As a kid I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to play sport throughout my school years and beyond. Now as a young woman of nearly 30, I have established that sport and exercise are large contributors to my overall happiness, well being and self confidence. I enjoy the challenge of competitive sport, being a member of a team and having the opportunity to improve performance and maintain a healthy body and mind that I can be happy with. I have always been driven to try new things, set goals and achieve them.
Why did I decide to compete in a body building competition?
My gym routine was becoming monotonous and decided that I needed to set some goals to feel a sense of accomplishment. Around the same time I started to notice images of fit looking women with defined abs and perky squat butts all over social media. They were decked out in Lorna Jane and accompanied by inspirational quotes such as ‘strong is the new skinny’. I became intrigued with aesthetics, I stumbled across fitness and bikini model images and noticed that competitions were held in Adelaide twice a year, I also discovered that there were coaches too, just as you find in other sports. I was sold, I wanted to transform myself and compete so I found myself a coach and we set some goals, developed a plan and had a date for competition.
What did I have to do?
Competition preparation took a total of 20 weeks, I spent a good three months eating clean and following a training program that consisted mostly of weight training and little to no cardio. It wasn’t until the 8 week mark that my calorie intake began to decrease, I ate a lot of chicken, egg whites, brown rice, oats and broccoli, I love good food and I did find this difficult. As well as diet changes my training had to evolve and increase, I added new things such as fasted cardio before work and high intensity interval training (HIIT) after my weights sessions in the evenings, I therefore found myself at the gym twice a day 5 days a week (I forgot to mention that I’m a shift worker!) I had weekly check ins with my coach who tweaked my program as required and as expected when you stick to a plan you will achieve the anticipated results, It’s not rocket science. I was on the right track, I could not have been happier and achieving what I set out to do drove me to keep going.
In order to compete I needed bikinis and ‘stripper heels’. The bikinis are custom made, made from not much fabric at all. I found this daunting, I was planning to walk on a stage wearing very little in front of a large audience and a panel of judges who were going to critique my body and compare it to the next girl. Several times throughout these experiences of doubt I considered quitting but I’ve never been one to give up easily in life. I learnt how to strut and pose in a way that showed off my best features and I would practice walking every night until I could do it with my eyes closed in stupidly tall high heels, all the while with a smile on my face. Eventually competition day came along and I rocked my ridiculous dark tan, I had gone through a depletion phase, before having to dehydrate and then ‘carbohydrate load’ in order to look ‘shredded’. I remember standing in a line with other girls who also resembled skinny Oompa Loompas, I quickly found myself comparing and self doubting, I was nervous and once on stage I did not really enjoy the moment at all, which I will discuss further in the next section.
Once in the limelight I discovered that I lacked the self confidence (ego) that produced what they call ‘stage presence’, another aspect that you are judged on. Sure, I strutted and posed flawlessly, the routine was easy, but I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to get off that stage, I felt uncomfortable. I had established that to do well you need to be able to flaunt it and I was probably a little to shy and conservative to do that easily and naturally.
Looking back, the tail end of the dieting was for the most part, unhealthy. I lost 7kg in the last six weeks of prep, I was hungry, tired and grumpy. My period became irregular and almost stopped completely. This frightened me because the last thing I wanted was hormone imbalance or fatigue or the risk of jeopardising my chances to conceive in the future.
It took a strain on my relationships because I was very tunnel visioned and some may say obsessed. My social life became limited as I couldn’t eat out or drink alcohol, I remember taking my own food to a wedding a week before competition (probably one of the most devastating days of my life!)
I was probably very lucky in a sense that I maintained a realistic view of the process as a whole. I kept reminding myself that this was temporary and unhealthy if continued long term and therefore I could not maintain this lifestyle and physique while being happy. I was well aware and accepting of the notion that I would have to resort back to healthy eating and a balanced life once I had achieved my goal. I have heard stories of girls who have developed damaged and warped views of themselves, resulting in unhealthy behaviors and sometimes narcissistic tenancies.
Oh, and I should mention that it was bloody expensive, I recall spending a couple of thousand dollars, if not more.
Number one and most importantly, I set a goal and I kicked it’s butt!
I gained so much knowledge about nutrition. Five years later and I still treat food as fuel. I’m aware of macro-nutrients and their effect on the body, calorie requirements, input and output and if I want to drop a kilogram or two I know exactly what to do without resorting to meal replacement shakes or other fad food deprivation diets. I also realised how much of a role food and drink plays in our culture, it brings people together. We catch up over, celebrate, cook and enjoy food together – I love it!
Finally, I realised the importance of good health, life balance and relationships. So, for this reason I decided to never put myself through competition prep again, retiring the bikinis and ditching the stripper heels. I happily went back to enjoying food and life with my nearest and dearest (lucky for me I had been forgiven what I said when I was hungry.)
Bodybuilding experiences will differ with each individual. I know athletes who compete for consecutive seasons and thrive on the lifestyle and the aesthetics that accompany the sport, because let’s be honest, everyone enjoys looking good… it just depends on how far you are willing to go to achieve and maintain it.
If this is something that is high on your bucket list and you enjoy a challenge then I would recommend that you give it your all and give it a go.