for competition and keep your receipts. This cannot be emphasized enough-you’ve put in the hard work. Don’t let something as simple as forgetting to register ruin your big day.
  • Also, make sure you have paid your membership fees for the organization to which you will be competing.

6 Weeks Out

  • Make travel arrangements if competition is not local
  • Choose hairstyle, accessories, and make-up
  • Start tanning
  • Purchase competition items such as lunch cooler, body lotion, tanning products, and (nail accessories, make-up, etc. for you ladies)

3 Weeks Out

  • Stay focused!
  • Stick to your diet; practice, practice, practice those mandatory poses and your routine!
  • Tan

Last Week

  • Practice mandatory poses and go over your routine in all your costumes
  • Make a competition checklist to ensure you have everything you need. For example, posing suits, tanning products, 2 copies of your music
  • More Tanning

Day Of Competition

  • Get to venue early and that doesn’t mean an hour or two before check in, unless you live around the corner – But that doesn’t always work either. There could be a car accident or construction like my friend Ron Harris found out the day of the NPC New England in his own back yard—he ran into a detour and he was already running late because of Janet his wife. So, get in a day early and check-in. After all the work you put into this competition, go out there and have fun—you’ve earned it!
  • Find out schedule of events and be ready

That’s Bodybuilding!

Competition diet, weight training, and cardio are the most important pieces of your competition preparation. Your workouts should be tailored for growth, size and shape development. Since dieting will help refine your physique, make sure you prioritize your weak points during workouts.

Yes, you have weak points, everyone has one or two, and you will need to work overtime on them. Muscle proportion, separation and size should be your main priorities. To get the best definition possible you will need to concentrate on that diet and cardio too. Ahhh, you thought I was going to tell you to do supersets, cable crossovers, and maybe 100 rep schemes? NOT!

Whoever is still talking like that has not learned a thing and you shouldn’t listen to them. Point; my husband does reps in the 100 range and has done supersets, trust me he’s far from cut. Another thing is do not think supersets are a workout that will get you “cut.” This is not true. Or do not think you are going to get weaker the closer you get to your show. This is another fallacy.

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Three weeks out from my last show I cranked-out 6 reps with 140 pounds on dumbbell rows, and was still pressing 80-pound dumbbells on Incline. If your diet is right and your food intake is maintained all the time the above will occur.

Being FULLER and THICKER is every bodybuilder’s goal to look on stage. If this is your first contest, you may have a ton of questions and consulting with a coach will help eliminate your fears and help you reach your goals.

So what do I do to start burning off body fat?

Weigh yourself before breakfast because this will give you your true body weight. As you can imagine, if you weigh yourself later in the day you will be heavier due to the meals and fluids you have consumed. Well, many people cut back on their carbohydrates and continue doing this along with their cardio. But, this is stupid and will make them look stringy!

What is bodybuilding about? It’s about building muscle and being ripped. How on earth can anyone expect to keep muscle if they constantly keep cutting back on their food??? Aerobics: I do between 2-3 sessions per week of 30 minutes on the stepper. My body weight is stable with this, so my stage is set so that I have everything in place to work from.

Lets Summarize:

Stage 1

Start off your diet with clean foods. If you are eating a fair bit of junk, work out your calories, etc. and replace with quality foods, so it resembles the diet I mentioned previously. Do this about 4 weeks before you start your contest run in. If you do a 12- week diet, start the clean up phase 16 weeks out, come the 12-week stage you will have your stage set perfectly.

Stage 2

Do aerobic 20/30 minutes, once everyday, especially when most don’t do aerobics in the off-season or very little obviously, you have got to lose body fat.

Stage 3

When weight loss slows down, the next stage is to increase aerobics on non-training days only do two sessions.

Stage 4

Next, when things start to slow down, increase your aerobics by 10/15 minutes per session.

Stage 5

The next step you can consider to keep things rolling is to increase aerobics by doing 2 sessions everyday.

Stage 6

When weight loss slows down again, drop your carbohydrates intake by 50/200grams on non-training days (the amount will depend on your diet and some people will be competing in lighter weight classes, so use your judgment).

Stage 7

If you need to, you can reduce your carbohydrates by 100grams per day, as there is only so much aerobics you can do. This should be the first time you reduce food across the whole of your diet, as you have exploited every other avenue. If you still need to get that extra off, repeat stage 7.

Your goal should be that you are in contest condition, around 1-2 weeks out from the show. This will allow you to eat up slightly into your show and at the very least level things off so you can relax knowing that the hard work has been done.

My Tricks

Here is a short run down of one of my contest preps, I hope it helps some of you and maybe even gives you some ideas on what to do for your next show.

I like losing my weight slowly, which is why I start so far out, and doing this helps you from getting that depleted look. I start with my calories just under 2,800, which is pretty high for me. I do not watch my sodium and fat intake. But, I do care about carb intake so I keep them both about the same, around 70 grams each. Pretty high fat content huh?

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My protein intake is very high to, about 300 grams, and I keep it that way all the way until two days prior to stepping on stage. This keeps the muscle on me and helps me to add more muscle the closer I get to the show. Also, other then an eat day on Sunday’s, my diet and food stays the same all the way through. But, about 12 weeks out I do stop the eat day.

My contest diet looks like this:

Meal 1 Protein Shake (low-carb, low-sugar) 1 Flaxseed Oil 1 tbsp Meal 2 Oatmeal 2 cups Egg Whites 8 Eggs 2 Meal 3 Chicken (breasts) 2 Sweet Potato 100 g Meal 4: after work Protein Shake (low-car, low-sugar) 1 Flaxseed Oil 1 tbsp Sweet Potato 100 g Meal 5 Chicken (breasts) 3 Vegetables 2 cup

As you can see, Flax Seed Oil is a major part of my dieting. I utilize Flax Seed Oil instead of carbs for energy and to burn off my body fat. This is what works best for me and for many other female bodybuilders this is the best way of dieting for a show. I also do 40-50 minutes of cardio on a treadmill in the morning and another 30 minutes after my evening iron pumping session.

