Having a why for competing is key. And it can't be for anyone but yourself. My major why is that I had a burning desire to do so. It scared me, excited me, and it felt like something I really needed to experience. Along with this I wanted to understand the process (for research and helping clients) and give myself extra motivation in the gym. If you love bodybuilding, getting on the stage is a great motivator to showing off what you have built.
Q: The craziest thing you witnessed backstage?
Backstage was pretty bizarre. Extremely lean, muscular, tanned and hungry people everywhere. A lot of girls had ice cream, Pop Tarts, you name it, waiting for them the second it was all done. All of the guys seemed totally unimpressed with the fact that they were surrounded by gorgeous women in bikinis and more interested in their own physique.
I also spoke with a girl in the elevator of my hotel who was eating dry oats out of a cup and could hardly hold them down, but told me "I retain water really easily, so I eat them dry." I felt a little guilty about my warm salted oats I was told to eat to fill out that day. Mind you, everyone's body is different, and everyone's coach has different methods. There were a lot of rice cakes and peanut butter back stage in general.
Q: Best thing you did to get started on your journey?
I made a no excuses rule. When I forgot workout clothes I borrowed some front the gym's lost and found. When I was tired I found caffeine and went anyways. When I wasn't feeling well I pushed through as much as I could and did my best.
It is so easy it is to make excuses not to workout, but there were countless workouts I almost missed that ended up being my best. At the end of the day, excuses don't get you results, the work does.
Q: Any tips for the average woman wanting to get strong?
I would highly recommend booking a few appointments with a personal trainer to help you get comfortable in the gym and learn form. This is something I still do. Poor form can cause injury, and you can also waste a lot of time doing nothing for your body or building the wrong muscle. Next I suggest starting a program through Bodybuilding.com or something like Strong Curves to give you direction in the gym.
You also want to make sure your diet is aligned with your goals and that you are consuming at least 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight to help your body hold muscle. IIFYM is great for setting macros, or you can hire a health coach or nutritionist. If you want to keep it simple, aim for 4 servings of protein (fist size), carbs (cupped handful) and fat (thumb) per day. You need to eat a lot when you are building - especially protein. The carbs will give you energy and the fat is important for your hormones and satiety.
Q: What did you like most about preparing for your show?
I learned a lot about discipline and self love. I was forced to be stubborn about my goals whether they made sense to others or not. I learned to push past my comfort zone and started applying it to all areas of my life. I also got introduced to a very dedicated, supportive community of people.
Q: Having had an eating disorder in the past, were you worried about competing?
If you are struggling with an eating disorder you should NOT compete. This is something I was very careful with. I have over 10 years of serious recovery under my belt, but was still constantly checking myself through the process to make sure it wasn't bringing out unhealthy habits or feelings. Flexible dieting was very helpful in making me never feel restricted, and my coach had a very balanced attitude towards my workouts and diet, so I knew I was in good hands.
I also LOVED the bulking process, which taught me a lot about eating to fuel your muscles and being comfortable putting on extra weight. To be a bodybuilder you literally need to BUILD your body first, which means being comfortable eating enough to fuel your workouts and build muscle. With this comes extra fat. This process was really wonderful for me and taught me to love and support my body in ways I never had before.
The only part I really struggled with was the last two weeks of prep when I knew I had to push a little harder than I would like to with my diet to look good on stage. Mind you, I was still having pasta and wine nights (the glass of wine was a personal addition, not typically recommended) on occasion to balance my leptin levels up and get a good muscle pump, so things could have been worse!
I purposely never got too attached to my level of leanness and looked at it like more of a research experiment. It wasn't until show day that I truly took pride in my work and showed it off!
Q: How is it to no longer be "stage lean"?
I am so happy to be eating more. I have energy and brain power! I went right into maintenance calories so held quite a bit of water the first week after my show, but my weight has normalized to a slow and steady gain. I'm very content with my current shape and while I'd like to stay relatively lean I have no desire to look the way I did on stage until I compete again.
Q: Is competing socially isolating?
Yes. Luckily I had very supportive people in my life, and flexible dieting helped me be able to travel and share meals with friends and family, but overall it was. Especially near the end. A lot of people lose friends during the process.
Q: How do you respond to people who don't get it?
I really struggled with this at first but have let go of it. I can't please everyone. I need to fuel my own fire to keep others warm, and fill my own cup so that I can pour for others.
Q: Will you compete again?
My current goal is to build for another year and do the same show next year!