Experience the Difference

The First Time Competitor

The scenario: You have chosen to compete in a figure or bodybuilding competition and you only have a certain amount of time to prepare yourself for it.

This is usually the time that you contact someone like me to assist with planning and programming to ensure you are in a condition that will give you a chance of doing well in this first competition.

The first thing I explain to first time competitors is that what you have chosen to compete in is a sport. Most people go along to a competition or see photos in a magazine and think, “That looks pretty cool. I would like to look like that!” The fact is though, it is a sport right along with other elite sports that require the body to be lean and strong, sports such as track and field, gymnastics, rowing, surf lifesaving, triathlon or cycling (all ‘mainstream’, traditional sports).

With this in mind, I find it surprising that I have heard the following statements from women preparing for their first bodybuilding or figure competition more times than I can remember:

  • “I can’t eat any less!”
  • “I can’t do any more or train any harder!”
  • “This is so hard!”
  • “I can’t fit in everything that I need to do!”
  • “I’ll bet nobody else is doing this much or training this hard!”
  • “This can’t be healthy!”
  • “I am grumpy and snappy all the time with family and work colleagues!”

The fact is, the moment you walk on stage is when you will be the most healthy you have ever been in your life, so long as you have the right person in charge of your preparation. There have been so many times I have been approached by parents (usually the mother) of women entering their first competition with their “concerns” about how much weight their daughter has lost and worrying that she may be sick or unhealthy. Nothing could be further from the truth! Eating in preparation for a figure or female bodybuilding competition is no different from how females should eat on a daily basis.

I am able to reinforce the above bold statement with a very recent example. Not long ago there was a bodybuilding competition held where I had a number of athletes entered. One of these athletes in particular has had a history of digestion and stomach problems, and has struggled to control her weight throughout her life. However, she was able to get through the 16 weeks of preparation time with virtually no issues with her reoccurring digestion problems and stomach pain. Once the competition was over, she chose to move away from the preparation eating plan and include a combination of what I term “food products’, such as nuts, sugar and dairy into her diet. Along with this came the general slackening of her vigilance with regards to the intake of foods that have always proven to be a problem to her. The end result is that she has put weight on and all of the ‘old’ hormonal, stomach and digestion problems have returned.

Almost all of my best and sustainable results are achieved by athletes eliminating the majority of food products (this is food that is manufactured and refined) from their dietary intake and replace it with good clean food in its natural state. This includes all of my athletes, not just bodybuilders.

My primary goal as a coach is to have my athletes develop sustainable eating habits that are, and will be, something that they carry forward and use for the rest of their lives. What I ask of my athletes with regards to their nutrition is that they take it on as a lifestyle change, not just something they do as preparation for a competition or event. I don’t ask anything of them that I am not prepared to do myself.

As a coach I have often thought that if athletes who competed in the accepted ‘traditional sports’ needed to have certain attributes to succeed, then it is logical that I apply the same tried and proven ‘sports science’ principles to the sport of figure and bodybuilding. I feel a responsibility to move the sport forward into the current sporting times with results that are sustainable and commensurate with the sport of bodybuilding for our times.

For far too long now athletes preparing and competing in figure and bodybuilding have been obtaining their advice from people with little or no coaching experience. These people try things that may have worked for someone else or themselves, but are in fact only ‘guessing’ that it may work for you. They use no real sports science plan, both from a dietary or a training point of view.

Now that we have established that it is a SPORT that you are competing in, then it only stands to reason that the work ethic required in all aspects of your preparation should mirror that of other ‘elite’ sportspeople.  All the comments and many more that I mentioned at the beginning of this article now need to be readdressed, because in no way will you be working anywhere near as hard or doing it as tough as all other mainstream elite athletes preparing for their upcoming competitions.

The secret to the sport of bodybuilding is the training, eating and posing practice.  Get this right and you put yourself in the best possible position to obtain a good result. You can’t control who turns up to compete against you but you can control everything else about your preparation and presentation.

The time and effort taken with your posing practice cannot be underestimated. Unless you are doing a minimum of 30 minutes per day in the last 8 weeks leading up competition day, you are not doing enough practice. I see too many people in their first competition get on stage with a good physique but do not present it to the judges at their best.  They lose to someone who does a much better job of selling their attributes even though their body may be not be in as good a condition or as complete.

Another strange phenomenon I have noticed with novice competitors and to a lesser degree some more senior athletes that should know better, is that in the final 3 weeks leading up to the competition date there is more often than not a tendency to go increasingly ‘soft’ on themselves with regards to their diet and training. They spend time convincing themselves that they are tired, depleted and dream up any number of ‘excuses’ as to why they can’t train hard.

This differs much from most other sports I have been involved in for in excess of 25 years as usually as their competition date gets closer, the athletes generally attack their preparation more and more and often need to be pulled back a little as they risk overdoing it. There have been very few times that I have had to pull a figure or bodybuilding competitor back, in fact the opposite is usually the case. I find this strange as during the previous weeks and months of training you will have increasingly become fitter and more conditioned. Your ability to work harder and harder is greatly increased; therefore your workload and intensity can be increased accordingly.

To bring this into perspective, it is not particularly unusual for some bodybuilding and figure competitors to be able to achieve an exceptionally good outcome with as little as 5 hours of training per week (providing the diet and your own genetic potential are in your favour). On the other hand it is not particularly unusual for track and field athletes, triathletes, basketballers or cyclists to train up to 5 hours per day in excess of 35 hours per week.

If you attack your preparation with the traits of other elite athletes, you will put yourself into a position where you have done your very best and can be proud of the effort you have put forward to step onto that stage, no matter where you place. If you train yourself to think like an athlete, then once competition day is over you will continue to make on-going, conscious training and nutritional choices to reach an optimum level of health and wellness, thus improving not only your sporting and performance goals, but also your quality of life.


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