  • NOW Presents: Golden Flax Meal
  • Natrol Presents: Flax Seed Oil

I am very lucky to have a very fast metabolism, but year after year your body changes and something that worked a year ago will not necessarily work the next year.

Regarding pumping the iron—I do not lift weights like most other bodybuilders. I do not do more sets, reps or supersets the closer I get to a show. But, rather, one body part a day, and I do 3-4 exercise and 3-4 sets per exercise for each body part, and my reps do not drop below six or go over 20.

The closer I get to show time I get stronger, instead of weaker. My husband made a bet with me that if I got to the 150’s by contest he’d be my maid for a week. I lost, but I tried very hard to get those 150’s. I did 140 pound dumbbells Rows for six reps each arm three weeks prior to the NPC Southern States.

Everyone’s body is different and peaking is always hit or miss. Your water and electrolyte intake is a big thing the day before and the morning of the show. I always see other female competitors drinking water prior to getting on stage and the night before, then they wonder why they smoothed out. Or they ask why their legs were not as cut.

Well, my contest peaking is all due to the exact time I stop drinking water, which is between noon and 2 p.m. Friday afternoon. The only other liquid intake I might have is a glass of red wine with my steak dinner that Friday evening. Yep, steak dinner with bake potato and a cup of ice cream that Friday evening. I poured my glass of wine on my ice cream. It tasted good. The things we do when contest dieting.

I also up my dosage of multivitamins. Multivitamin and mineral supplements are perhaps the most important single supplement that can be consumed by bodybuilders and athletes.

  • Universal Presents: Animal Pak
  • AST Presents: Multi Pro 32X
  • NOW Presents: ADAM
  • Optimum Presents: Opti-Men
  • Optimum Presents: Opti-Women

I stop doing all cardio and leg work about 10 days before the show; this gets rid of all the excess lactic acid. Enabling my legs to get the sharpness needed to compete on the National level.

I go through my compulsorily poses every day and hold each pose for about one minute each. It’s a workout. Try it. It will prep you for on stage and you’ll feel like a veteran and not a rookie posing.

The most important part is to realize that nothing matters except how you look. It doesn’t matter what your body-fat percentage is or how strong you are or even how much you weigh. You have to have good skin tone, a good hair cut, and for you girls out there make sure the make-up is just right too, do not go out with “Ghost” face, know how to pose like a veteran, and be cut and muscular.

Pro Testimonial

Here is what an IFBB Pro has to say about what it takes to become a competitive bodybuilder:

“Competitive bodybuilders must come to realize and accept that they will be judged based not only on how they look when standing alone, but how they look in comparison to the other athletes on stage that day and at that particular time.

The higher up you go, the more this becomes evident. It doesn’t matter what you looked like in the gym 2 weeks out, whether this is the best condition you’ve ever been in or if all your supporters think that the show was yours to win or lose. It only matters how you measure up to the rest of the field…

Bodybuilding is about creating the illusion of reality and convincing the judges that your physique is far above the other competitors with regards to symmetry, conditioning, muscularity and stage presence. In other words, those individuals that have the least amount of weaknesses will be the ones, most likely, that come out victorious.”

-Lisa Bavington

Learning From Your Mistakes

In bodybuilding learning from ones experiences is very helpful; It is a good idea to attend shows (This is a must).

Talk to the competitors and ask the judges questions. The latter is something I readily tell people not to do, especially after the show they’ve competed in. If you ask more than one judge at the competition you’ll get two different answers. I learned quickly to not ask them the day of the show or around others.

I asked the head judge of a National show, years ago, why I got placed where I did? The answer was: “Your legs where smooth!” In astonishment I replied by picking up my skirt and flexing my striated cut thighs and then went on to say that they where full of it.

I later wrote this person a letter to the fact again. Only to receive a call late one evening from this judge explaining to me why what was said. This individual read my letter of disharmony, and then explained that I received what I got because I was “too big” and though this person said I looked “great” at the time the NPC was “toning it down,” and to “never ask in front of others.” I said thank you and never again asked a judge why again.

First and foremost, again get a support crew or a competition prep trainer. This can be a group of individuals or one person. A support crew should help you achieve your bodybuilding goals. They serve as advisors telling you what strengths and weaknesses you have.

Again, contest prep requires you to devote your day’s making your meals, going to the gym, doing cardio sometimes twice a day, working on your mandatory poses, and your evening routine. All these elements will determine the outcome of your efforts.

Competition is a part of life, we compete against one another every day, but the most difficult thing to do is to compete with yourself, to push the boundaries of your own physique and your own psyche. Stepping on stage can be one of the most frightening and difficult experiences that you may ever go through, but it is also something that you can walk away from with a great deal of personal satisfaction, knowing that you have accomplished something that few of your peers will ever have the guts to do.

Remember, if it were easy everyone would be doing it. If bodybuilding competition is something you’ve been thinking about, my advice is, to use the directions provided in this article and make your competition goals a reality. Even though competing for bodybuilding may be tough, if you maintain your focus and put in the hard work then everything will pay off and soon you’ll be holding that overall trophy high over your head. Good luck, have fun, and compete!

Judging Physiques

We are not all created equally, physically speaking. Second, no matter how hard you train there are no guarantees you will ever become the level of champion you set your sites on. Every athlete, with a desire to compete, must brace himself or herself for the reality of bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding at any level and in all organizations is a subjective sport that is ruled and based upon opinions of several different people. Though guidelines and rules do come into play, and judges are supposed to be impartial, they still bring their opinions and feelings into how they, the judges, perceive you on that day and how they feel their ideal physique should look.

Bodybuilding Is A Subjective Sport.

The madness in this muscle business, to a certain degree, is controlled and regulated by what seems to be a handful of individuals we title as judges. Judges play an integral part how we soar as a competitor up the ladder of Bodybuilding supremacy. These individuals hold your dreams in their hands.

