How Should One Prepare For Their First Bodybuilding Competition?

How should one prepare for their first bodybuilding competition? Entering your first bodybuilding competition can be nerve-racking. Here's a helpful diet, training and posing guide to help you win your first contest! Check it out.

TOPIC: How Should One Prepare For Their First Bodybuilding Competition?

The Question:

Entering your first bodybuilding competition can be nerve-racking. Many first-timers can use a prep guideline (that includes training, nutrition, & supplementation tips) to be prepared and prevent making crucial mistakes.

How should one prepare for their first bodybuilding competition?

What are some common mistakes that a first-timer makes when entering a bodybuilding contest?

How can they prevent these mistakes?

Bonus Question: What mental challenges should a first timer be prepared to fight as the competition near?

Show off your knowledge to the world!

The Winners:


        1st place - 75 in store credit.

        2nd place - 50 in store credit.

      3rd place - 25 in store credit.

1st Place - jb_pl_42
View This Author's BodySpace Here.

First Bodybuilding Competition
How Should One Prepare For Their First Bodybuilding Competition?

Preparing for your first bodybuilding contest is definitely a big decision to make. Making this decision, I think one should be ready to do the following:

    • Diet for a long period of time
    • Dedicate themselves to making every workout like it was their last
    • Neglecting relationships (including friends, I know its tougher for younger athletes and college students)
    • Having a goal in mind that keeps them motivated on their monotonous journey to the stage

If you get those severely in check, I feel as though the rest becomes a little easier.

The first and most important thing one can do to prepare, is evaluate their own physique. How lean am I now? How long do I need to diet to be ready? What type of metabolism do I have (endomorphic, mesomorphic, ectomorphic)?, and what body parts do I need to give more attention to, in order to have the most balanced and symmetrical physique I can when I stand on stage.

Setting Up A Diet:

    1. Determine how many weeks you will need to diet, in order to lose .5-1.5 lbs. per week in order to be contest ready come competition time.

    1. Keep protein no lower than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, and no higher than 1.5 gram per pound of bodyweight. Some people here, like to think more is better; in essence if you are taking in too much protein that protein will become a fuel source before your already stored fat cells. Also important to remember, a diet is designed to lose body fat and maintain as much muscle mass as possible. NOT gain muscle.
    1. Start with a carbohydrate intake of 1 gram per pound of bodyweight for the first two weeks.

Keep the carbohydrates from sources such as:

      • Brown rice
      • Dark green vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, mixed greens, spinach, cucumbers)
      • Slow digesting fruits (apples, oranges...)
      • Regular oatmeal (none of the flavored kinds as they will contain sugars unneeded at this time)
      • Any other whole grain foods you can think of.

The only time I see fit, to include any sugar or refined carbohydrate, is in the morning. Any other time of the day can cause insulin spikes unneeded, which will lead to more stored body fat.

    1. Keep your protein sources lean.

        • Ground turkey
        • 93% or higher lean ground beef
        • Whole eggs
        • Egg whites
        • Low-fat cheeses
        • Skinless and boneless chicken breasts
        • Fish

      Fish is an excellent way to accelerate fat loss as the white kinds (orange roughy, tilapia, tuna, bass, sturgeon etc.) contain little or no fat and contain significantly lower amounts of calories while still giving you an ample amount of protein.

    1. Fats are always important. Healthy ones especially. Your fat should consist of around 20-30% of your calories throughout the day and the best way I find to get them is from ALL NATURAL peanut butter, extra virgin olive oil, safflower oil, macadamia nut oil and any of the Smart Balance Brand oils you'll find on your grocer's shelves.

      Cooking with these provides an easy way to get your fat and keeps you from having to eat extra food. Although, if you want to incorporate fat sources from food, I recommend black olives, salmon, and avocado as primary sources.

  1. Keep it simple stupid. That's right. Be simple with your meal preparations and your food choices. Stick to the healthy sources you like and don't try to be to exotic when deciding which foods to buy.

      Buy in bulk. Tyson has bags of frozen chicken breasts that have equal or better nutritional value of any fresh chicken breast and they are DRAMATICALLY cheaper. Being cost effective also will help you buy the food you need and not bust your pocket book.

    1. Also, I'm a big fan of the eating every 2.5-3 hours, instead of every 2 hours. I feel like this allows you to eat a little bit more and stay fuller, longer. If your schedule dictates that you must eat every 2 hours, shrink your portions and eat an extra meal.

