Something that’s been on my bucket list was to compete in a bodybuilding show. It was fall of my junior year in college and I had just moved into an apartment with three friends. I wasn’t sure how to manage my time but I was determined to embark on my first competition.
My weight slowly kept creeping up…
In the last couple of years of college, I had gained a little bit of weight. Not much, since staying active in the gym was a priority of mine.
I already had a dedication to the gym, but I couldn’t figure out why my weight slowly kept creeping up. Eventually, I came to the conclusion I wasn’t very educated on nutrition. And like any other 20-year-old college girl, I took my curiosity to Pinterest. Pinterest has some great information, but I couldn’t possibly learn it all from reading multiple blogs from random accounts. So I started to do some internet searching to find diets, meal preparations, and other strategies I could implement into my daily routine to start a healthier lifestyle.
I started recording my meals into My Fitness Pal religiously tracking my meals. I started to become more aware of exactly what I was putting into my body, but still wasn’t seeing results.
Thanksgiving Dinner 2014
For a couple of months, I knew I wanted to compete in a bodybuilding show. But to train for something so time-consuming I found it difficult trying to figure out when I should compete. I didn’t know how long it would take for me to transform my body. Therefore, how was I supposed to figure out when I would be ready? I was clueless about the entire process. Even after reading countless articles about competitions and the competitor’s preparations of months leading to that moment.
Where Do I Start
I was already a member at a local fitness center so I decided I would ask one of the fitness managers there for advice. I wasn’t sure if they’d have an answer for me, but I was betting they would be able to point me in the right direction.
A few days later I had a meeting with the membership manager. He was able to give me a bit of insight from his own experience competing. Being a college student I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford a coach. I would train for this by myself, knowing I have the dedication to stay committed to a plan; I just needed some guidance in creating a plan. He was nice enough to not discredit my confidence in self-dedication but did emphasize to me having a coach would be extremely beneficial. So taking his word for it, I signed up for a fitness assessment with a trainer at the gym who had competed multiple times before.
After my fitness assessment and dialog about competing with the Personal Trainer, I decided to make the minimal investment and set up a training package. I knew I would have to work more to be able to afford the training sessions, but I also knew it was almost essential to have someone with more knowledge and experience to guide me along this fitness journey.
Over the holidays I took the initiative and expressed my new goal to my family and friends. I felt that if I was going to do this right, I wanted to let everyone close to me know. Whom all, of course, questioned why I wanted to compete. What the hell competing was, and why on earth would I want to look like a man. I had to explain what competing in a bodybuilding competition meant when I myself only knew the surface of it all. And no, I do not want to look like a man.
Having muscles and being strong does not only correlate to men. Women can have muscles and be sexy too.
I knew that with my drive and dedication I would work as hard as I could to get my mind and my physique to where it needed to be. The people who I hold closest to my heart I asked to keep me accountable. Knowing that with them checking in on me, I would have much-needed support.
Hitting it Hard
When winter started to settle in I began hitting the gym hard. I followed the plan my trainer had wrote for me. Progress had started and I was consistently losing about 1lb. per week. It felt great and I was really enjoying the process of becoming stronger while losing weight. I also really enjoyed becoming more educated about nutrition along the way. Understanding how my body reacted to certain foods was fascinating and is something I will take with me after the competition.
But I’m So Busy
Full-time college student, working 2-3 part-time jobs, training regularly, consuming a clean diet, and maintaining a social life was the definition of exhausting. I can’t remember too many days that I didn’t have something to do or somewhere to be. I was stressed, but I could handle it because I wanted to prove to myself that I CAN DO THIS.
This wasn’t on my bucket list because I knew it would be easy. It was on my bucket list because I wanted to prove to myself that I am capable of pushing myself past my limits.
There wasn’t much more going on in my life besides work, eat, train, school, and sleep. Oh yes, and seeing my friends here and there. Life was in the fast lane and certainly had been during this entire transformation.
Honestly, I didn’t balance all of this perfectly either. I actually had a few breakdowns because I was lacking balance in my life. I wasn’t living the way a typical 21-year-old college student does like going to parties or wasting money on beer and pizza. All the choices we make in life are choices based on the values we hold that create happiness for us. Whatever makes you happy is valuable to you. For me, I enjoy being healthy. I love picking up heavyweight and throwing that sh*t back down. Damn, I love being strong.
Prep, Say What?
Competition Prep (aka “crunch time before stage day” )which depending on how much body fat you’re looking to cut can be 12-20 weeks prior to your competition. I wanted to include some insight into my prep before competition because it hasn’t been the same kind of experience you hear about.
Some of the blogs and posts I was seeing about girls (or guys) going through prep were starving, doing countless hours of cardio, they were stuck and not losing weight. They were experiencing metabolic damage. The thought of starting the “prep” phase scared the living daylights out of me. No joke. I didn’t want to go through that. Luckily, I had a great coach who was able to give me a great prep experience and I think it’s important to share my insight.
During my prep, I never did intense cardio until about a week or so out from the competition (basically the last push to lean out as much as possible). I “dieted” for 15 weeks, but I never felt like the diet was that strict. My diet remained clean and didn’t have the flexibility of cheat meals anymore. I only allowed myself one cheat meal a week before the 15-week prep started, so this change wasn’t that difficult.
It is Possible to Love Eating Clean
My diet consisted of 6 meals a day. Six wonderful meals of chicken, rice, fish (tilapia, cod, etc.), veggies, sweet potatoes, etc. I loved it because I stayed true to a diet prior to prep and it made the transition to eating only clean foods so much easier. I actually started to crave whole foods. Now I love eating clean!
About 12 weeks out from the competition I started to add cardio into my workout by doing 35 minutes of fasted cardio a few times a week. Then at 8 weeks out, I bumped my cardio up to 6 days a week. I usually did a moderate rate of speed or resistance.
Their were there days my body was sore and I didn’t think cardio would make a difference, but got my butt out of bed and did the dreadful 35 minutes anyway.
Since I kept seeing results without having to do extraneous cardio, there was just no way I was stopping.
Sometimes I heard about competitors being tired and drowsy all day. I was fortunate and didn’t feel that way. My body reacted very well to lifting and nutrition transitions. My trainer and I made small changes throughout this journey so my body was allowed enough time to react which made the transitions easy.
For me being a full-time student was the BEST time to prepare for a show. College students’ typically place happy hour as a higher priority than their own health. I was no different as I used to have similar priorities.
However, over the past couple of years, I’ve started to value my health more and more. I don’t have children or a mortgage to pay for. And although I commute 45 minutes one way to campus and work 35 hours a week, I continue with my prep. Somehow I managed to maintain a clean diet and I kept a balanced social life. Doing a competition is possible at any stage in your life, you just have to make the right choices and prepare for everything. Foreseeing possible situations will get you through those moments that cause slips.
Currently, I am 13 days out from my very first natural bodybuilding competition. I will be competing in the figure and fit body categories in a WNBF organization. I feel fantastic and couldn’t be any happier with where my physique currently is. My suit fits perfectly and I’m so excited to show all my friends and family what I can do and how far I’ve come since I first told them I wanted to compete.
Desiree is from a small town in Southwest Wisconsin. She enjoys everything outdoors and strives to live a healthy lifestyle. Desiree believes life is about the balance between a personal and professional lifestyle. She continues to challenge herself with new goals and athletic pursuits to keep her body and mind guessing.
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Article updated March 2020