They are the all-important amateur and professional judges in every organization. These judges also have a certain amount of control over what look takes us into each new-year! Therefore, no matter how hard you trained and dieted or what you may think of your opposition, the final outcome is totally out of your control.

So, be professional. You must accept the judge’s decision as final. I don’t mean “professional” as Pro status, no, what I mean is be professional and understand that you cannot control those decisions, you are in a human Dog Show, the West Minster Human Kennel Club Nationals.

At the end of the day, if you do your best you will reap the rewards of your hard work in other areas of life that may come in different forms. The real reward comes in the journey to your desired look.

Finish what you started and step up to the plate to see what you’re made of. Stay the course, understand it’s all subjective and you’ll at least win in the most important game. The game of Life!

Author, Anita Ramsey.

Always remember to compete to have fun and to win! Be happy for all your hard work and the accomplishment of making it through 20 weeks of diet, training, posing, and everything else you put into that one day on stage.

Kim Oddo’s Figure And Bikini 101: Lesson 1—Nutrition

Main Page | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

If you’re serious about preparing for a figure or bikini competition, you need to begin by figuring out what works best for you. What does your body need? What foods do you need to eat? It is your figure after all, and your competition.

Nutrition

Begin by assessing how much weight you have to lose. Oddo suggests using a combination of body weight and body fat to create a starting point. If you have to lose 12 pounds in 12 weeks for example, then create a calorie structure based on that. Most people fit into a 12-to-14 week period for contest preparation, as long as they are within 15-20 pounds of their desired weight goal.

You should eat 6-7 small meals per day; spread them evenly throughout the day. If your goal is 1,800 calories per day, then you should eat about 300 calories per meal. Oddo suggests setting your calorie-intake slightly below your calorie expenditure.

Keep a balanced meal plan. Eat a good balance of carbs, fats, and protein: a little more protein than carbs, and a little more carbs than fats.

Keep a balanced meal plan. Eat a good balance of carbs, fats, and protein: a little more protein than carbs, and a little more carbs than fats.

Make sure you nibble away at calories each week; you don’t want to do anything drastic because you might start to lose some lean body tissue. If you find you are losing weight too quickly or too slowly, make the proper caloric adjustment each week.

Beware of those sneaky hidden calories like Pam, sugar alcohols and salad dressings. These have more calories than you think and some of them cause chemical reactions in your body that might cause you to retain water. Read food labels carefully!

Cheat meals can be a tricky area. Oddo thinks some women can have them sparingly and do well; but for others, cheat meals just set off cravings that send them tumbling off the wagon. He also thinks that, for the most part, it’s smart to stay away from sugar because it’s bad for insulin levels.

Supplements

Adding supplements can help the quality of your nutrition. They add balance and help you get the nutrients you might not get on a restrictive-calorie diet.

Oddo Suggests

  • BCAAs
  • Glutamine
  • Multivitamins
  • Digestive Enzyme
  • Essential Fatty Acids
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid

Total Macronutrients For The Day

  • Calories: 1596.9
  • Fat: 38.34 g
  • Carbs: 138.87 g
  • Protein: 172.08 g

Meal 1 Blueberries 1/2 cup Egg Whites 4 Oatmeal 1/3 cup Meal 2 Peanut Butter 1 tbsp Rice Cake (multi-grain) 2 Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoop Meal 3 Balsamic Vinegar 3 tbsp Brown Rice 1/2 cup Chicken 4 oz. Marinara Sauce 1/4 cup Salad 1 small portion Meal 4 Peanut Butter 1 tbsp Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoop Yogurt (plain, low-fat) 1/2 cup Meal 5 Broccoli 1 cup Balsamic Vinegar 3 tbsp Salad (with tomato and onion) 1 medium portion Whole-Wheat Tortilla 1 Turkey 4 oz. Meal 6 Flaxseeds 1 tbsp Strawberries 1/2 cup Protein Powder (whey) 1 scoop

My Competition Meal Plan

Member Comments

* I probably should have added that I am five foot six and a half inches and weight 140 lbs.
–SarahSuss21

I’m so glad you posted this Sarah! A lot of visitors to Figure & Bikini want to know what they should eat and when to achieve the success individuals like you have.
–fabeditor

Here will be my diet for 8 weeks out until 6 weeks out:
Meal 1: 4 whites, 1/2 c cooked oats, 1 apple or grapefruit, 1 c black coffee
Meal 2: 4oz chicken breast, 4 oz sweet potato (no skin)
Meal 3: 1/2 c cooked parboiled rice, 4 oz chicken breast
Meal 4: 1 c greens of my choice, 4 egg whites
Meal 5: 3 egg whites
Meal 6: 4 oz tilapia
I still season with Mrs. Dash
I drink 16 oz of water with ever meal in addition to my water during my workout and throughout the day, and I allow myself one crystal light drink per day.
–SarahSuss21

Updated meal plan::
I am weighing in at 132 lbs.
We’re switching up my meal plan… so check it out!
Meal One: 3 whites, 2 plain rice cakes, 1 grapefruit, 1 c black coffee
Meal Two: 1 serving romaine lettuce (6 pieces), 4 oz chicken breast, 1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice
Meal Three (post workout): 4 oz sweet potato, 4 oz chicken breast, 1/2 c cooked greens of my choice
Meal 4, 5, and 6: 4 oz tilapia OR 3 whites
And of course— 16 oz water with every meal, and I still allow for one crystal light drink.
–SarahSuss21

Morning Everyone! I just wanted to give this a quick update in case anyone was following!
Today marks 6 weeks out. Originally, the plan was to change my diet dastically, but since
–SarahSuss21

Morning Everyone! I just wanted to give this a quick update in case anyone was following!
Today marks 6 weeks out. Originally, the plan was to change my diet drastically, but since I am still dropping…. we’re changing it up a bit.
Instead of changing the meal plan itself, we’re going to play with the fats and carbs.
Over the next four days, I am slowly cutting out the carbs. On the fifth day, I won’t consume any carbs (other than those coming from greens), and I will fat load at night. Hopefully, since I have not had much fat in my diet since I started my prep, my body will respond nicely and fill back out!
I am taking pictures to document, and I’ll let ya know how it goes!
(weighed in at 129 this morning)
🙂
oh! And sorry about the post above this one. My mistake!
–SarahSuss21

I figured I should post some pictures to support this meal plan and show that it really does work. For those interested, feel free to check out this album which will cover my “journey” to my upcoming show.