    1. Pre-workout, (1.5 hours before training), consume 20-30 grams of protein + 20-30 grams of slow digesting carbohydrates. Post-workout, within an hour of training, consume 40 grams of whey protein mixed with water and 1 tbsp. of safflower oil.

Here is a sample diet for a 225 lbs. bodybuilder, for his first 2 weeks of dieting:

Meal 1

      • 1 tbsp. of safflower oil to cook with
      • 4 egg whites + 2 whole eggs
      • 2 packets, regular Quaker instant oatmeal mixed with water

Meal 2

      • 2 pieces of whole wheat bread
      • 6 oz. turkey breast
      • 1 tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise

(Pre-workout) Meal 3

      • 1 large apple
      • 6 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast
      • 1 tbsp. safflower oil to cook with

(Post-workout) Meal 4

      • 40 grams of whey protein mixed with water
      • 1 tbsp. of safflower oil

Meal 5

      • 6 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast
      • 1 medium sweet potato
      • 1 cup of steamed broccoli
      • 1 cup of dark green salad
      • 1 tbsp. safflower oil for cooking

Meal 6

      • 1/2-1 cup of nonfat cottage cheese
      • 2 tbsp. of all natural peanut butter

After this two week period, one would asses his physique and the gains he has made. If you are endomorphic, chances are you will need to continually drop carbohydrates. If you are ectomorphic, you might want to keep carbohydrates in as much as possible in order to stay as full as possible, but you also are more insulin sensitive and therefore will need to carbs to maintain your hard earned muscle.

Example Of Next Two Weeks For Endomorphic Carb Consumption:

Weeks 3-4: Drop carbohydrates by 25 and assess.
Continue at this until results plateau and again drop carbs by 25.

Example Of Next Two Weeks For Ectomorphic Carb Consumption:

Weeks 3-4: Keep carbs the same and asses.
Continue at this until results plateau and begin dropping carbs by 25 until you are continually making gains towards leanness again.

This is an example of how to properly diet for a contest. Remember, be patient and I will cover a little bit more extreme strategies for dieting later in this article.

Inserting Cardiovascular Training:

One knows, that when preparing for a contest, that he or she will need to have a cardiovascular training plan nearly as strong as their diet and strength training plans in order to achieve that crisp, contest winning conditioning.

What I recommend is that a person inserts 2, low to moderately intense 30 minute cardio sessions per week, as well as one high intensity cardio session, completing a minimum of 15 intervals, per week.

The combination of low-moderate, as well as high intensity cardio, is the fact that bodybuilder will get the benefits of both. Low-moderate intensity cardio will increase blood-flow, uptake of nutrients, and an accelerated metabolism.

The high intensity session however, will not burn as many calories during the session as the low-moderate, but the calories burned in the hours after the session will be much greater. Just like with the diet, more or less cardio will be needed as the bodybuilder's physique continues to get leaner.

Also, its important to note, that just as an ectomorph will be able to consume more carbohydrate during the diet, he will also probably need less cardio. An endomorph, is the opposite end and will most likely need to increase his cardio throughout the contest prep.

Here is a sample of a cardio routine for the first 2 weeks of the prep:

Monday: 30 minutes on the elliptical, treadmill, or stationary bike. Fast walking, as well as jogging can also apply.

Wednesday: HIIT (High intensity interval training): 15, 40 yd sprints with a minute rest in between sprints.

Friday: 30 minutes on the elliptical, treadmill, or stationary bike. Fast walking, as well as jogging can also apply.

Assess after 2 weeks and add or subtract frequency as necessary.

Initial Strength Training Program, For Contest Prep:

The third piece of the puzzle is strength training. The biggest thing a competitor needs to realize is that you are not using this time to gain muscle mass. You are using this time to refine, shape and condition your muscle that you worked hard for up to this point.

Here are some things to remember when choosing your workout program for the contest preparation period:

      1. Prioritize lacking body parts. No, you won't add muscle mass to these parts most likely, but by prioritizing these body parts you can make sure they are as conditioned as possible when you hit the stage.

