Whether you decide to be competitive or you simply bodybuild for the joy of it, I think self-satisfaction and happiness are the most important things. Setting and achieving
goals for yourself, not others, and being happy with who you are both inside and out are what bring you the most success as a bodybuilder.
As for competitive bodybuilders, there's only one thing you need to succeed - dedication. If you have that, everything else will follow.
[ Q ] What do you wish you had known before you started doing shows?
As a novice competitor, I didn't feel it was necessary to hire professionals to assist me in my
contest prep. I figured that was only needed at the national and pro levels. I think that in the long run, finding a good nutritionist who has experience working with advanced competitors saves you a lot of mistakes in the beginning.
True, you will lose weight on any diet, but will you maximize fat loss and muscle retention while coming in hard and full? Maybe, if you get lucky! Now I know I'd rather not chance it. It saves a ton of stress and work, none of which a competitor has time for pre-contest.
I also recommend a good trainer and choreographer if you have the finances and resources available to you. Finally, new competitors need to realize the importance of educating and implementing skill and technique in selecting suits, make-up, hairstyles, and tanning application. This has a real impact on how well you do at a show.
Here is a list of some helpful resources:
Nutrition Consultants: With extensive experience dieting pro and national-level competitors.
Chris Aceto - www.nutramedia.com
Mike Davies - Email: email@example.com; www.mikedaviesfitness.com
Chad Nichols - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hany Rambod - Email: email@example.com; Phone: 408-266-4688
Milos Sarcev - www.milossarcev.com
Todd Swinney - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pro Fitness Competitors Who Offer Consultations
Alti Bautista, Jersey City, NJ/NYC Area: email@example.com
Christine Bergeron, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cynthia Bridges, Simi Valley, California: www.cynthiabridges.com
Susie Curry, Atlanta, Georgia: JMPmanagement@aol.com
Jen Hendershott, Columbus, Ohio: email@example.com; www.jennyh.com
Laura Mak, Atlanta, Georgia: www.lauramak.com
Shannon Meteraud and Tres Bennett, Charleston, South Carolina: Phone 843-769-6444 or 843-571-5053
Claire Morris, Little Rock, Arkansas: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stacy Simmons, New Jersey: SES450@aol.com
Routines and Stage Presentation Coaching
Design Of Competition Suits And Routine Outfits
Research in Books and Video
Use these resources as a tool to help you to meet the goals that you have set for yourself in fitness competing. These competitors and professionals are seasoned with an abundance of knowledge, insight, and experience to get and keep you on the right track to becoming a Champion.
[ Q ] Looking back on what you have accomplished so far, what is one thing you would change if you could, knowing what you do now?
I don't think I'd change a whole lot. Living the lifestyle of a competitor means you are constantly learning, growing, and bettering yourself physically and mentally. Even seasoned professionals learn something new at almost every show they do. The only thing I wish is that I would've started training younger and more seriously at a younger age.
[ Q ] What is one of the biggest sacrifices you've made, and was it worth it?
As a competitor, I think your entire life is about making sacrifices, year-round. One of the biggest of these for me is my relationship with my husband.
Living with a competitor can be very stressful and hard to understand and deal with. I try my best to balance my relationships with my husband, family, and friends with my bodybuilding lifestyle. While you have to sacrifice a lot of "things" to compete, people and relationships should never be any of them.
[ Q ] As a new bodybuilder/fitness/figure competitor, how should one select which organization or event to compete in? And what are the major differences between the numerous organizations out there?
The best thing you can do is research several different organizations. Look at pictures of how the winning competitors in each division (fitness/figure/bodybuilding) look and what the requirements of that division per that organization are. Most of the major organizations have websites with all this information.
Bodybuilding.com has an extensive directory of the different competitive organizations, click here.
In addition to this, watch videos from, or attend live shows and observe the format of the show. Decide which one most appeals to you and obtain a contest calendar to plan out a show or two to train for. I would give 6-12 months to train for your first show.
Several differences between the most popular organizations are degree of muscularity, size, and conditioning, type and number of poses and quarter turns, and length and requirements for fitness routines. There are also several organizations that offer obstacle-course competition, and some offer more pageant-style contests.
The National Physique Committee is a well-known organization offering all three divisions of competition - fitness, figure, and bodybuilding. They hold several shows per year in almost every state, and offer opportunities for national qualification and professional status through the IFBB. Search for upcoming contest using our searchable competition database.
[ Q ] How do you keep yourself motivated and on-track through the grueling dieting in the last few weeks?
The last 3 weeks before a show are definitely the hardest, with the final week being the most difficult. At this point it's easy for me to stay
motivated - I've been on my diet and training regimen for so long that it's become a habit and I am just mechanically following my plan.
