At the young age of 21, I decided that I would compete in my first bodybuilding show in the figure division. I was so excited to start that I barely did any of my homework on what went down in contest prep for the stage. Being completely lost, I found a “coach,” who was willing to help me achieve my goal of becoming a pro bodybuilder. Little did I know, he wasn’t the most informative when it came to telling me what to expect as I got ready. Along the way, I learned a lot of things that no one had told me to prepare me not just physically, but mentally for the journey ahead. Over the 16 long weeks of training and kicking butt, I learned five critical things that I never knew about contest prep that would have been helpful in my final decision if I wanted to compete or not.
You will get winded at even the sight of a treadmill
When a bodybuilder is in their off-season, our primary goal is to gain muscle and size. For most bodybuilders, their coach will tell them if it’s ok for you to hold off on their cardio. Well, when you start your prep, you will feel like you have never walked a day in your life. Ask any bodybuilder what the worst part about prep is beside the meals, and cardio will be their answer. Do not fear though; it does get easier because you will end up doing close to two hours of cardio by the end of your prep.
Just like in your off season, your clothes will not fit anymore.
At the beginning of every prep, it’s okay to feel like your clothes are fitting a little tight. You haven’t been doing any cardio, you’ve been eating high carbs, and when you gain muscle, it’s inevitable that you will also gain fat. As you go through your journey to the stage, you will notice you will fit more comfortably in your yoga pants. By the time you get to the end of your prep though, everything will be baggy on you, and you’ll be right back to that uncomfortable feeling. My suggestion and what I’ve felt has helped with my self-confidence in the past is that I have my off season, mid prep and deep prep clothes. I have a handful of clothes that are various sizes so I can feel confident when I’m out.
Make sure to save your money; it going to be expensive
Between the food, supplements, suit, jewelry, shoes, spray tan, registration cost and if you plan on having your hair and makeup done professionally, it can cost a pretty penny. I never imagined the end cost that I would be paying for the one day of competing would be so much. Start saving up your money way before you get on stage. Nothing is more disappointing to a competitor than getting so close to being on stage and not being able to pay to make it happen.
Sleep, what is sleep?
Sleep will no longer be a part of your vocabulary. Between meal prepping, morning fasted cardio (which can be up to an hour), lifting, more cardio, and eating your meals on time, your day becomes a non-stop marathon and by the time your head hits the pillow, you’ll be up doing it all over again. Time management will be your best friend. Sleep is going to be when your body can recover, so make sure to plan your days and weeks out, so you’re running like a well-oiled machine.
Say goodbye to high carb meals, once a week cheats, and beer!
Once you start to get deep into your prep (about a month in), it is imperative that you listen to your coach and stick to your meal plan. One little slip up could cost you a week’s worth of work so don’t mess this up! My advice to you, enjoy your offseason while you can. Who cares if you gain a little bit of body fat, the off-season is the time to do it, because you can easily get back on track without the pressure that comes with contest prep. So have that beer or donut, just make sure you are getting your regular meals in and all of your lifts completed for the week.
If you’re getting ready for a show or are thinking about trying one, do your homework and get advice from other people. It will help you make your decision and to give you an idea of what to expect and what is normal.