Name: Brandan Fokken
From: Sioux Falls, SD
Sponsors: Team Bodybuilding.com; Beast Sports Athlete
You've signed up for a physique competition, and you're going to do everything you possibly can to present your best self on stage. After that initial excitement, you might walk into the gym and think to yourself, "Now what?" You know you need to train and diet, but beyond that, you're lost.
Don't give up before you've even started! Here's the guide you need to begin your contest preparation.
Develop a Clear Prep Plan
If you don't have a defined roadmap, you can literally talk yourself out of what you originally set out to achieve. If your end goal is stepping on stage, know exactly what path you're going to take to get there. Along the way, make sure you set smaller, short-term goals for yourself to stay motivated and accountable. Write everything down and keep track of each positive gain you make during the process.
Plan for Extra Expenses
Some people start their prep without considering the extra expenses: food, supps, tanning, posing suits, travel, organization fees, and personal training. These things all cost money.
If your budget is tight, you may want to postpone your competition plans until you are more financially stable. Even if you aren't strapped for cash at the moment, you may find yourself halfway through your prep without the finances to continue. Don't let your sport or hobby expenditures affect your family. "Real life" expenses need to come first.
Hire a Coach or Trainer
Hiring a good coach or trainer can take the guesswork out of your preparation. Take the time to consult with multiple trainers before you choose one. Find someone who you will work well with—an unsuitable partnership can become a nightmare. Ask for references, photos of past clients, training packages, how well previous clients have done, experience, degrees, certifications, availability, and training style. In most cases, you can find out a lot about trainer online by looking at his or her websites, Facebook pages, or even contest pages. Take the time to find a trainer who is invested, cares about you, and will respect you back.
Once you have hired a trainer, listen to that person and no one else. People will try to give you their input and advice, but if you have full confidence in your trainer, others' opinions shouldn't matter. Stick to your plan no matter what anyone else tells you.
If you've researched competition preparation at all, you've probably come across the term "metabolic damage." Poorly constructed contest preparation plans can cause rapid weight gain post-contest, dehydration, thyroid issues, re-feeding syndrome, depression, and a number of other ailments. Many times, these issues stem from too much cardio on too few calories. Find a trainer who is credible and knows how to bring you into a contest safely. So do your research. I recommend Dr. Layne Norton's blog.
Water, Carbs, and Sodium
This is where coaching gets controversial. Some coaches will tell you to cut water; others won't. Some will have you load with sodium; others will tell you to cut it. There are coaches who will tell you to cut carbs and others who will guide you to eat more. In most cases, you'll get a mix of adding and cutting depending on your coach's philosophy. Not all advice is good advice, and can cause disasters.
Many competitors are told to water load and then aggressively deplete leading into a show. Muscle tissue consists of 70 percent water. If competitors restrict their water intake drastically, they will lose muscle fullness and appear flat onstage.
Carbohydrate intake in the final week should be based on the principle that water follows carbohydrates. In other words, approximately 2.7 grams of water is stored for each gram of stored carbohydrate. Remember, it is the water, not the glucose that causes muscle to have tight fullness.
Sodium loading isn't a bad idea. Start decreasing about 10-15 days out, but don't take it to ridiculously low levels. Stay within 1.3 to 1.5 grams per day.
If you have a trustworthy and reputable trainer, then your questions about these factors should be answered. A trainer's job and focus should be to keep you healthy. If you feel you are doing something that may put your health at risk, then ask questions, and research your trainer's response before you do it. Never do something just because he or she told you to. Jeopardizing your health isn't worth a plastic trophy. Educate yourself and go into your preparation with the knowledge you are doing the right thing for you and your body.
People often believe they can trick their body by using extreme techniques the last week before the show to look super shredded. The truth is, if you have dieted properly, what you do in the last week will not make or break your appearance.
What to Pack for your Contest
- Competition suit
- Extra posing suit and shoes
- Tanning products
- Old, dark-colored towel
- Old sheets for your hotel bed (for tan)
- Dark-colored sweat pants and jacket
- Flip flops
- Resistance bands
- Cosmetic products & toiletries
- Cooler for food
- Bikini Bite spray
- Vaseline, for your teeth
- Rubber gloves for tanning products
- Posing oil or gel
- Small sewing kit
- Registration card
Get Your Mind Right
Ask anyone who has competed and they will tell you: Your mind starts playing games with you. You'll start to tell yourself that you are too skinny or too fat, that you need to eat more or less, that you need to do more cardio, and so on. As your prep evolves, you may experience physical and mental fatigue, become moody, and start taking your frustrations out on people around you.
Keep calm and remember that you decided to do this; nobody is making you. Look at the positives and what you can do to improve; don't focus on the negatives or they will eventually halt your progress. Small steps add up over time, so even small victories are still progress. If you don't enjoy the journey, then what's the point in even competing?
Adjust Your Schedule
Participating in physique competitions consumes a lot of time. Consider the extra time you'll spend training, tanning, practicing posing, and meeting with your trainer. You'll also spend time cooking your meals and eating them. Expect this. Schedule your time wisely.
Don't Withdraw Socially
Having a support group can smooth the prep process. Talk to your family and friends about what you're doing and what the plan is before you begin preparation. Otherwise, you'll constantly be answering questions throughout the process, which could cause tension that you don't need. However, it's important to remember that not everyone's life revolves around training, cardio, and diet. So if all you do is talk about the contest and what you're doing to prepare, trust me, you'll become irritating as hell. Keep your friends and family in the loop, but if they're not competitors, they won't understand what you're going through, nor should they.
On the other hand, a buddy or significant other who trains, cooks, and chats with you can make all the difference in your experience. Remember, though, you're the one doing the contest, so you can't rely on anyone else to be responsible.
Compete Against Yourself
You cannot control who will show up, and you cannot control the outcome of the show. You can control how you look and your attitude toward your prep. Competing in a sport is essentially a game—so have fun! If you come out of the show better off than when you started, then you've gained something and achieved something to be proud of.
Be happy and proud of yourself, regardless of where you placed. If things don't go exactly how you want, you can use your placement and show condition as motivation to better yourself in the future.
Practice Your Posing
You could have the best physique on stage, but if you don't know how to present it and all its positive attributes, then you could easily be beaten. Good posing can enhance your best attributes and hide your weakest. To be good at posing, you need to practice. That doesn't mean just standing in front of the mirror with your chest out and your shoulders back. Learn how to walk, stand, and even how to keep a smile on your face. Simple things like learning to breathe through your chest instead of trying to breathe through your stomach will help your stage appearance and make you look more relaxed and natural on stage.
Mind Your Posing Suit
As you go through your prep, your dimensions will change. What fit you at the beginning won't necessarily fit you at the time of competition. It's good to try on your suit or trunks periodically to make sure the fit is right. You don't want your clothes to fall off in front of the judges—or your family and friends!
Prior to any spray tan application, get a good base tan. A blotchy appearance will make your presentation look sloppy and can take away from your definition.
Invest in either quality products and have them applied by someone with experience, or hire a professional spray-tanner. This will assure good color that will help bring out your best attributes on stage. Runny color never helps your on-stage look, no matter how perfect your conditioning might be.
Prioritize Your Diet
What you put into your body is important, but when you're preparing for a contest your nutrition is paramount. There's absolutely no excuse for stopping at the drive-thru or eating cookies for lunch.
Make a list of what you need each time before you go to the grocery store so you have all the food you need. Prepare your meals days or even a week in advance so you have food ready to go, no matter what's going on during the day. If you travel, have your meals pre-packed and ready to take with you. Eating is the biggest part of the prep process; don't rely solely on your training to become show-ready.