      1. Don't overtrain.

      1. To accentuate point 2, DON'T DO ANYTHING YOU HAVEN'T DONE BEFORE and DON'T HIT BODYPARTS ANY MORE FREQUENT THAN YOU HAVE BEFORE. Too many people, too many times, try something totally new for their contest prep and it hurts their physique and too many times people get injured by increasing their body part frequency per week. Again, keep things as simple as possible and within your limits.

Here is my FAVORITE pre-contest training program known to many as Power/Hypertrophy, a term coined by Layne Norton pro-natural bodybuilder and writer.

Power/Hypertrophy training consists of 2 power days, upper body, then lower body. These days are to build and maintain strength and are more of a powerlifting approach.

      Here you will pick more barbell/heavy exercises to do keeping weight heavy as possible for 5-6 reps. During a diet, I don't recommend going below 5 reps on an exercise.

This will keep the weight heavy, but keep it from being in that maximal range where people tend to get injured. It then comprises of a day off. The next three consecutive days are hypertrophy days and these days you want to have a little higher volume while keeping reps between 10-20.

NOTE: I've trained body parts up to 3x per week with no injury or overtraining experienced.

Day 1: Upper Body Power:

I prioritize Chest and Biceps in this workout because they are my weakest body parts and I want to hit them with as much intensity as I can. Typically here's how this day looks:

        • Chest: Incline Barbell Bench Press: 2 warm-up sets of 15 reps and then 5 sets of 5 reps, going as heavy as possible on my last set, while still reaching 5.
        • Biceps: Barbell Curls: 2 warm-up sets of 15 reps and then 5 sets of 6 reps with the same mentality.
        • Shoulders: Smith Machine Seated Military Press: 3 sets of 5 reps.
        • Back: Weighted Pull-Ups: 3 sets of 6 reps.
        • Triceps: Skullcrushers: 2 sets of 6 reps.

print Click Here For A Printable Log Of jb_pl_42's Day 1 Workout.

Day 2: Lower Body Power:

Same mentality.

        • Barbell Squats: 5 sets of 5, 2 warm-up sets.
        • Straight Leg Deadlift: 5 sets of 5, 2 warm-up sets.
        • Lying Leg Curls: 3 sets of 6.
        • Leg-Press Calf Raises: 5 sets of 8.

Click Here For A Printable Log Of jb_pl_42's Day 2 Workout.

Day 3: Off

Day 4, 5, 6:

Split your body parts up together (usually upper body, body parts into push-pull - i.e. Chest/Back, Chest/Biceps, Back/Triceps, Legs/Shoulders).

Back and triceps are two of my better body parts so I keep those together on Day 4.

On Day 5, I hit legs first, and then a small volume of shoulders as I feel those are my best.

On day 6 I hit chest and biceps, they are my weakest and I give them the most volume. On all these hypertrophy days I never go below 10 reps and sometimes go as high as 30. You can use the barbell/heavy exercises you use on power days, as well as incorporating other machines and isolation movements into your routine on these days.

Common Mistakes

Besides the obvious, one thing people fail to do before their first contest is practice their posing. Practicing your posing until you have it down pat, is a must. Picking simple music, with a simple routine for your first competition is also the way to go.

Remember, as with diet, training and cardio - be consistent by practicing your posing multiple nights every week and picking a posing routine and music that allows you to feel confident onstage and gives you a high rate of execution on each pose. You can look amazing, but if you haven't practiced your posing, it will show up on competition day.

Diet, cardio, and weightlifting are the three physical aspects of the contest prep that will develop your physique into a lean and conditioned body. However, these don't always go so smooth and there are mistakes that can be made.

Here are some of the common mistakes that a first-timer can make when entering his first bodybuilding contest:

    1. Not giving himself long enough to diet.
    2. Thinking last week water and sodium manipulation is going to get him in shape.
    3. Trying something they are very unfamiliar with involving training that can result in a flat physique, injury and overtraining.

Mistake #1:

To address mistake #1, I think it's evident most - when a competitor is not honest with himself and doesn't give himself long enough to diet - on stage. The lines aren't there, they appear with little or no detail or separation, and they really don't look like a bodybuilder should look on stage.


Also, I said I would include more extreme measures of dieting earlier... here is one measure you can take, if you think you aren't getting the results you need during your diet:

Add 2, low no-carb days per week, into your diet for 2-4 weeks. If initially, dropping carbs by 25 grams wasn't enough, add these two low no-carb days into your diet and give yourself 4 weeks to evaluate. You can only incorporate strategies like this if you GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME. So be patient and make adjustments. The biggest problem this mistake creates is it leads to mistake #2.