In addition, knowing that I have to look my best on stage that day is more than enough motivation for me to stick to it. I believe that if I'm going to compete, it's not worth it to train and diet for 3-4 months if I'm not going to give 100%.
[ Q ] Is it not very hard to exercise and lift on such a low calorie diet? I am talking about the pre-contest diet. I know you follow a very low calorie pre-contest diet. Don't you get hungry?
The diet is the hardest when I first start it, because at that point I have to eliminate many foods that I really enjoy. The first month is by far the hardest part because cheat meals have to be eliminated, all food has to be cooked from scratch, measured, and packaged a day ahead of time.
This requires a lot of time and inconvenience, but is necessary. When I make calorie drops in my diet, the initial 2-3 days are difficult as my body adjusts to the lowered amount, but after the initial shock my body gets used to it and no, I am not hungry.
I eat whole, natural, nutrient-dense foods that keep me fuller, longer. I also eat every 2-3 hours for a total of 7-8 meals a day. If I notice my energy levels dropping, I will add a complex carb to one of my meals and/or increase my caffeine intake. I might add a thermogenic no farther than 3-4 weeks out, as well.
[ Q ] For someone who is currently a non-competitor, but wants to be as healthy and fit as possible, what would you recommend as far as diet ratios and workout plan (i.e. combination of weights and cardio, how many days, etc.)?
I hate to sound cliché, but this differs for everyone. As a general rule of thumb, I suggest a well-rounded workout plan of 3-4 days of split weight training per week and an average of three 30-60 minute cardio sessions per week.
If possible, don't weight train more than 2 days in a row without a rest day. As for diet, I recommend eating fairly cleanly during the week and having the weekends reserved for moderate cheats. Limit simple carbohydrates and try to get a wide variety of lean protein, fibrous vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and nuts.
It is sometimes difficult in that a lot of my friends can't understand why I do what I do. They also don't realize how necessary it is to be as strict as I am in my diet and try to convince me to eat and do certain things that I just can't say yes to.
Most of my free time is spent with my husband and a few close friends. Being married, I'm not big into the social scene as it is, so I don't feel like I'm missing out on a whole lot. It does come down to one basic decision, though.
Do you want to hang out with your friends/family at a certain place? If so, you either go and risk cheating or go and prepare all your meals for the day. Neither choice is easy. Sometimes competitors choose to simply not go at all.
[ Q ] How about tanning/makeup/hair preparation for a contest. Can you tell that I'm still overwhelmed?
A competitor's focus is often so geared towards her physique that she neglects these areas, which cost her at a show. There are many different tanning procedures and products. My advice is to ask a seasoned competitor for his/her tanning procedures and to follow only one person's advice.
I use Jan Tana products, and you can actually call them and talk to one of their staff members who will give you exact, detailed preparation and application tips for your show. It's also best to test your procedure before the show to know that it will work for the day of the show.
Make-up is very important in fitness/figure competition. I recommend working with a professional artist who can recommend colors and application tips to best highlight your own features and work with your skin and hair color. Use a quality base foundation such as MAC or Derma Blend.
Valentina Chepiga helping Lauren Powers put
some makeup on at the 2004 Orlando Pro.
These brands are thick and are designed to last all day, and to cover all flaws. Either go in after you apply for first coat of tan and ask the make-up artist to match your color, or buy one every day shade and one really dark shade and blend the shades so that they are two tones lighter than your body. (This is the method I prefer.)
As for hair, decide several weeks before the show how you want to wear it for each round of the competition, and stick to this plan. Decide whether you want to wear it up or down for both prejudging and finals. Keep in mind that if you have long hair and choose to wear it down, you will have to practice sweeping your hair aside for the quarter turns, as not to hide your physique.
Get your hair colored and/or cut 1-3 weeks before the show, and stick to a stylist, color, and style that you like and are comfortable with, not something new. If you don't color your hair, go to the salon anyway and get a trim and a deep-conditioning treatment to help your hair look healthy and shiny.
This isn't a time to be trying to figure out how to style a totally new cut, or to find that your new blonde highlights don't match your already custom-made suits and designer make-up.
[ Q ] Without giving percentages and other numbers that would involve measuring and weighing food, what advice about diet can you give a non-competitor who wants to look as fit as possible?
Choose a variety of clean, natural foods. Limit your simple
sugars and processed
carbohydrates. Drink plenty of
water. Eliminate or limit
Give yourself one cheat day every week. Watch portion sizes - I can't stress this one enough. If you choose not to weigh and measure, make an estimate, especially on foods high in fats and/or carbohydrates.
[ Q ] Eating disorders are rampant and it is easy for some people to be obsessive about diet. Pre-contest diets seem to have some characteristics of "disordered eating", i.e. in restricting intake of water, unwillingness to eat "unclean" foods, and binge eating in the days after a contest.
