I'm roughly 2-3 weeks into prep, and things have been relatively smooth-sailing. I'm a little under 14 weeks out, have 2 cheat meals a week, and am not doing even an hour of cardio. Life is good! And, this is the way prep SHOULD look at this stage in the game.
I've been down this road before, so I know what's ahead, and I know how to handle it. But for new competitors, or for people who have no clue about the competitive physique industry, you may find this post to be pretty revealing.
First let me start off by saying that no prep is ever the same. Ever. The body changes, especially for new competitors who are trying to add mass to their frames. Take it from me - slow and steady wins the race when it comes to building good, quality, LEAN mass. You simply cannot add 10lbs of mass in 3 months, and anyone that tells you this is a possibility is either a liar or a steroid user. If you're like me and want to maintain your beardless face, you'll take the drug-free route, which is the longer route. I have been lifting heavy as all hell since June of 2009, and 2 years later I am finally at a point where I feel I can be competitive. My body has changed drastically in those 2 years: I have shoulders, a much wider back, and thicker quads/glutes. I've had to buy a size larger in shirts/tops/jackets in order to fit my ever-expanding bat wings, but it's all good in the hood. Due to my weight and size increase, my diet and workouts have also changed over time. As I get ready to buckle down on my October 29th show prep, I am WELL aware of the fact that my prep for this show will look nothing like my prep for my very first show. I'm also acutely aware that I will not compete at the same weight as I did a couple years ago. There's no way that I will weigh 125 on stage ever again, unless I lose mass. This is why I always say, "Train for a look, not a number." If I fixated myself on 125, I'd end up disappointed. For newbies, heed this advice - figure competitors don't have to make a weight class like bodybuilders do. No one cares what your bodyfat percentage is, how much you weigh, or how much you can bench. They care about your symmetry, your poise, and your teeny tiny waist. Always keep that in the back of your minds. Weight should be used as a measure of progress, but it is not the be all, end all of your success. In fact, my body usually stays around the same weight until about 6 weeks out. That does not mean I'm not making progress. Actually, it means I'm keeping mass while losing fat, which is fine by me. But most industry "gurus" will drop cals/carbs and add cardio if the scale stays the same each week. Lame asses. Way to think outside the box, guys.
As the weeks progress and the calories SLOWLY drop (I do mean slowly), I will get hungrier and hungrier, and thus crazier and crazier! All jokes aside, you'd be amazed at what happens to the human psyche as the body becomes deprived of food. (For the best contest prep article ever written, please read this long, but amazing, amazing article that should be a must-read for all competitors http://www.scottabel.com/publications/Sometimes%20Falling%20Feels%20like%20Flying%20For%20a%20Little%20While.pdf). I usually stay strong until about week 5. 5 to 3 weeks out is tough for me. You've made it through over half your prep without cheating, but you still have 5 weeks to go. The end is near, but not near enough. This is also the time that your mind starts to play tricks on you. You send progress pics to your coach and think you look like a snowman, you think you'll NEVER lose enough fat off of your ass to actually hit the stage on your show day without embarrassing yourself, and you start to watch Food Network like it's porn. Trust me. Been there, done that, and will likely do it again. In my defense, I'm a foodie (hence the blog, duh), so I watch Food Network pretty much around the clock. But it takes a on sick sort of NEED during contest prep, especially towards the end. If I can at least SEE amazing food, I almost don't feel as deprived. Almost. You'd think it would have the opposite effect, but it doesn't (at least not for me).
This is the time that separates the women from the girls. So many of my friends ask me how I deal with my hunger. "What are your tricks?" they always ask. There are no tricks, folks. I hate to disappoint you. ANYONE who is dieting, listen up: to lose fat you HAVE to be in a caloric deficit. Period. End of discussion. This means you will be hungry. Expect it, accept it, and get over it. Turning hunger into a positive thing is where a lot of people fall short. I take it as a sign that my body is eating my ass, which is always, always a good thing when you have to wear a sparkly thong that covers roughly 1 inch of skin on either side of your crack. Instead of saying "I can't have that on my diet," say "I choose not to eat that so I can be successful." That teeny tiny change in wording completely makes the difference in how you will think about dieting and hunger. You will never succeed at losing weight/fat if you don't accept hunger. For my 8 weeks of caloric deficit, I just go to another place, mentally. LA calls this "food maturity," and I suppose it is.