Mistake #2:

Mistake #2 was created by all the so called "gurus" that feel there needs to be some drastic water-sodium manipulation during the final week of contest prep. This is bogus.

If you aren't lean enough, you aren't lean enough. If you didn't lose enough body fat, then no matter what you do with your sodium and water, you will NOT look better onstage and you risk health issues from not having enough water in the body and severe cramping that can lead to more complicated medical matters than I am allowed to give an opinion on. Again, keep things simple and avoid drastic measures such as this.

Mistake #3:

Addressing mistake #3 - DON'T make a drastic change in your training. Keep your volume in a range that your body is used to. If you are a low volume trainer and want to incorporate more volume into your contest prep because you feel like you need to, increase it gradually, just like with carbs.

Don't go from 150 grams of carbs a day, to zero and expect to be able to stick to your diet. Don't go from 50 sets a week, to 100. You'll risk injury and overtraining.

Homeostasis is what your body tries to maintain. Consistency is the key here and going from consistent to an extreme can prove to stick a fork in you and make you done as far as your contest prep goes. You'll be overdone. Be consistent and don't be drastic.

Bonus Question
What Mental Challenges Should A First Timer Be Prepared To Fight As The Competition Near?

As the competition date nears, I feel the biggest mental challenge people face is who else is in the competition? How do they look? Am I better than them?


You can only control what you do during your prep and nothing else. If your going to be 200 lbs. at contest, your going to be that weight and if someone comes in weighing 220 lbs., who cares? That's them. It has nothing to do with you.

The biggest thing you can do is focus on yourself throughout your prep, focus on being the best you, you can be and the rest will take care of itself.

Bodybuilding is an individual sport and nothing you do during your prep, can affect the look of someone else come stage day. Be all you can be. Nothing more, nothing less. You are there to compete against yourself, let the judges decide the rest.

And that's all I have, hopefully you first-timers will gain something from this and have a successful contest prep, for your first bodybuilding show. Bodybuilding is a great sport and it can bring the individual to heights he has never experienced before. Always remember, do it because it's fun!

Undergraduate Senior, Exercise and Sports Science
Oregon State University

2nd Place - kinkoshinkai
View This Author's BodySpace Here.

How Should One Prepare For Their First Bodybuilding Competition?

Having taken on the task of my first bodybuilding competition at the advanced age of 47, I took a very thorough approach.

My first step was to watch as many competitions as possible. Not easy to do in a small town in Utah, but thanks to and all it's resources and links, for the 8 months that elapsed between my decision to try a competition and the day itself, I was able to watch a variety of shows on my computer, from amateur to pro, natural, to not so natural, men, women, teens, any show I could.

Step One: Training

The first and most obvious step is TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN, and then, TRAIN some more. It is bodybuilding, so build your body! There are enough resources and opinions how to go about this, all the way to final training weeks and days.

USE all the guidelines you can, and distill them to fit YOU!! Don't listen to any ONE person, unless you've hired them specifically for that purpose.

Otherwise, follow your own mind and body, but DO YOUR HOMEWORK! That said, and since training is an individual thing dependant on so many personal variables, YOU are the one who must study and train in the way that get YOU the best results.

Step Two: Choose An Organization

Assuming that you've got your training in hand, you must then decide what organization or type of show you'd like to attempt. NPC show, NGA, FAME, NBBA. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and all have web sites outlining their organization's requirements.

Posing is different in each. Supplement testing is different in each. Judging is different in each. It is YOUR responsibility to find out how your particular show is entered, tested, run, and judged! All that info is on the organization web sites.

Once you know what show you want to do, you can set your training and nutrition schedule. I went so far as to e-mail and call specific show sponsors and organization heads to be sure I didn't use anything I shouldn't. (I don't use anything you can't get at a supplement store in the mall, anyway, but some places don't even allow over the counter diuretics, and some allergy meds can be a problem. It's best to remove all doubt.)

      Now, I'm studying the shows, researching the organization that runs my specific show, doing my training on my pre-determined training schedule.

I have my diet plan mapped out down to the last week including show day! (Again, like with your training, the diet plan is an individual thing, and everyone's opinions are only their opinions unless you're paying them to get you results.)