–SarahSuss21

Sarah, I just looked at your pics on fcbk. You look fantastic. I’ve been reading all of your articles and taking many(many) notes. My first figure competition isn’t until next April. I picked one kind of far out so that I had plenty of time to do research on diets, and practice posing (I’m doing it myself without a coach, so I’m absorbing every bit of info I can find). Plus, because of the cost of doing a show, I wanted to give myself plenty of time to collect everything along the way so I didn’t go broke buying it all at the same time.
Thank you so much for posting your diet. I do a lot of searching, and read a lot about what people recommend based on percentages for each meal, but I like being able to see it laid out in front of me to have something to go by. That way I can play around with it and figure out what works for me. Thanks again!
What show are you preparing for btw?
–Kristin1422

Kristin! I just saw your comment!!! I AM SOOOO SORRY! I wish I would have gotten back to you sooner. I am glad my comments are helpful. I was preparing for the Ft Lauderdale Cup and the Ruby Championship which both took place in October (a week apart!)
Which show are you training for?
My next one will be team universe in july… i can’t wait!
good luck to you!
–SarahSuss21

How many calories should I be aiming for? I’m 4 11 95lbs and need to gain 5-6 lbs. Any idea?
–soliver1

There are many calculators on the web that can help you determine the right amount of calories. Here is one that I find helpful: Calorie Counter
–fabeditor

So I’m not going to be doing a show till April but I’ve never done this before and wanted to just start eating on a plan to get used to it so when the time comes it wont be so hard for me. Would you recommend the meal plan you have posted here or something different. I’m also 5’8 and weight 132lbs if that means anything. Thanks!!
–megrombout

What are the calories/macros for this meal plan? I also see that you card cycled 4 weeks out. Did you see a good improvement doing that? I’ve been very consistent with a diet similar to this and have seen great results. I was going to Carb cycle,but not sure if I want to mess with things:-) I’m 8 weeks out.
–fitmommy

Thank you so much for posting this! As an aspiring competitor in May I find this an invaluable tool.
–adcrocker

Do you use olive oil when you cook your meats? I do not see any fat in this diet plan so I was wondering if that is how you get it. Thank you for posting this! I am always looking for new ideas!
–missymoyo

Im prepping for my 1st competition (bikini). Im 48, 5’7 1/2, 132 lbs. Kinda like a skinny fat girl no clue of my body fat, but its all in my butt and back thighs. Looking at your diet examples, curious if im doing something wrong. im consuming approx. 1600 cals a day, and workout kickboxing & hiit classes 2 hrs a day. (some weights in ripped hiit class). From the menu planner on this site my daily food intake looks like:
1- 1 egg white & 1/2 c oatmeal
2- 4 oz turkey ground & 1c spinach
3-1 can tuna & 1c brown rice
4-1 can tuna & 3 tbsp. flax seed
5- 4 oz chicken breat & 1 med avocado
6- protein drink post workout
7- protein drink before bed
ratios daily are 50 protein/30 carbs/ 20 fats
Id like to gain 5-10 lbs in muscle yet lose about 5 more lbs of fat (in butt)
Advice? Taking serin oils (am & pm), l-carnitine (pre & postworkout), BCAA (pre & post workout), Fish oil (pm)
Thanks for any input & so excited for comp. Its mid april 🙂
– MJ
–MaryJo

Just wondering what you eat day of the show. For the one I am competing in there is a pre-judging early in the morning and of course an evening show.
–CrystalJor

For me I eat the same things… just in itty bitty quantities at a time, eating every hour to keep my stomach flat. 🙂
With love,
Kristin
–fabeditor

Hi! I’m new to this site. When posting your meal plans, are your weights of food after cooked or raw? I’ve seen both on other sites. Thank you.
~Tami
–TamiLee1975

Hello all! I’m very very new to this site and I have a lot of questions that any beginner would have, especially about my diet. I know undoing 23 years of bad eating and a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t happen over the course of a few months, but I’m down 40lbs since college and have my eyes set on competing! I am giving myself until this time next year to really prep for my first competition. I’ve been told to go bikini at first, but I’ve also been told to go into fitness because it’s what my figure is leaning more toward and I’ve been focusing on building muscle anyway. I have no idea…
Anyway, I lift 4 days a week (one of those days I have 45 minutes of cardio coupled with lifting), do an hour of cardio 2 days a week and have a rest day on Sundays.
My eating habits do have a tendency to be a little spotty on the weekends (but I don’t ever “splurge”). During the week, I work 6am to 4pm so I do eat a lot (and drink about 2 ½ liters of water a day… but here’s what my diet looks like:
6:30 – 3 egg whites, 1 whole egg, 1 packet sugar free maple oatmeal (100 cal)
8:30 – quest bar
10:30 – 4oz protein (fish or chicken), 1 cup veggies (asparagus or broccoli), 1/2 cup brown rice
12:30 – whey shake, 1 cup berries
2:30 – 4oz protein, 1 cup veggies
4:30 – pre-workout granola bar (kasha dark chocolate cherry)
5-6:30 – GYM TIME!
7-7:30 – 4oz lean protein, 1 cup spinach (salad) with lemon juice, garlic and 1 tbsp EVOO
My work schedule is not conducive to eating or working out at all which makes it hard to find any time earlier to work out. Looking at it now, I should probably cut all the bars and maybe space my meals out a little more? I’m also very cautious of working out on an empty stomach because I don’t want to burn muscle. My work schedule isn’t helpful either considering the hour drive from my office to the gym. Ehh what to do?!
Thanks ladies!!
–LaurenK88