That brings me to cheating - taking little nibbles of things here and there that you know won't really affect your physique. Here's the thing: a little + a little + a little = a lot. For me, I crave entire pizzas and bags of doughnuts during prep. Obviously I can't have that. So what good will 1 little bite actually do? None! It certainly isn't going to satisfy any craving that I may have, and it may actually just make my cravings WORSE. That's not to say that I haven't ever slipped up close to a show and had a bite of something that I shouldn't have. I dare any competitor to tell me that they haven't. I'm not perfect, and I never claim to be. But I try to be pretty effing close during contest prep. For newbie competitors, this is where you will struggle the most, for sure. It will drive you crazy, and you'll get to a point where you don't want to be around people and their food. Even normal food starts to look tempting in those last few weeks. I typically decline social invitations in the last 2 weeks before a show, just because I don't want to deal with the questions, the weird looks as I pull tilapia out of my purse, and I certainly don't want to be around delicious, tempting food. My recommendation for newbies is this: get all the shit food out of your house. Throw it away, donate it, whatever you need to do - just get it out. I don't keep peanut butter, chocolate, or even extra nuts/oats in my house, because I'll want them. And when those cravings hit, pull out your posing suit and put it on. I cannot tell you how many times I walked around my house in my suit at 11pm, reminding myself of my goal. It helped.
Now for the good news!
I love contest prep. Truly. It is the most challenging thing I have EVER done, both physically and mentally. My workouts are intense, metabolic, and athletic. I feel like I'm back in my old soccer glory days. Sprints, agility, plyos....I feel like a straight pimp during prep. Certainly much better than those whose trainers plop them on a treadmill for 2hrs a day. I love pushing myself, especially towards the end when my energy is doo doo. Picking yourself up and pushing on is what makes a winner. I never give up. I always imagine the girl next to me on stage, and I sure as hell ain't gonna be beat by someone else. So I push, I sweat, I grunt, I cry, I bleed, and I may throw up. Mentally, there are very few people who have the discipline to compete. I am aware of this. There's something in my brain that allows me to ignore hunger, to deal with it, and to keep cheat-free. I'm not sure what it is, and I have trouble identifying with people who can't control themselves. To me, it's a matter of choice - you either choose to cheat or you choose to stay on plan. Your success is ENTIRELY in your own hands. I love the mental side of competing - I am very aware of how strong I am as I approach a show.
The other plus? The obvious: the most insanely hot body you can imagine. Perhaps this is why this industry is full of narcissists. It's fascinating to me what happens to the body within the last few weeks, and especially the last few days of prep. Literally, daily changes occur. This also may be what helps me stay compliant: I can SEE my dedication and self-control paying off in my physique. I am way more interested in the SCIENCE of what is happening to the body as a show approaches than I am in having a 6-pack. Sure, it's cool, don't get me wrong, but trying to figure out how water, sodium, and carbs all interact to change the way the body looks is so freaking cool to me. Many competitors do photoshoots in the days leading to their shows. I've done many. To me, the pictures don't serve as a reminder of my hotness, but rather as a reminder of all of my hard work. I want to capture that moment in time, because I know I won't do this forever. Additionally, I am so tired of people saying that muscular, athletic women are not attractive. I know people differ in what they find aesthetically pleasing, but I've always found athletic-looking girls to be hotter than SFGs. I like a girl with shape, I like a girl who looks like she can kick some ass. I do not like a girl who looks like a boy, who has no shape, and who looks like she'd fall over with the slightest breeze. That shit ain't sexy. My photoshoots are typically done in an effort to show how gorgeous female muscle is. Be proud of it, ladies. You've worked your ass off for it...........literally. If I can change just 1 person's mind via my photos, I'd be happy.
So for those of who who are embarking upon your first figure competition, remember this: you are a winner as soon as you hit the stage. Don't worry about how you place, don't worry about your weight, don't worry about anything. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Trust your trainer, let them do the hard work, be honest with them at all times (biofeedback is CRUCIAL), and really tune into your own body. It's a truly fascinating time, both mentally and physically, and I love every minute of it.