CONTEST PREPARATION 101
Updated: Sep 14
Do you have what it takes to take your TRAINING & NUTRITION to the next level?
Perhaps you're one of the few who's dreamed of stepping on STAGE?
Over the years I have helped prep an elite few of natural athletes whom have embarked on the ultimate fitness journey.
From Bikini & Fitness models to Figure athletes. All wonderfully gracing the stage and walking away with successful placings! 🏆
Now whilst being 'competitive' is a journey in and of itself:
🛑 WARNING 🛑
Competing is NOT for those whom lack a basic understanding & foundation of general Fitness. To put it simply, you will NEED a good grasp with both your Training and Nutrition respectively to be successfully competitive.
Contest Preparation is NOT a Fat loss solution to obesity or any previously diagnosed underlying issues. It is also generally NOT recommended to compete if you suffer from the following:
🛑 anxiety / depression
🛑 food eating disorder
🛑 anorexia / bulimia
🛑 training in-experience
🛑 injury / medical condition
🛑 obesity / overweight
Now that we've got the obvious stuff out of the way, let me share something exciting with you.
The competitive process is relatively simple. It is so simple that it is in fact the same process used for anyone looking to lose weight.
So now you're probably more determined than ever to compete or know what it all entails?
Read on for more on the Beautiful & challenging World of Competition Prep. 👇
TO COMPETE OR NOT TO COMPETE?
Ok, so lets start with arguably the very first and most important step.
At some point in time, you will personally have either asked the question or made the choice whether or not you'd like to compete?
This is a personal choice and at the end of the day will ultimately come down to you.
No-one can force this choice onto you just as well as no-one can take this decision away from you. It is your own personal right and the desire to want to be competitive should always come from within you.
For those whom have made the choice, this is where your will and determination has likely driven you to do it. That being said, if truth be told anybody can choose to compete and just about anyone can grace the stage.
How SUCCESSFUL one is will be largely dependent on their preparation, mindset & their reason to want to compete in the first place.
Before we discuss the many pitfalls of competing (and there are some), one must understand their reason as to WHY they want to compete in the first place.
Perhaps you've been training for years on end & looking for a new challenge? Maybe you're determined to grace the stage and showcase all your hard efforts in and out of the gym? Or perhaps you're just an all-round competitive individual and love competitive sports?
Whatever the reason may be, If you struggle to find your why or a valid enough reason to compete, then competing may likely not be for you.
If you can answer this without a moment's hesitation then you're probably on the right track.
Competing as a sport is not one to be taken lightly as there are many downsides to competing for those whom are even successful at it. From Post Comp Blues to Post Comp Blowouts, hormonal disruptions, testosterone production to eating disorders.
Competing will also take it's toll on you both mentally and emotionally even for experienced individuals whom decide to 'self-prep'.
Those whom enlist the aid of a Contest Preparation Coach benefit greatly simply from removing the constant arduous thought process & emotional component from dieting.
Note: always ensure you have been given the medical all clear before choosing to compete.
Now that we've discussed as to the 'why', lets continue to the first stage of prep.👇
Your first step towards starting your contest prep journey starts here. Whether we're a newcomer to the stage or a past competitor, the goal in the off-season is always the same:
✔️ Build as much Lean Muscle Mass as possible. ✔️ Increase overall Energy (calorie) balance. ✔️ Keep Bf% minimal (where possible).
In order to build or improve a physique in the off-season, an appropriate amount of energy (calorie) intake balance is always required.
If we've been looking to compete and be within 'striking distance' of being stage ready, it helps if we're somewhat physically conditioned prior. It is a far less arduous and grueling process of 'being ready' versus having to get ready.
For some seasoned athletes whom are somewhat 'condition' ready, they may generally only have a small amount of bf% to lose i.e. 3-5kg.
For most newcomers, they will generally have a more significant amount to drop for their first show i.e. 8-11kg.
Note: Lean muscle mass will likely be lost in the dieting process. How much is lost is dependent on diet length, exercise activity and overall energy (calorie) balance.
Off-season bf%? 🤔
Now you're probably wondering what's an ideal bf% range to shoot for in the off-season?
For natural athletes whom are male, probably about 8%-11%. For females, generally around 19%-22%. The most important body fat range is generally the one we spend the most amount of time at in our off-season due to our Body fat set-point.
One of the most common hurdles an athlete will usually struggle with during their off-season is:
- being goal focused
- putting weight (safely) on pre or post contest.
All semantics aside, having some bf% & increased energy (calorie) balance in the off-season is relatively healthy and to be expected.