At what point to start to cut out creatine and whey protein when preparing for your first competition. I am doing this on my own, but have a posing coach to help with that part. I won’t be competing until after the new year, but want to start plannin now. I pretty much eat the same meal plan you have right now but with more fruits and vegetables plus some pb/almond coconut butter with 7 grain sprouted bread. I usually drink my shakes post work out so I have some energy.
–smksexy2832

This is so helpful! Thank you so much for sharing. Like you, I too am 5’6.5″. I will definitely try these meal plans out.
–HeatherGa

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Bikini Competition Diet Approach 2: Biofeedback & Hormones

Since learning how to balance my metabolic hormones through what I eat and how I train for my body type, reaching and maintaining my fitness and fat loss goals has become almost effortless!

After baby #2 (Warren James) was born I completed 12 weeks of my postpartum fat loss program, Beyond Baby, and since then I’ve kind of coasted in maintenance mode.

But I’m ready for a new challenge!

I competed in my first bikini competition when baby #1 (Jackson) was just 8 months old, and it was a blast. I did another bikini competition a few months after that and won 2nd place (so crazy!). And I’m ready to do this again.

My brother, husband and I are competing in a fitness competition together… in 7 weeks!

A photo posted by Kate | beyondfitmom.com (@beyondfitmom) on Mar 24, 2016 at 10:27am PDT

The world of fitness competitions and its subcategories (bikini, figure, and physique) is unfamiliar to most moms.

Even moms who understand what the sport is about (no, we don’t take steroids or train to become a hulk) tend to shy away from fitness competitions.

Honestly, I don’t blame them!

It’s really too bad because it can be a fun, healthy goal that gives quite a sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction.

I hate the fitness industry for what they have accepted as a “normal” way to train. Even in the ‘off season’ (when you aren’t getting ready for a show) normal training methods can be horrible:

  • Suffering through weeks of extreme dieting
  • Hours (sometimes twice/day!) of cardio
  • Sacrificing endless amounts of time with family & friends

For most women, and especially for busy moms, this is neither practical or attractive. The idea of getting your best body ever through the fitness industry’s “norm” is a physically, mentally and emotionally draining process that does much more harm than good.

I’m passionate about doing this a different way (#dofitnessbetter)

  • Quick & efficient workouts done AT HOME!
  • No dangerous dieting – even eating all the foods I LOVE!
  • Plenty of time for what truly matters most! (and no, it’s not my body)

I am gearing up to take take my fitness & fat loss to the next level. I’m going to be in the best shape of my life… all without choking down chicken breasts or starving on some crazy no-carb crash diet.

I’m excited to share this journey with you and to have you along for the ride.

Whether you’re training for a Bikini Competition or just a big event where you want to look your best (hello, wedding, vacation, etc.!) the first place to start is with your workouts, that’s a given. You must be consistent with your BeyondFit Life Workouts each week. (Click HERE to join if you’re not already a member.)

But for most women, consistency with workouts isn’t the problem.

Consistency with NUTRITION is a much bigger issue, and is often the thing keeping you back from being in bikini competition shape.

To lose weight, you need two things: caloric deficit and hormonal balance.

If you can’t achieve this, you won’t lose weight no matter how “healthy” you are eating. When it comes to nutrition, there are three approaches you can use to get ready:

  • Count Calories
  • Adjust based on Biofeedback & Hormones
  • Track Macros

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, you need to determine what is best for YOU!

Bikini Competition Diet Approach 1: Calories

Personally, I don’t think counting calories works long term.

Imagine this (maybe you’ve been there), you start counting calories and you lose weight. You’re thrilled, but at the same time, you don’t really enjoy it. Simply counting calories leaves out the importance of protein and other macronutrients and can leave you still feeling hungry and a bit off.

Whether your goal is related to fat loss, fitness, or even just general overall wellbeing, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough protein. And don’t worry, it will not bulk you up!

Protein helps speed up your metabolism and balances your blood sugar levels, preventing insulin spikes, which can cause weight gain.

Protein is made up of amino acids that your body needs, and it is the key to burning fat and increasing your metabolism!

After a few weeks or months, if all you’re doing is counting calories, you’ll begin to notice a drop in energy, more hunger, and likely, lots more cravings.

You get sick of reading food labels before you eat anything. You get sick of obsessively trying to find the lowest calorie version of every food.

“Whoa, can’t have strawberries, they’ve got like 30 more calories than an apple.”

I thought like that for a while, and it drove me nuts.

I was obsessed with my nutrition and it was becoming stressful. For some women, calorie counting is doing the same thing to them, that’s why I’m excited that I found a different way.

Calories count, and calorie counting works, but it’s generally not a sustainable way to stay lean. While some people may want to begin with counting calories, I prefer they progress to developing sustainable habits instead of following a diet or meal plan.

Even for people who take care of themselves (like you) there are easier ways, that are a lot more fun, to get the body you want.

Focusing on being a “detective”, listening to your body’s biofeedback tools, and considering hormones rather than every little calorie is a much more sustainable way to live.

This is where basic bikini diet approach 2 comes in.

Focus on eating sensibly. Focus on balancing hormones that cause fluctuations in hunger, energy and cravings by choosing minimally processed, satisfying, nutrient dense foods that you enjoy (The 2 P’s: protein and produce). Eat until you’re satisfied, and then stop.

If you need to adjust your intake, you do so based on progress and biofeedback from your body.

Balancing your hunger, energy, and cravings is key to making fat loss a lifestyle, especially for busy women. You need the energy to get through the day, want to keep cravings minimal at all cost, yet still want to be eating in a way that promotes fat loss and the balance of your metabolic hormones.

