If you’ve never competed before, and want to know what it’s really like—beyond the glitz, the glamour, the fake tan and oiled-up beauty on stage—I have some news for you: a lot of strange stuff happens during prep. When food is at a minimum, and training is at maximum effort for sixteen or more weeks, certain behaviors present that might seem “out of place” in your everyday world. While these variables differ some from competitor to competitor, certain daily-life activities take on a new dimension and turn into something of a struggle. Simple tasks—like getting the mail while carrying your purse and three bags of groceries at the same time—start to overwhelm, and basic functioning becomes not-so-basic.
With this in mind, I present the Top Ten contest-prep life-struggles, along with the bottom-line solutions to help you get through your daily struggles. With this list, you can enter your first contest prep ahead of the game.
And for those of you disturbed by the TMI person in the room… you have been warned.
1) When eating, if you drop a piece of food on the floor—be it linoleum, dirt, gravel, swampland, etc.—the one-second, five-second, or ten-second rules are completely out the window. That morsel will be snatched and devoured regardless of location, or time in contact with unsanitary surface. There may be some exceptions (public bathroom anyone?), but even that becomes debatable during the home stretch.
Bottom line: Don’t drop your food. Cherish every bite like it’s the last bite you’ll ever get. Depending on your prep coach, it very well may be.
2) You are now completing two-a-day cardio sessions, sweated your glutes into striated madness, but are too exhausted to shower, so you crawl into bed un-bathed. (My sheets get washed weekly. I promise.)
Bottom line: How you decide to handle this is more of a discussion you have with your significant other, unless you are single. If you are single, you must be the one to come to grips with your own disgusting sleeping environment. If it bothers you enough, you will shower. Or sleep on the floor. If your significant other finds this practice completely nasty, then minimally perform a “poor man’s shower” (i.e., baby-wipe yourself down). Use body spray if need be. Compromise. Wash your sheets weekly—for your sake as well, as well as that of your bed, pillow, and marriage.
3) Mirrors become your best friend, so you take selfies in all sorts of weird positions and create comparison shots to see the progression for yourself.
Bottom line: Be careful with selfies. Less is usually more. Selfie Saturdays or Sundays aside, taking comparison shots is a great way to see how your physique is coming along weekly, and will be necessary for your coach. BUT WEAR YOUR POSING SUIT!!! You don’t want to send nude photos. Seriously. I’m guessing, even with smart phones, NSA has plenty of lonely employees happy to peruse anything you broadcast into the atmosphere. Be smart with your selfies—close the blinds, lock the door, and make sure the kids are locked in the basement (or similar restrictive location).
4) Licking plates, bowls, and pans completely clean in front of strangers. That tiny millimeter’s worth of protein powder and one grain of brown rice is in your plan, right?! Wait, there’s an entire oat left in my bowl!!
Bottom line: Every contest prep nutrition plan should have a small margin of error. In other words, it will be slightly (very slightly) more than what you likely need to get in contest shape. So if you miss a gram of protein, chances are you will still come in perfectly fine for your show. Or you could dispense with the rationalization, and explain to your peers why you are licking your bowl clean in front of your “mind-your-manners” Aunt Mary’s house during dinner.
5) Put Stevia and cinnamon on protein sources. All of them. Including 99% lean ground turkey, because you have a sweet craving, and are reducing your sodium content.
Bottom line: Prep food is often bland and boring, so it’s about knowing how to make it more palatable. Cinnamon is your friend, and actually aids slightly in the fat burning process. Talk to your coach about what you can and can’t have, as there’s always a way to make the diet doable.
6) Forgetting names during introductions when on low carbs. Forgetting your pet’s name. Forgetting directions. Forgetting where you were going. By the time the day is done, you have essentially made a real-life version of the movie Memento.
Bottom line: Make lists! If you forget names, bring a carbed-up friend who will remember the details for you. Pre-record reminders in your smart phone with an alarm. Plan and prepare!
7) Scour through online recipes for ways to liven up your diet (which usually fails), or to live vicariously through others who may be making something that you can’t eat for weeks (which usually is awesome!).
Bottom line: Similar to making your nutrition plan doable, but this is more about surviving downtime when all your attention seems to migrate around food (or lack thereof). It helps to keep yourself busy during downtime when prepping. If you have a lot of downtime in your schedule, find a hobby that doesn’t involve food. Use this time to learn, read, listen to music, stretch, do some yoga, get a massage, or purchase a hammock and get some sleep! Downtime is great for naps. If you have a family, give them your time and attention. They likely need it, since you are ultra-focused on your prep.
8) You pee every 15 minutes. Your bowel habits may change (sometimes for the better, usually for the worse). Because of this problem, you sometimes question whether or not you might want to invest in Depends Undergarments. You aren’t quite in those yet due to your age, but unfortunately, baby diapers no longer fit your massive squat booty.
Bottom line: You are lean. Your body isn’t holding water in fat like it used to because fat stores are low. You are drinking a lot of water (a gallon or more) and will need to empty your bladder at more frequent intervals than you ever believed possible! There must be restrooms within range at all times. This is NOT the time to go anywhere that doesn’t have one available.
Highway driving and traffic can be tricky, so know where rest stops are in advance. Yes, I have peed myself trying to make it into a Pizza Hut bathroom off a toll road before. After paying the extra toll, mind you. This CAN HAPPEN! Do not think you are above peeing your pants during this time. Be prepared.
Incidentally, if your bowel or urine habits are at a point where you don’t know if it’s quite normal, or something may be wrong, talk to your coach or even your doctor. Some constipation can occur, especially toward the end of your prep. There are natural solutions for this that won’t wreck your nutrition plan.
9) You will NEVER be able to find your car keys (purse, wallet, etc.) in the morning, and will really stress out about it.
Bottom line: Be prepared. Make an agreement with yourself early that every day, at the end of the day, your car/house keys/wallet/purse will be left in the same spot each and every night. Called “covering your bases”.
10) You seem to have gone from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde: you are mean, moody, emotional, talkative (or silent), and you SWEAR if one more person drives slow in the left lane, enters your kitchen space, interrupts your train of thought, asks you why are you getting so skinny (insert “Eat some of this! Why are you not eating?! Why do you do this to yourself?”), the idea of death row might not sound so bad any longer. Or maybe you have lost it already and find yourself apologizing (only after you have eaten another meal) more frequently than you like.
Bottom line: Contest prep is incredibly grueling. The diet, cardio, training, and trying to make it through each day will seriously test your limits. Know this going in and make sure others around you who are close to you know it as well. All of the points I listed illustrate how difficult this time can be. Remind those close to you ahead of time that it’s not personal and you appreciate their support.
Succeeding as a competitor is simply a matter of putting maximum effort into a sport that doesn’t always get the appreciation it deserves, based on what is required to achieve success. But if you have come this far, keep going. Those who dig deep and do not quit will reap the rewards they seek and will take home a trophy—and more importantly, earn the pride of knowing they pushed through a challenge very few have the will to conquer.
So if you have competed, what can you add to this list? What helped? Feel free to comment below!
Weight training, sports nutrition and the sport of physique have been a major focus of Tammy Christman’s life. With a background in physcology and education Tammy works with clients of all types, from the brand new to fitness to competition prep.
Find out more about Tammy by clicking the link below.