On the context of long term Stability, Performance and making Improvements, maintaining an adequate energy (calorie) balance dietary approach is recommended and further encourages:
✔️ Muscular growth
✔️ Increased metabolism
✔️ Improved mental focus
✔️ Balanced sex drive and libido
✔️ Increased hormone production & balance
Maintaining an appropriate amount of energy (calorie) intake also lessens the likelihood of the following:
❌ Binge eating
❌ Weight rebound
❌ Disordered eating behavior
❌ Physique anxiety
❌ Impaired testosterone production
❌ Elevated cortisol levels
❌ HPA axis dysfunction
Benefits of low off-season bf%?
Maintaining a low amount of bf% pre or post contest whilst not mandatory is often encouraged. At one end of the spectrum if hovering too low of a bf%, most competitors will begin to fight the urge to return their bodies back to homeostasis.
At the other end of the spectrum, most athletes will also experience certain levels of 'duress' when body fat levels start increasing post show. These scenarios are almost always often overlooked by many competitors.
If you identify with either scenario, here are some harsh truths for you to remember:
- you will never be as lean, weak & hungry as when you stepped on stage.
- you will also never be as full and strong as in the off-season.
Each stage of prep has its own place and time. For most competitors staying within the aforementioned bf% range will experience some of these benefits:
👉 Athlete's only have a small amount of kilos to lose.
👉 Athletes at low bf% set point maintenance have less weight to lose next time.
👉 Athletes at low bf% are somewhat conditioned i.e. visible abs, arms, legs, thighs, glutes etc.
👉️ Athletes with adequate energy balance minimize the associated effects of the body's 'self-defense' mechanisms post contest diet.
If you're looking to combine the best of both worlds, consider 'maintaining' at a comfortable bf% level during your off-season. 💪
An off-season is typically the only time where energy is at an all time high & where calories are a plenty. Remember this.
Note: bf% varies and is subtly different from person to person due to varying Biological and Genetic predisposition along with other variables i.e. Height, Weight, Training, Nutrition etc.
As mentioned prior, the process is relatively simple. To lose weight all that is required is a Calorie deficit.
Sounds pretty simple right?
Well in a word yes. However the process can be a lot more complex depending on an individual's situation & their diet history including:
- what they did pre-diet ❔
- what they did during the diet ❔ - how much they dieted on ❔
This is where it pays to have a Contest Preparation Coach or team whom specialize in traversing the various in's & out's of contest prep.
However if you're looking to achieve this process (coaching aside) we will want to start fine-tuning the following during prep: 👇
Division & Posing
If we're looking to compete, chances are we may already have a certain category aka division in mind to be competitive in. Whilst most competitors have their sights set on a single division only i.e. Bikini, some competitors may also be able to do well in two different categories i.e. Bikini & Fitness or Sports model.
In most instances however, a physique will generally suit one category more-so than others:
Athletes with overall larger muscular size are generally encouraged to compete in the next category up i.e. Bikini > Fitness or Figure > Physique.
Athletes with overall smaller muscular size required for a category may be encouraged to compete in the next category down i.e. Bodybuilding > Physique, Figure or Fitness > Bikini.
Determining which division(s) you are looking at competing is the first step as this will often impact your training focus and nutrition regime in the off-season. Your posing and stage attire will also reflect the respective category chosen.
Individuals should always aim to compete in the category in which they are the most comfortably being competitive at and not just for the sake of competing.
Now you're probably wondering when should one begin their posing practice?
When an individual should start posing can depend how comfortable & graceful one looks and moves displaying one's physique in their off-season.
If this is your first rodeo, it's likely we will have embarked in the necessary preparation work prior in the off-season. For experienced individuals, it's likely we have already started 'twisting' & 'turning' whilst flexing in front of a mirror or camera no later than 20-30 weeks out from a show.
As a general rule of thumb, in order to showcase your physique & be comfortable in the best way possible you need to:
a) be comfortable in next to little attire
b) practice, practice & practice!
Note: individuals are highly encouraged to go through a de-sensitization period for this.
From 1 on 1 posing sessions to posing workshops! Showcasing one's physique & self-confidence on stage gracefully is part of the primary criteria. Do NOT skimp out on your posing.
Note: a supplementary posing guide is included covering division judging criteria & posing guidelines for The Lab PT athletes. 👇
There are times where being compliant and practicing cognitive restraint is essential. Normally in the off-season there is more 'breathing room' where nutritional accuracy can be loosely applied & individuals have more freedom with food.
During contest prep however, every single lick, bite, taste or sip needs to be accounted for. This is where having self-monitoring experience i.e. food logging & weighing becomes critically essential.
This becomes even more paramount once an individual enters a nutritional poverty state aka 'Poverty Macros' towards the last leg of their journey.
Click for more on POV Macros.
Further to this it's been found that some athletes under report their energy intake by up to ~20% according to past studies.
Having some form of self-monitoring experience can mean the difference from being ~500 calories over (or under) your Total Daily Energy needs. To put this more in perspective a ~500 daily miscalculation can equate to ~3500 weekly calories!
Note: 3500kcals is equivalent to 0.5kg body fat %.