One key to keeping hunger, energy and cravings balanced is to adjust the intake of your starch, protein, and fibrous veggie servings based on your individual response.

Here is the PROVEN Formula to use to adjust your nutrition based on hormonal biofeedback for maximum results.

Use the responses below to adjust your nutrition plan accordingly:

  • If you are seeing fat loss results but are experiencing hunger, low energy, or cravings – increase your protein and fiber intake.
  • If you are not seeing fat loss results and are experiencing hunger, low energy, or cravings – increase your protein and fiber intake.
  • If you are gaining fat and are experiencing hunger, low energy, or cravings – lower your starch and fat intake.
  • If you are not seeing fat loss results but have balanced hunger, energy, and cravings – increase protein intake and lower starch intake.
  • If you are gaining fat but have balanced hunger, energy, and cravings – lower starch intake.

AND THE BEST PLACE TO BE:

If you are seeing fat loss results and have balanced hunger, energy, and cravings – CONGRATULATIONS! Stay here until you begin to see a shift in results or in your metabolic hormone balance.

(Download the FREE Printable Guide here: BeyondFit’s Nutrition Adjustment Guide)

Bikini Competition Diet Approach 3: Macros


For some women, simply adjusting based on biofeedback just isn’t enough. Maybe you like the concept of adjusting based on progress and changes in metabolic hormone balance, but you want something more concrete. You need a clearer picture of where to start, and that’s ok. This is the approach I’ll be using to prepare for my upcoming bikini competition.

If you want to work from a starting point for your basic bikini diet, here’s what to do.

First: Calculate your NEED!

Did you know that even the most inactive individual will burn additional calories over their basal metabolic rate (BMR) just by just doing normal bodily functions like laughing and smiling? For a much better understanding of how many calories your body uses each day, you need to add your activity level into the overall equation.

To find out your total daily calorie needs, just multiply your BMR by the activity factor that is appropriate for your lifestyle as indicated:

With the example above, let’s presume you are only lightly active. All you need to do is multiply your BMR by 1.375 to get the total number of calories you would need to consume in order to maintain your current weight. If you are consuming more calories, you will gain weight, and if you’re consuming fewer calories, you will lose weight. The key in all this is knowing your BMR.

Then, you’ll take this calorie counting to the second step.

Second: Track your MACROS!

Should you count calories and track macros? The answer is YES and NO. No, you don’t have to. I have seen hundreds of women get results using option #2 and adjusting based on their hormonal biofeedback. This is an easy, stress free way to adjust your nutrition WITHOUT obsessing over numbers.

But if you LIKE the numbers, I suggest starting with a calorie goal in mind and taking that one step further by breaking your calories into macros. A good starting point for most women is using a basic guideline to consume meals that are 40% complex carbohydrates, 30% lean protein and 30% healthy fats.

Each macronutrient yields a certain number of calories.

  • One gram of protein yields 4 calories.
  • One gram of carbohydrate yields 4 calories.
  • One gram of fat yields 9 calories.
  • One gram of alcohol yields 7 calories.

EXAMPLE: Check out the nutrition label below and you’ll see the relationship between macronutrients and calories.

Protein: 13 * 4 = 52

Carbohydrates: 36 * 4 = 144

Fat: 1 * 9 = 9

144+52+9 = 205 calories

So tracking your macros is a more detailed way to count calories (keeping track not just of calories but of protein, carbohydrates and fats as well). From your starting point, use the adjustment guide above to tweak your nutrition based on your progress and biofeedback.

So it really comes full circle, we’re back to the PROVEN Formula to use to Adjust your Nutrition for Maximum Results.

It ALWAYS comes back to the HORMONES.

And the way your body is responding with progress (your body makeover) and biofeedback like hunger, energy and cravings. If you want to add a step in there, tracking macros, go for it, establish a baseline and then work towards creating a sustainable nutrition plan for your own unique body.

I shared everything I could with you in this blog post, but there’s still so much more to learn on this topic.

I would love to show you a way you can get more support, join us in the BEYONDFIT LIFE CLUB to join the best network of fit women on the planet!

Download my own personal workouts each month + get exclusive access to our members only coaching group. You’ll get the support and accountability you need to reach your goals!

Or if you’d like more one-on-one help, I’d love to work with you to develop your own customized fat loss nutrition plan!

Other helpful posts include:

  • Protein Powder 101
  • How to Lose the Baby Weight: Hormone Imbalance Symptoms
  • 5 Best Supplements for Women
  • 4 Keys to Get Your Body Back

Competitive fitness is blowing up among general fitness connoisseurs, thanks to Instagram stars like Paige Hathaway and Michelle Lewin. Their bods and commitment are inspiring women around the world to set the goal of one day stepping on the stage as a fitness competitor in the bikini division at the next local competition.

Yet this community still isn’t universally understood or accepted. Outsiders ridicule fitness competitions, using hateful words about participants’ bodies and the steps it took to get them. I’m here to reveal some of those steps, be honest about my experience and hopefully shed light on one particular subset of the bodybuilding community.

At most shows, the bikini division is the most saturated with competitors. Many speculate this is because the process of bodybuilding for this division is a bit less intense than others. Additionally, the “ideal” look for a bikini competitor is more aligned with what mainstream media currently considers an “ideal” body type.

Bikini competitors seek a softer overall aesthetic and the ultimate hourglass figure. Judges look for sculpted shoulders, small and toned waists, large and muscular glutes, and strong, defined legs.

Achieving this body and receiving an award for it may sound great to some. The trouble is, competing is a bit more involved than people tend to think. Along the road to becoming “stage ready,” competitors take part in a number of seriously bizarre practices.

As a former bikini fitness competitor, I feel inclined to share the hilariously strange bodybuilding practices I took part in to earn a small statue, which sits awkwardly on my desk at home.

Here are the 16 bizarre truths about experiencing a bikini fitness competition that many outsiders don’t know.

