Figure It Out: How To Successfully Prepare For A Figure Competition—Part 3

The journey to physique competition is probably the toughest you'll ever endure, but it's also one of the most rewarding. A complete guide for preparing for a figure competition.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

The Last 4 Weeks

The final month of contest prep is the most grueling and difficult. You are over-trained, underfed, moody, and ready to be done with all this pre-contest stuff already! Biding your time and pressing on until the day of the show is probably the most difficult thing at this point, as time seems to slow to a crawl.

Motivation and energy levels can also drop, so it's important to do everything you can to stay on track with workouts and diet and push yourself to keep your training intensity high!

There is not much to do differently at this point, except coast on in to show day knowing that you've done everything in your power to come in at 100%. If you do this, you will not have any disappointments on show day!

Staying Motivated

I will list some of my favorite techniques to stay motivated during the tough times of contest prep. Remember, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it!

  • Post pictures of your favorite competitors and inspirational quotes.
  • Read bodybuilding and fitness magazines.
  • Watch fitness/figure videos.
  • Attend a local competition.
  • Visit motivating fitness web sites, like!
  • Call your spouse, best friend or family member for support (a good support team is essential!).
  • Treat yourself to a day at the spa.
  • Visualize how you want to look on show day.
  • Pray for mental and physical strength.
  • Schedule a photo shoot (seeing your photos can give you a true view of how good you really look!).

Training, Diet and Supplementation

Your training will be getting more difficult at this point. The number one struggle will be to keep your energy levels and strength up at the gym.

Time your complex carb meals and supplements to give you the ultimate energy right when you need it—pre-workout. You may be up to two training sessions per day at this point, which is very common.


If possible, I suggest doing cardio on days you do not lift, or at least as a separate training session. The shorter your training sessions, the more energy and intensity you can devote to each session, the better recovered you will be before the next workout, and the more muscle you will retain.

A big pre-contest myth is that you have to do cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. All this does is make you hungry and cranky, aid in muscle loss, lower your capability to train with high intensity, and deplete your glycogen stores—sometimes to the point where they are low all day long and can't recover or refill before your next workout.

The truth is, performing cardio in a fasted state will promote amino acid oxidation and cortisol release. Cortisol is a very catabolic hormone that prohibits fat retention and inhibits muscle gain.1 If you just don't like doing cardio with food in your stomach, at a minimum take some glutamine and/or BCAA's to give your body an energy source other than your muscle tissue!


To fuel your workouts, avoid muscle-wasting, and recovery quickly. Make sure you are ingesting complex carbohydrates at breakfast and pre-workout. If you have extra carbs to add in, do so post-workout.

These are your three most important meals and should be structured first in your meal planning. Your other 3-5 meals should be "filler" meals, where you are getting a variety of lean proteins and fibrous vegetables to give yourself a varying array of amino acid profiles, vitamins and minerals.


As for supplementation, some people find that creatine and natural hormone boosters can cause excess water retention that is most definitely undesirable for competition.

If you experience this, I suggest tapering off of these supplements 4-2 weeks out. Supplements that you can and should keep in up until show day include your:

Fees, Entry Forms and Travel Arrangements

If you haven't sent in your entry form and made travel arrangements at this point, you have no time to wait! Check with the organization and show promoter to make sure you've filled out all the proper paperwork and sent in the fees for entry, membership, and if applicable, drug-testing.

Some promoters require money orders, proof of age or residency, and certain postage standards, so check the fine print and details to make sure your paperwork meets the guidelines. You don't want to show up on the day of the show only to find that you were never registered to compete!

Also, finalize your travel and hotel accommodations if you haven't done so already. It's also a good idea to check with your hotel/airline to make sure your reservations are still good 1-2 weeks out.

Ask the hotel if they have a microwave and refrigerator available in the hotel lobby or in your room. Most often, you can pay a small fee to get a refrigerator delivered to your room once you arrive.

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Check Ahead To Make Sure Your Registration Is Complete.

Make A Packing/Shopping List

You should make your packing list now, so that you can purchase any items you are short on or forgot you needed. This will save you the stress of arriving without the necessary items and conveniences, and having to run around to get them or do without them.