I know that some competitive fitness females have admitted to having a history of eating disorders. Would you agree that competitive diets are somewhat "disordered" and can't they lead to eating disorders?
While the diet a competitor follows can be considered somewhat "disordered", the diet restrictions are followed for the shortest possible period of time and are done so in the healthiest way possible.
The diet revolves around taking in a variety of clean, whole, natural foods in their most natural form (minus processing, seasoning, etc.). Each meal consists of a lean protein source, carbohydrates in the form of complex and/or fibrous vegetables, and healthy unsaturated fats.
Not every competitor follows the same diet, so one cannot generalize to say that all competitors restrict water, never cheat, and binge post-contest. The diet in itself can be healthy if the individual chooses to make it healthy. It's a choice that any person has to make, competitor or not.
I have found that following a bodybuilding lifestyle allows me to have better control over the way I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. I can honestly say my diet has helped me gain control over my habits, rather than to act spontaneously or upon emotions when choosing foods.
[ Q ] Is it not kind of risky for a person with a history of eating disorders to commit to a life style that is very concerned with looks, body fat percentages and keeping strict control over your eating habits?
I personally haven't had to deal with an eating disorder, so I cannot speak from experience. I do know that several top competitors, including
Kelly Ryan and Laurie Vaniman, previously suffered from eating disorders and admitted that following a competitor lifestyle helped to stabilize their disordered eating, as well as give them a much more positive self-image.
Overall, the most important factors are enjoying fitness, employing moderation in both diet and training, and being happy with yourself both inside and out.
[ Q ] What is the lowest body fat % you would recommend to a non-competitive woman who wants to maintain that percentage year round? How restrictive of a diet is necessary to achieve that level of body fat?
Every person looks different at different body fat percentages, based on how and where fat stores are genetically distributed on one's frame. In general, I would recommend remaining in the 15-18% body fat range to maintain a "fit" look year-round. This is the range that most competitors remain in during off-season.
To keep this body fat year-round, it's usually necessary for most women to eat pretty clean at least during the week, and have several cheat meals, or one cheat day, on the weekend. It may also be necessary to do at least 3 30-60 minute cardio sessions per week in addition to 3-4 days of resistance training.
[ Q ] How do you eat when you have to stay up late?
Anything but carbs! Seriously, if I have to stay up late, I choose a small protein source and sometimes a fat source. The fat is slow digesting, so it keeps you fuller, longer. Your body repairs its muscles while you sleep, so ingesting protein (particularly a slow protein such as egg whites) prior to bedtime ensures a ready supply of amino acids for muscle repair/growth.
[ Q ] When the average woman starts lifting heavy weights, how much lean mass is typically added? How much would a competitor gain on a mass building cycle?
The answers to these questions vary so greatly on
intensity and design of training program and diet, and how long the woman has been lifting, as well as how advanced into weight training she is. I would say on average, a woman would be lucky to gain 2 lbs. of lean mass per month by following a well-designed training routine and mass-gaining diet.
Initial gains will be quick, then as the body grows and adjusts, the woman can expect it to become more and more difficult to continually challenge the body to grow and develop. During my first off-season, I succeeded in adding 5 lbs. of lean mass to my frame, but I also added about 17 lbs. of fat.
Once I leaned out for competition this year, my gains were visibly noticeable. So, it's important not to gain too much fat so that you can see your muscle gains as well!
[ Q ] Does your social life include others that are not into fitness or competition?
Of course it does. My closest friends are non-competitors. While they sometimes find it difficult to understand what I do and my reasoning for it, they respect and admire the dedication required to take part in such a sport.
I think as a competitor that it's important to keep your social life well rounded, to include individuals with a variety of interests. After all, isn't variety the spice of life?
[ Q ] What made you get into Fitness and Competition?
Throughout my high school years I'd always been involved in athletics. Cheerleading was my favorite sport, and fitness competition was the only avenue available to continue in a somewhat similar field. It's challenging and very rewarding, which is why I love it so much.
[ Q ] How many people have you encouraged into the sport since you started?
While I don't have an exact number, I encourage all women who approach me with questions or an interest in competing to give it a try. I tell them truthfully the demands and rigors involved in training for competition, but I also tell them that anything is possible if they set their mind to it.
[ Q ] Can you actually 'shape' your muscles or is their shape genetically predetermined?
While genetics determine how the body looks and functions, the good thing is that we as bodybuilders can alter our bodies to look the way we want them to look. There are advanced training techniques and exercises that can help diminish most of the parts of our bodies we wish to change.
This is the great thing about weight training! The hard part is figuring out, for your body type, what type of training and diet works best to reach your goals.
Most women are "hippy" with small upper bodies (myself included). Through proper weight training and dieting, you can add size and shape to your back and shoulders to balance out the physique by making the waist look smaller and the hips smaller.
You can send your questions to Alissa via her email address: email@example.com