1. Your spray tan comes in layers.


Image: Cosete Jarrett

Some girls got away with applying just three layers of spray tans but, thanks to my fair skin, I had to get four. You have to give yourself at least four hours between each spray tan application, and you cannot shower until the end of the show. It costs around $100 for the spray tan, and your car, clothing, sheets and shoes will be stained for awhile following the event. But your muscles look pretty cut coated in all that bronzer.

2. You pee in a cup for a day.

To avoid ruining your spray tan, most coaches recommend that you pee in a cup then dump it into the toilet each time you use the bathroom the day of your show. As bad as it sounds, it’s even worse. The metal sanitary boxes, garbage cans and stall floors in every ladies restroom at the show’s venue were filled with used plastic cups and we all knew where those cups had been…

3. Your suit is literally glued to your butt, boobs and crotch.


Image: Cosete Jarrett

My trainer used Bikini Bite to glue the edges of my suit to my body. Some coaches used other adhesives for this, such carpet glue. The purpose here is to make sure the necessary body parts remain covered as you move through your poses in a suit that was made to show as much skin as possible.

4. A “good” suit can cost anywhere from $350-$1,000.

I was hoping to go with an inexpensive suit from Etsy, but my trainer had other ideas. Apparently a “good” bikini should be custom made and cost an absurd amount for very little fabric and a few crystals. My suit ended up costing me a total of $450, but it’s not unheard of to spend up to $1,000 on a custom show bikini.

5. Certain muscles are trained to help you properly display your rear.

The two competitors in the middle are in the pose.

Image: Cosete Jarrett

The ideal rear pose has you sticking your butt out just enough to make sure it looks its absolute best, while also keeping your back upright enough to make sure the pose is family-friendly.

Turns out, you need to build a specific lower back muscle for this. That’s why you’ll see back extensions on almost every bikini competitor’s workout program.

6. You eat zero calorie “food.”

Zero calorie food actually exists, and what it lacks in calories, it makes up for in funky tastes and stomach aches that last all night. Word to the wise, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I used products from Walden Farms to spice up my meals with coach-approved flavor. The syrup for my protein pancakes was actually really good, but the salad dressings, alfredo sauce, marshmallow dip, chocolate syrups and jams were gross. The worst stomach aches came from the creamy products, like the ranch dressing and alfredo sauce.

7. You eat bags of veggies in one sitting.


Image: Cosete Jarrett

The six meals a competitor eats each day might sound like a lot, but when you consider the portion sizes and the fact that competitors work out upwards of two hours per day, six meals can and will definitely leave a competitor hungry between each scheduled mealtime. Veggies are the one item coaches will allow their clients to eat on end. My competitor friends and I would eat bags of veggies at a time to stay full between meals.

8. You miss the days before you had a career.

For whatever reason, posing coaches, suit makers, trainers and tanning techs all need to see you smack in the middle of weekdays. This was a serious struggle for me at first, as I was working for an agency and my coaches weren’t willing to work around my nine-to-five schedule. Fortunately, I signed on for a remote working position a month before my show which helped out in a huge way as things got even crazier toward the end.

9. You make it rain on the National Physique Committee (or National Gym Association).

Registration fees (including purchasing my NPC card) cost me around $350 the week of the show. This goes toward the physique competitor association you choose to compete with and their local affiliates who host the show. Needless to say, I opted out of the optional photo package for $60 after my bank account took that unexpected hit.

10. You dehydrate yourself.

Image: Cosete Jarrett

Most coaches recommend that you take natural diuretics (commonly called water tablets) several days before your show to drop water weight. These tablets work by helping your kidneys push more sodium into your urine. The sodium then takes water from your blood which helps you lose the salt and water that appears as excess weight on your body. The water tablets made me a bit loopy, but drinking about a gallon of water a day helped. My friends who were also competing were instructed to take the tablets and restrict their water intake to cut their water weight a few days before stepping on stage.

11. You use honey or cookie butter to save your falling booty.

Apparently, the water tablets you take to dehydrate yourself before a show can make your muscles (most importantly your glutes) fall flat. My coach had instructed my team to bring honey as a quick fix to boost our muscles should this happen. When I noticed my booty falling flat about an hour before I went on stage, I ate a spoonful of honey and it worked.

12. You get oiled up with cooking oil.

When you see a bodybuilder on stage, you might assume they smell of the coconut tanning oil you used before you realized skin cancer is a thing. Nope! It’s cooking oil. The best part of having cooking oil on your body is the application process. Standing in a high school hallway getting Pam rubbed on me by the same nice lady who glued my suit to my crotch was definitely a highlight.

13. You eat an insane amount of carbs the final two days.

For the final month, a bikini competitor’s carbs will be restricted as much as possible. This is why all competitors look forward to the glorious day they get to start carb loading. Although it sounds counterintuitive, increasing your carb intake right before your show helps you fill out your muscles to make sure they “pop” on stage.

14. Your family pays about $80 to come watch.

I didn’t ask many friends or family members to come, mostly because I didn’t think I had a good shot at placing. Even though I did end up placing, I was happy I chose to invite only a select few, given the outrageous admission fee. It cost my parents and my sister $80 each to get into the morning and evening shows to watch me compete then receive my award.

15. And you still think you’re fat.

After all of the hard work competitors accomplish over the months prior to their shows, the truth is that many of them still feel as though they have a long road ahead before achieving their ideal physique. I spent hours agonizing over progress pictures as I picked apart my flaws and ignored the progress I’d made. Friends of mine who also competed told me they felt the same. This is potentially one of the most bizarre things about the whole ordeal.