Having a trainer and nutritionist is GREAT if you can afford them. Otherwise, if like me you're on your own, take in as much info as you can and personalize it. No one should know you better than YOU.

Step Three: Presentation

Now, as an actor by trade, I studied presentation. Learning to PRESENT your physique is a separate animal from simply HAVING a physique. Here, too, I studied. Not just the shows I'd downloaded, but I purchased, downloaded, and read posing instructional DVD's, Mpegs, and books.

Elbow higher than shoulders on double bicep poses. Elbows forward on the same plane as the chest in lat spreads. Pose from the legs up, always exhale, smile, chest high, etc. etc.

There are enough excellent materials on proper posing technique that being ignorant of at least the fundamentals is simply unacceptable. Again, a live coach, GREAT idea if you have one.

Even pros benefit from a trained objective eye. But for a first show, an instructional DVD (and has several, ALL of which I ordered and studied) a mirror, and a video camera can do quite adequately. Posing is also a great workout in the final month.

Posing includes your quarter turns, your mandatory's, and your free-posing routine. ALL THREE of these vary slightly in some organizations, so again, research your specific show.

      • Do they LET you bring your back arm up in the side quarter turn on the symmetry round?
      • Does every entrant get to free pose or only the top 5?
      • Do they specify up on calves for rear lat spread?
      • How many rounds of callouts are there?

Too many variables to cover unless you've honed in on YOUR show. Generally, they're all similar, but details matter. As much as detailed obliques, pose sequence and length of music for free posing are important details.

Get your music ready ASAP, and your routine choreographed ASAP. The sooner that's done, the sooner you can get familiar and comfortable with your presentation.

      Practice, practice, practice, practice your quarter turns, mandatory poses, and free pose to music until they are nearly second nature. It'll keep you from cramping from squeezing your pose in the show because you'll be used to it, and it'll build your confidence on stage because it'll be second nature.

Step Four: Tanning

Start tanning in the last month. It helps pull water out of the skin and lays a base for your show tan cream (Pro tan, Dream tan, whatever color you like).

Get your tanner early and be sure you know what it will look like. Darker is usually a little better. Too light never shows well on stage.

Step Five: Equipment

      Get your posing oil - Pam spray, baby oil, whatever - and again, do it early enough to try it so you'll have no surprises on show day.

Get your posing suits. Plural. Have a back-up to the back up of your back up. Stuff happens. Be ready for spills, stains, etc.

Have your own bands for pumping up. Amateur pump up rooms are less equipped, more crowded, and less reliable than a pro show. Have flip-flops to wear.

Pack a bag with:

      • Your towels
      • Rubber gloves (in case you need someone else to help you finish your tan and oil)
      • Sweat clothes/cover up
      • Posing suits
      • TWO copies of your music on CD or tape (whatever the show promoter tells you, and even if you've already submitted one early)
      • Warm up bands
      • Carb-up/meals, proteins, or whatever food items you'll need

Pack Rubber Gloves In Case You Need Help Finishing Your Tan.
+ Click To Enlarge.
Pack Rubber Gloves In Case You
Need Help Finishing Your Tan.

Step Six: Know Your Space

If possible, finally, after you've trained, dieted, dried out, posed, tanned, packed, paid your organization membership and entry fees, get to your venue early enough to know where everything is. Just like a boxer feeling out the ring, (think " ROCKY" in the ring the night before the fight), get to know your space.

What Are Some Common Mistakes That A First-Timer Makes?

All the things I've mentioned to do to prepare are areas where a first timer can make mistakes.

  • Not doing his training homework.
  • Not having his diet right.
  • Not knowing how to pose PROPERLY and show his physique to his best advantage.
  • Not have his supplies (bands, suits, music, food, etc.).
  • Not having his routine well rehearsed.
  • Not knowing the stage (are there lines or numbers on the floor? Hot spots or dead spots in the stage lighting?).
  • Not having back-ups for all his supplies.
  • Not dark enough color tan. Too oily or not enough sheen.
  • Not squeezing the legs and focusing only on upper body posing.

If, however, you follow the general outline I gave and the study advice I gave, and have done your homework and practice EARLY in the process, from posing to color, and used the mirror, a knowledgeable friend, the video, and all the tools at your disposal, your confidence should be HIGH. You're ready. Your huge, dark, lean, dry, confident - READY.

Now, pump up, oil up, and go strut your stuff!!