Figure Competition Shopping List:

  • 2-piece swimsuit
  • 1-piece swimsuit (if applicable)
  • Heels
  • Tanning agent, applicator, Bikini Bite, Pam spray (for sheen)
  • Jewelry for each swimsuit round (earrings & bracelet)
  • Stage makeup/applicators & cosmetic bag
  • Hair styling items & products
  • Large cooler for 2-3 days of food
  • Small cooler to take on show day
  • Safety pins, scissors, crazy glue (for suit mishaps)
  • Hooded, zippered front, drawstring waist, loose-fitting pant suit (cotton or velour)
  • Flip-flops to wear on show day
  • Small rolling suitcase to bring to the show
  • Old towels—2 bath towels, 1-2 hand towels, 1-2 wash cloths (good for applying tanning agent/oil, wiping off surfaces and protecting hotel items from getting stained)

Choose Your Hair and Make-Up

Decide how you want to do your hair for both rounds of prejudging and finals. Do a little research and try out your hairstyles 1-2 times before the day of the show to avoid complications.

Clean and relatively simple hairstyles are always the best option. Avoid flamboyant hair-do's that do little but distract the judges and audience from your physique.

Whether you are curly or straight-haired, make sure your hair is shiny, healthy and smooth (frizz-free) to present your best package to the judges. I also suggest a coloring touch-up and/or deep conditioning 2-3 weeks out.

Choose make-up that flatters your palette (warm or cool) and coordinates with your suits. This doesn't mean it has to match your suit color, just compliment it. Buy your make-up no later than 2 weeks out, and practice several different application techniques and colors to find the best match for your skin tone, facial features and suit colors.

Do A Mock Competition Run-Through

They say that practice makes perfect, and this is preached so often for good reason—it's true, especially when it comes to figure competition. If you lack the experience of some of the seasoned competitors, you can make up for it by doing a mock competition run-through.

Do your full hair and makeup, apply posing oil/sheen spray, put your suits and jewelry on, and run through each posing round, changing in between. You can do this alone, but it's best to have a small close audience, like a spouse, best friend or trainer.

Do this run-through 2-3 weeks out so that you can change anything needed before the final week, when you'll be too busy. Get honest feedback from your "judges" and have them take pictures so you can review your posing and presentation as well.

The Final Week

Your last week of contest prep will be unlike any other. During this week you will manipulate your diet for maximum muscle fullness and minimal water retention.

You will cut back on training so your body can recover for the demands of the competition day. And you will tie up any loose ends with buying and packing items needed and finalizing travel and hotel arrangements.


Many people try extreme methods of peaking for a contest, often leaving them looking worse than they did before they started peak week!

Severe carb depletion early in the week, carb loading and water cutting 2-3 days before the show, and little to no sodium with potassium loading are common peak week mishaps.

What you need to realize is that your goal for peak week is to come in full and hard with no water under the skin. You do, however, want the water in your muscles so you don't appear flat and soft.

Carbohydrates, sodium and water all help to keep your muscles full and hard. Low sodium and high potassium levels actually cause the body to produce aldosterone, which increases water retention under the skin, exactly what you don't want to do!

The general rule of thumb I tell competitors is to not try anything extreme. A 2-3 day carb depletion with a moderate increase the day before or of the competition, coupled with moderately-low sodium intake and high water intake, will result in the hardness and fullness they are going for.

A good trainer/nutritionist will know this and will plan your week accordingly. If you are doing it on your own, stick with the simple basics, as extreme plans result in extreme (and most often undesirable) reactions.

You may opt to add in a natural herbal diuretic to assist with water loss, but if your food and water are properly manipulated, this isn't always necessary.

A product that I highly recommend is MHP XPel. It contains natural herbs to help flush out excess water, but also contains a balance of electrolytes to keep the water in the muscles and out of the skin. It is unlike any other herbal diuretic on the market.


Your training should be minimized this week, with workouts being performed at only 80% of your full workload and intensity, with no intense workouts after mid-week.

Training during the final week helps deplete glycogen stores and again, get rid of any excess water, prior to carbing-up right before the show.

Cardio should be cut back to half or less of what your former volume was, and should be done at moderately-low intensity. You should spend more time polishing up your stage walk and quarter turns this week, but make sure you get plenty of rest Thursday and Friday so you're ready to go come show day!


The tanning process should begin about 3 weeks out, with exfoliating your skin 1-2 times per week. This will help your base tan apply smoother and more evenly, and your skin will be glowing and healthy-looking on show day.

