It seems like competing in fitness and bodybuilding has become more mainstream, to which I think we can credit the creation of the bikini and men’s physique categories. Regardless of the reason, Kyle and I get approached pretty frequently by people debating about stepping on stage.
I always want to be honest, and while I truly love the sport and live it each day, all year long, there are some factors I like people to know up front. Here are some of the facts I tell them:
1. It’s expensive. While you might be able to work around some of the costs by buying a used suit or borrowing one from another competitor, doing your own hair and makeup (ladies), and competing in a show in your hometown to avoid travel costs, there are a lot of costs you can’t avoid. Membership fees, registration costs, and a professional tan on competition day all add up pretty quickly. Also, you have to factor in the costs of food (and lots of it), gym memberships, and coaching fees. It adds up to be very expensive lifestyle!
2. It’s selfish. If you’re competitive and want to do your absolute best on stage, prep will make you a little selfish. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, provided your loved ones fully support your goal. Your priorities are your meals, training sessions, posing practice, and how you look. I believe that the more you compete, the better you get at finding some balance, but it always boils down to what you need to do to be your best, and sticking to your schedule. And no, you won’t share your food with anyone.
3. There’s no cheating. You’re tired? Sore? Frustrated? Sick? You still get to the gym, you still eat your meals, you do all your cardio. When you cheat on your plan, either by sneaking some snacks or shaving time off your cardio session, the only person you’re cheating is YOU. I was sick last week and took a day off to recover (thankfully that was all I seemed to need). This meant that my cardio sessions all got crammed into the end of the week and a workout got moved to my usual rest day.
4. You’ll do things you don’t necessarily want to do. When I got my first meal plan, it was full of foods I either didn’t like or had never had. But, I ate them, even if they needed to be covered in hot sauce to get them down. Thankfully, I very quickly learned to love these foods and still eat them every day. During prep, you’ll be hungry and just have to wait until your next meal. You’ll eat when you aren’t hungry (this doesn’t happen often), you’ll get up early on the weekends to ensure you fit your meals in, you’ll be up long before the sun rises to do your cardio. You just get it done.
5. You’ll be tired. You’ve been tired before… but never “prep tired’. Ok, to be honest, the first year I competed, I didn’t experience this. I truly didn’t understand what Kyle was living through because I sailed through my preps – five in that year to be exact. BUT, that came crashing down on me the next year when I hit the physique category. I have never felt exhaustion and depletion like that before. I was then able to empathize with him. His favorite story to tell is the one Saturday when we got home from the gym and he turned around to see me passed out, face first, arms crushed beneath me, on the couch – within two seconds of walking through the door. It was classy.
6. The mind games are unreal. Your hormones go a little haywire (or a lot haywire) as you put your body into a state it doesn’t want to be in. You’re hungry, tired, and delusional. One minute you can think you look amazing, an hour later you think you look terrible. The key word here is “think” – you truly can’t trust your eyes or your brain. Kyle is always quick to tell me that I don’t get to have an opinion on how I look during prep, because it’s wrong. Just plain wrong.
8. People won’t understand. This is an extreme lifestyle, especially in some categories. Friends and family will likely question everything you’re doing from a health standpoint. You’ll even hear opinions from strangers (“You shouldn’t lose any more weight”, “You aren’t going to get more muscular, are you?”). You might even lose some friends as you spend so much time in the gym. Develop a thick skin and focus on what YOU want!
9. It’s one of the most amazing, challenging things you can do. If you live for a challenge and love to train, watching your body change in ways you never thought possible is incredible. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, you’ll face adversity. Yes, you’ll feel isolated. BUT, over time your network will expand with other like-minded people. You’ll learn so much about yourself and what you’re capable of. And the rush of being on stage and showing off what you worked so hard for makes you forget about the bad days you experienced.
Obviously these experiences are different for everyone – how hard your prep is can vary greatly depending on your starting physique and the category you’re competing in. Also, there’s a difference in competitors. Some might enter a show as an end point to a goal, knowing they only want to do it once, while others live this life year after year. How seriously you take it is in your control, but again with point #1, it’s an expensive day to not take it seriously… Questions, comments, feel free to voice them below!