Getting lean for a bodybuilding show or for a figure contest is the ultimate test on your discipline, focus and perseverance. Can you resist the tempting food around you everywhere?
Do you follow through with all your scheduled workouts? Do you wake up at 4 a.m. to do cardio because you need to catch a flight at 8:00 a.m.? If you have no problems with doing what it takes, you're pretty much going for success!
Now, let's say you're one of those who doesn't have an off season, who doesn't gain more than a couple of pounds when the show is over. You are just lean and mean all year round, more or less. What's your secret to keep up the motivation?
How do you manage to stay in a condition that turns people's heads and make the question, "Are you getting ready for a show?" pop up quite frequently, if not everyday? Well, there might be many ways leading to the end of the road, but there are some things to take into consideration...
Consider The Following
First off, wanting to look lean and mean is one thing, but doing what it takes to obtain it is a whole other story! Sure, we all want to eat junk food at times, and in some way it's hard to accept that you will lose that crisp look you worked so hard for if you don't keep up your diet and training routine.
Sometimes I find myself feeling miserable because I do want to go eat pizza (and lots of it!), but still I want to look great the day after.
But there is some middle ground: you can have a couple of cheat meals per week if you avoid pigging out or going for way too much junk—but there we often have the mental dilemma. Once you start eating all those so-called 'forbidden' non-diet foods, it can be very hard to stop munching!
Heck, the day after, you feel bad in the morning (sick of the fast food), but then later in the afternoon the cravings come creeping up again... Everyone knows for a fact that junk food is good the first day, but deviously delicious on the 'hangover day'.
The take-home message here is to not try to stay in very good shape if you feel deprived more than once or twice a week from not being able to have your favorite non-diet foods. No one forces you to stay lean. You miss out on many good things in life if you feel miserable.
Looking Good Vs. Feeling Good
Looking good and feeling good are also two very separate things. Many people change their diets totally and drastically when preparing for a show and that's why they see the whole project as a 'diet,' not a lifestyle.
Those with that mindset often get in the very best shape they can for the show and then gain a lot of weight afterwards. Now, since your ambition is to stay lean, you cannot really afford to pile on the pounds when show time is over - the only way is to stay away from the junk!
When people ask me what my diet is like, I cannot really tell them because I don't see my food intake as a 'diet', it's just the way I eat and it more or less stays the same all year round. I know I could have some cheat meals here and there, but I prefer being able to take in a whole lot of more clean calories every day and stay lean.
So, why have I chosen to lead this kind of life, you might ask? Well, first off I gain little benefit from looking great for shows and then looking like a pig in between. I don't make money from being out of shape! Many women like myself who are petite will look blocky if we gain more than a couple of pounds! This is the side effect we get when carrying more than an average amount of muscle.
The take-home message here is that a lean, mean, fighting machine needs to eat clean 99% of the time. Accept that and you will stay in shape. It's simple to realize, but can be hard to swallow!
Find out what low-calorie foods or treats you really enjoy and eat lots of them. Maybe its sugar-free JELL-O that saves your day, or maybe you need some cocoa powder in your protein shake to keep your chocolate addiction endurable. Or maybe you're a veggie freak like me who chews down as much as 6 lbs of greens a day to feel good...
When we're not allowed to indulge - suddenly all that forbidden stuff seems so extremely delicious and you could kill to have it all. The truth is that you always end up being disappointed: did you feel better afterwards? Was it worth it?
Well, the answer is almost always 'no.' We romanticize eating junk, it's perfectly normal, so just be conscious about it. Your mind is playing with you!
Remember, I'm talking about total blow-away cheat days when you cannot control yourself. Having a treat here and there is fine! The take-home message here is simple: the key is to really enjoy what you eat! Try new healthy stuff, spice up your fish, and do whatever it takes to find your favorites. Also, try not to romanticize those foods that will make you fat.
Motivation comes and goes—you cannot rely on feeling motivated all the time. The longer you stay lean, the less you appreciate your physique because it turns into 'normal.' It's weird, but what before the contest was your very leanest condition is now an everyday condition.
When your bodyweight fluctuates (water, sodium, menstrual cycle, sleep, stress, etc.), it will really show since every little bit of extra weight will make a big difference in the mirror. It's critical not to stress too much about it. You are not prepping for a contest, so don't worry about your different looks from one day to another.
Enjoy being able to have more simple carbs and calories overall. After a long, tough fat loss plan, your body is primed to add muscle—so take advantage of it! Since you didn't pig out after the show, a calorie increase will go directly to muscle building, not to the fat cells.
My suggestion is that you follow your low-calorie plan all day except for right before and after your workouts. At those times, consume simple carbs like dextrose, rice cakes, white instant rice or even jellybeans if you have a craving for chewy candy.
You will be amazed when you find yourself getting stronger and stronger, yet staying lean and mean!
Take Home Message
The final take-home message is to prime your body for muscle gain by eating the majority of your calories around your workout, and don't be afraid of simple carbs!
The last thing I want to add is to remind yourself of why you want to stay lean. Try to appreciate it and stay positive. It's too easy to dig a black hole and feel deprived and depressed. Remember, you choose to stay lean. It's you who need to work for it to keep it.
If you have what it takes, do it. If you cannot stick to it, don't try. Having a lean physique year-round has its advantages and disadvantages. Figure out why you want to stay ripped and then if you're ready for paying the price, go for it!
IFBB Figure Pro