What most competitors do, and what I recommend, is to begin Tuesday night with the tanning process.

Start by exfoliating the skin and removing unwanted body hair, either by shaving or a depilatory cream. Apply your base tanning product with a sponge or gloved hands. If your product comes in a spray bottle, pour it into a disposable plastic cup or bowl. It's much easier to apply this way.

Tan your entire body up to your neck, but do not tan your elbows, armpits, knees, hands, feet, or face. Let the agent dry for 15-30 minutes before putting old clothes on. Sleep with the agent on and rinse in cold water with no soap the following morning. Moisturize if desired.

Repeat this process (minus the exfoliating, instead just rinse body in cold water) Wednesday and Thursday nights. Friday morning will be your final shower and shaving touch-up, if needed. All coats applied Friday and Saturday should be done with special care, as they will not be rinsed off, so mistakes will be more visible.

Space applications out about every 3-4 hours, to give the agent enough time to dry and enhance in color before the next coat is applied. Repeat this process for 3-4 total coats on Friday.

Apply no more than 1-2 coats to the body parts you previously skipped - elbows, armpits, knees, hands, face, and feet. Apply a final touch-up coat Saturday morning, if necessary. On the day of the show, use a moisturizer or some Pam spray to get a nice even sheen without a wet, oily look.

The Day Of The Show

Wake up early enough so that you can fix your make-up & hair, pack your show day bag (see packing list at the end of this article) and food, fix your tan if necessary, and arrive 30 minutes before the competitor meeting is set to begin. There is nothing wrong with being early, and this alleviates a lot of stress.

Arrive at the show ready to step on stage, other than a few minor touch ups with hair and makeup, since you never know what will be available once you arrive at the venue.

You don't have to wear your suit, but have it readily available at check-in. Pay attention at the competitor meeting so you know what time you have to be at each event and location.

Expediters and promoters will not wait for you to start the show, so if you're not there, you don't get to compete! Treat everyone and everything with kindness and respect—this will help make your day a positive experience.

Don't be afraid to eat and drink water on the day of the show. You should be carbing-up this day and drinking a cup or so of water with every meal, to stay hydrated and keep your muscles full.

Eating and drinking on show day aren't going to suddenly make you fat after 12 weeks of dieting, and your body needs the food and water for energy and a strong performance.

Finally, I want to leave you with some personal pointers I've come to learn after 3 years of competing. I hope you have an enjoyable experience and find the journey to competition as rewarding as I have. Good luck!


  • Relax
  • Be 100% prepared
  • Be friendly to the other competitors
  • Have fun!

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Have Fun!

Show Day Packing List

  • Posing Suits
  • Heels
  • Makeup
  • Beauty Blotting Papers
  • Small Mirror
  • Jewelry
  • Tanning Supplies
         (Paint, sponges, wash rag)
  • Lotion
  • Pam Cooking Spray
         (for sheen)
  • Latex Gloves
  • Spare Hand & Face Towels
  • Q-tips
  • Scissors
  • Safety Pins
  • Crazy Glue
  • Hair Ties
  • Hairbrush
  • Hair Products
         (Gel, Hairspray, Curling Iron, etc.)
  • Toothbrush/Paste
  • Mouthwash
  • Food
  • Bottled Water
  • Flip-Flops
  • Umbrella
  • Music (CD & Tape)
  • Bikini Bite
  • Vaseline for Teeth
  • Sugarless Gum
  • Photo Shoot Clothing
  • Clothing Change
          (for after show party/dinner)
  • Disposable Camera
  • Snacks & Junk Food
          (for after the show)
  • Business Cards
  • Photographs
  • Promotional Items
  • Directions to show and hotel
  • Copy of entry form
          & organization
          membership card
  • Tampons
  • Supplements

If Staying In A Hotel, Also Bring

  • Old dark sheets and towels
  • Loose, dark comfy clothing to sleep in and wear around—no need to look cute til' you're on stage!
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

About the Author:

Alissa Carpio is a 6-time champion in NPC Fitness & Figure contests. She is currently preparing for NPC Nationals in November. Alissa is also helping several athletes prepare for their first competition through her unique online contest prep services. She offers Fitness & Figure Competitor Workshops to girls in the Washington, DC area. For more information, visit Alissa's site at


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