Thus, being as accurate as possible during prep has its own advantages:
👉 eat more food volume on a gram per gram basis
👉 achieve further fat loss from energy (calorie) balance discrepancy
👉 allot more 'freed' calories to calorie bank etc.
These days how one achieves nutritional accuracy is also dependent on the preparation methods provided.
Gone are the days where one need to only follow a Rigid Meal Plan to achieve nutritional accuracy. This is largely due to the success rate of various self-monitoring apps i.e. MyFitnessPal.
Whilst there are many benefits of following Meal Plans, following a balanced & flexible approach can also yield favorable results if total energy (calorie) balance is accounted for.
👉 Click for Pro's & Con's of Meal Plans Vs Flexible Dieting.
If meeting Calories is the Nutritional component, then meeting overall Training Volume is the Exercise equivalent.
Individuals planning on competing will want to have had some form of Resistance Training experience. Without this constant stimuli, we will NOT be able to build or maintain the much desired Muscle Mass required for your chosen division & category.
As a general rule of thumb, it is recommended to have at least 1-2 years under your belt before officially embarking into a show.
Note: an exception to this rule is a solid 6 - 12 months. Results may vary & largely dependent on the individual.
Currently, Resistance Training is the go to for creating a champion and overall balanced physique. This lines up with current research looking at various exercise modes vs caloric expenditure favoring either Resistance Training or Hydraulic based (Weights + Cardio) exercise methods over endurance (Cardio) focused protocols.
Establishing a solid relationship with weights in the 'off-season' is very important. From Training Periodisation protocols to scheduled Deload periods, all will play a part by giving an athlete much needed 'breaks' from training.
Other supplementary tools and forms of exercise including Cardio & Daily step activity are also popular during prep. Whilst said methods are not always required during contest prep, they can further compliment Resistance Training protocols in certain scenarios.
Now we come to it at last. Perhaps the overall determinant of an individual's contest preparation success. Without some form of compliance or adherence we can ultimately get nowhere.
To put it simply, if we do not love what we are eating or enjoy our exercise activity, we will not be able to stick to it overall.
This is especially crucial during the last leg of prep where it also becomes overwhelmingly difficult to adhere to a program regardless how sound it is designed to you.
In the last few weeks, most of the time individuals will falter.
This is where it pays to have a good coach or team whom not only knows you well enough but can also guide you through the last remaining days & weeks which typically 'make' or 'break' a champion.
How well we perform on that final leg of prep, followed by peak week & show day protocols is secondary to how successful we were with overall adherence during prep:
Mediocre preparation = mediocre results.
Great preparation = great results!
👉 Click for more on Consistency and Adherence.
Now you're probably wondering by now if that is really it? You eat, you train, you pose for a show and then you're done?
Well in a word, no.
There's still the matter of what happens post show day or contest. Traditionally most contest athletes will step on stage, have their victorious moment or 2 before sharing their efforts with loved ones over a celebratory meal & drink. #IncomingSocialMediaSpam
How much celebration can be had can be dependent on the individual & their post contest 'plan'. In most cases if there is no follow-up show, a celebratory meal & drink can lead to another celebratory meal & drink, followed by some more & so on and so forth...
You can quickly see where this is likely going...
Most athletes will unfortunately fall into this trap of having no where to go, no further guidance and support or no Exit Strategy.
For the competitive individual this can lead to devastating results and further the likelihood of:
👉 post comp 'blues' & depression
👉 social physique anxiety
👉 chronic dieting to stay lean
👉 eating disorder development post diet etc.
One way to mitigate most of these pitfalls alongside coaching support is by implementing a Reverse or Recovery Diet post competition. A Reverse or Recovery diet is one of the best ways to improve:
✔️ Activity performance
✔️ Lean Body Mass retention
✔️ Hormonal balance
✔️ Metabolic adaptation
"Failure to plan is planning to fail"...
👉 Click for more on Reverse Dieting 101.
STARTING YOUR JOURNEY.
And there you have it. A general overview of what one can expect for Contest Preparation. By now you will have a clear picture whether or not competing is for you?
If so, hopefully the aforementioned information hasn't deterred you but rather inspired you to finally venture into the possibility of competing.
All that's required of you is a brief overview of the following:
Remember, whichever way you choose to get to stage condition always requires adequate Time, Work & preparation:
If you're ready to start your Contest Prep journey, click below to checkout my current packages:
1. Haase AM, Prapavessis H, Owens RG. Perfectionism, social physique anxiety and disordered eating: A comparison of male and female elite athletes. Psychology of sport and Exercise. 2002 Jul 1;3(3):209-22.
2. Healy ML, Gibney J, Pentecost C, Wheeler MJ, Sonksen PH. Endocrine profiles in 693 elite athletes in the postcompetition setting. Clinical endocrinology. 2014 Aug 1;81(2):294-305. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24593684