16. You go ham on the post-show binge.

All competitors go a little crazy on their first meal after the show has come to an end. I went to town on a family-sized portion of Thai food, then went to the gas station to buy two jumbo cookie ice cream sandwiches. My friends who had been deprived of a cheat meal for several months took their binge to a much higher level, scarfing down Cinnamon Toast Crunch with whole milk, icing and tons of cream cheese, followed by waffles made from doughnuts and stuffed with Reese’s peanut butter cups. I hope that my experience and this article doesn’t come off as an anti-competitive fitness, because it’s not intended to be. When all was said and done, I was actually really glad that I set the goal of competing and followed through with it. The process helped me develop several healthy habits, such as eating small portions and balanced meals throughout the day and incorporating adequate strength training to complement my weekly cardio workouts.

However, before you decide to embark on a competitive fitness journey yourself, I recommend that you do some research, be honest with yourself about why you want to do it and what you hope to get out of it, and take crucial steps to be safe throughout. Other than that, expect these bizarre truths to become a part of your reality.

I have always been a huge fan of weightlifting, so I can’t help but be curious about the lifestyle of bikini bodybuilders. Not only do they have incredible physiques, but I really admire their work ethic at the gym. A friend of mine (who shall remain unnamed) recently competed in her first competition, so I learned a lot about what it takes to get on stage and have your body judged by strangers. Not surprisingly, it takes a hell of a lot of work, especially when it comes to your diet.

My friend sent me the workout schedule her trainer designed for her when she first started training for the competition, and to be honest, it didn’t look that different than the program I’m currently on. So I figured I’d give it a shot and see what happened. Here’s how the workouts were broken up during the week:

As you can see, it’s not exactly a seven-day plan. You work out for three days, then rest, and so on and so forth, so your rest days will be on a different day each week. I usually lift weight from Monday to Saturday, and then rest on Sunday, so this was certainly different.

As for my diet, I had to start counting my macros, which I have not done in a very long time. I eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, and I’ve never really felt the need to count each gram of protein or carbs, because I know I’m getting all the nutrients I need and I feel strong and healthy. But I committed to living the life of a bikini bodybuilder for a whole week, diet included. My aim was to eat 1,800 calories a day, with 130 grams of protein, 130 grams of carbs, and 89 grams of fat. Phew. And this wasn’t even in the cutting phase! Right before competition, bodybuilders will often cut their calories down to 1,200 a day or lower — while still working out daily. Yikes.

Seven days isn’t a long time to stick with something, though, so I went for it. Here’s what I learned.

Bikini Bodybuilding Isn’t Exactly Healthy

There are many bodybuilders who will confirm this to be true, but the sad fact is that bikini bodybuilding is not something you do to get healthy. It’s all about drastically changing your physique in a very short amount of time, and this puts strain on the body in many different ways. You don’t have that much time to rest and you aren’t giving yourself enough time to practice mobility and keep your body supple (more on that later).

It’s also not a very healthy diet. I don’t count my calories every day, but my guess is that I normally eat about 2,000-2,300, since I’m lifting weights almost every single day. So cutting up to 500 calories yet maintaining my rigorous workout program? That was tough. I felt pretty tired for most of the week, and I really wanted to eat more. If I’m being honest, on the fifth day, I said “F*ck it” and just ate an extra few hundred calories. I was starving!

The Workouts Are Tough but Totally Doable

When I woke up after the morning after my first lower body session, I was pretty damn sore. The workout consisted of the following (4×8 means 4 sets of 8 reps):

  • Pause Squats (hold for 3-5 seconds at the bottom), 4×8
  • Seated Leg Curl 3×12
  • Romanian Deadlift (toes elevated on weight plates), 4×12
  • Barbell Hip Thrust 4×12
  • Barbell Glute Bridge 3×12
  • Hip Abduction Machine 4×12
  • Standing Calf Raise 3×12

Are you sweating just reading that? Because that’s a lot of movement to pack into one workout. It took me over 75 minutes to do it all. I have to give props to all the bodybuilders out there — they put in hours and hours of work at the gym to sculpt their legs and butt.

However, the other chest/shoulders/triceps and glutes/back/biceps routines weren’t much different than what I normally do, so I didn’t get sore from those routines at all. Here’s what my chest/shoulders/triceps day looked like:

  • Incline Dumbbell Chest Press 4×12
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press 4×10
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise 4×12
  • Barbell Front Raise 3×12
  • Tricep Pushdown 4×10
  • Cable Overhead Tricep Extension 4×12
  • Skull Crushers 3×12

It’s All About How You Look, Not How You Feel

Think about this for a minute: what’s the purpose of training for a bikini bodybuilding competition? It’s to look good, and nothing else. That means the program will inherently lack a big part of fitness that is actually the most important of all: mobility and flexibility. Because flexibility doesn’t show up in the muscles on stage for everyone to see, it’s not a priority for bodybuilders, which is very worrisome.

I’ve spoken to several bikini bodybuilders who have absolutely no understanding of mobility and its role in our lives, and I can’t really blame them. Their coaches don’t teach them about how functionality and flexibility is the foundation to all healthy movement. There’s also no work on core, stability, and balance, which are crucial parts of fitness our bodies desperately need to be well.

Because you’re spending so much time lifting weights and sculpting your body, there isn’t enough time — or energy, for that matter — to invest in mobility. And I was really missing my stretch sessions, yoga, and Animal Flow. Seven days without mobility work left me feeling stiff, and I could feel the lower back pain creeping in by the end of the week.

Diligently Counting Macros Is Hard Work

Again, I have to give props to these bodybuilders. They put a lot of time and effort into counting their macros, and it takes more work than you probably realise. Every single thing you put in your mouth has to be calculated and recorded. I don’t know if it was because I’m not used to counting my macros, but I found this to be tedious and, honestly, very annoying.

Finally, I hated having to shove down 130 grams of protein. It felt like such an excess amount that I didn’t really need, but this simply goes back to the fact that bodybuilding is all about growing muscles and looking good, so you need a shit ton of protein to make that happen.

All in all, I’ve got a lot of respect for all the bodybuilders out there. But would I ever consider competing myself? No way. I find that there’s much more happiness to be found when you’re living a truly healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Image Source: Gina Florio

Bikini competitors over 40

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