Competing in a Fitness Competition can be an excellent way to build discipline and see what your body is capable of while crushing new goals and pushing the limits. What it is not is a walk in the park! Prepping for a competition will impact every part of your life as well as the lives of those closest to you. Now, this doesn’t have to be a negative thing, but knowing what to expect before making the big decision to compete can definitely help you prepare.
Evaluate the time you will need to prepare – deciding when to start your prep is #1 because we are all different and while one athlete may only need 6 weeks another may need 12 or more. Figuring out how much time you will need should be evaluated by a prep coach or someone who has experience competing. The key indicator of being stage ready is your body fat percentage. The average woman is 25-31% body fat according to the American Council on Exercise. A bikini competitor is anywhere from 8-13% body fat. In order to show 6 pack abs, the body fat level needs to be <13% Finding someone who understands this and can help you gauge how much time you need to reach this is key.
As a single mom with two young kids prepping for a show not only effects me but my children as well. My first prep was a great learning experience for all of us and this made my 2nd prep a little smoother. I took the time before and during my prep to explain to my kids what I was doing and why, covering everything from the twice a day gym sessions to the 6 meals a day to the mood swings. While they liked to tease me with their Halloween candy, they were very supportive and understanding when Mom would burst into tears over nothing, needed a time out or had to ask their help taking progress photos for my coach. Letting your family and friends know what to expect and asking them for patience and support should definitely be one of the first things you do once you have decide to prep for a fitness competition. Unfortunately not everyone is going to be as supportive or understanding as others and so that is where our next topic comes in…..
Prepare to feel lonely – even with friends who compete and have prepped alongside me, there are times when I felt like I was totally alone and no one understood what I was feeling or going through. Looking back I know this is mainly due to the stresses that can come with prepping for a show. I found the best way to beat this feeling was to do something I enjoyed that had nothing to do with the gym or prep. A board-game with the kids, a hike with the dog…anything that will take your focus off your prep for a little bit.
As you get closer to your show (4-12 weeks out, depending on where you started) social outings and time with friends and family can be difficult and many athletes end up isolating themselves to avoid temptation and ‘cheating’ on their diets. Depending on the interests of your friends, this can cause some tension, so again, it is important to talk to those closest to you and explain the reasons as to why you may choose to avoid certain situations. True friends will stick by your side no matter what 😉
Cost – the cost of competing adds up quickly so it is definitely important to get an idea of how much everything is going to cost you to make sure it fits your budget. Have a look at The Cost of Competing to get an idea of what competing in B.C. can cost you.
Mindset & Expectations – your mindset and expectations during your prep, on show day and after competition is crucial and not just to succeed but in order to have a positive experience no matter what the outcome. Knowing why you are choosing to compete and what you hope to get from the experience is key in keeping you motivated and focused. While there is nothing wrong with being confident, going into a show with an arrogant attitude can do a lot more harm than good, especially if you don’t do as well as you were sure you would.
As a first time competitor my personal goal was to stay disciplined during my prep and to hit that stage knowing I did my best and to feel like I fit in with the other girls. I had no expectations to place so when I did, it was that much more exciting and rewarding. Appreciate the process, appreciate your progress and learn from the experience.
Post Show Rebound – while not everyone will have an issue with this, many will and so it’s important to discuss. You spend your prep sticking to a strict diet and during that time may find yourself day dreaming about the foods you cant have and making plans to get your hands on them after the competition is over. While you definitely deserve to reward yourself for all of your hard work it is important to have a plan in place to avoid any harmful effects of abruptly coming off such a strict diet. Your coach should help you with a reverse diet to ensure you avoid a rebound and transition from a pre-show to post-show nutrition plan.
Without a post show rebound plan many competitors find themselves binging which results in speedy weight gain as well as issues such as bloating, cramping, digestion issues and so on. What’s of bigger concern is how this can effect your mental health and self esteem. Going from ‘shredded’ even back to your normal weight can be difficult, but adding extra pounds to that because you binged for a couple weeks post show can really mess with your self image. If you don’t have a coach then I recommend you seek the guidance of someone such as a registered dietician or nutrition specialist.
Your first fitness competition can be a great experience and a lot of fun if you plan, prepare and go in with a positive attitude. While yes, this is a competition, you may be very surprised at how supportive and helpful other athletes can be. I have made some amazing and extremely supportive friends who not only compete in the same shows but in the same class as me. This not only makes the experience that much better, but should you choose to compete again it can be reassuring to know you just may have a friend or two to share the experience with.